Sunday, May 20, 2012


Ubisoft is trying to bring platforming back into the spotlight with a revival of their Playstation-era hero, Rayman.   The cartoony French mascot debuted in 1995 and enjoyed some popularity, he hasn't been seen in his own title almost a decade.   The Raving Rabbids series began as a Rayman game, but spun off into their own series, leaving Rayman behind.   Now he's back in a gorgeous retro-styled platformer that returns to the series' 2D roots.  It's been showered with accolades by reviewers and gamers alike since its release, becoming something of an underdog success story.  This week, Ubisoft put the game on sale for 50% off, and I decided to see what all the hype was about.

First thing I have to say about this game?   It's fucking GORGEOUS.  Every single pixel of this game just oozes beauty.   It looks and plays like a hand-painted cartoon.   The animations are fluid and smooth with an excellent framerate, and the color palette is rich and vibrant.   Ubisoft spared no expense on their art department, and it shows.   While the backgrounds favor lush beauty, the character designs favor a more wacky, cartoony design reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons.   Strangely enough, the two styles compliment each other instead of clashing.   The world of Rayman: Origins is simultaneously beautiful, funny, breathtaking, and goofy.   

The story of Rayman: Origins   Well.   I'm not really sure, to be honest?   I'm not sure if it's just poorly translated, or poorly presented, but I genuinely have no idea what the hell is going on through most of the game.   The characters open the game, snoring loudly enough to disturb the Livid Dead underground, who burst into the overworld and scatter the characters.   That's about as far as I can tell, honestly.   I have read the wikipedia entry for the game, which explains the plot in more detail, but fucked if I've picked up any of that from playing the game.   Most of the non-tutorial dialogue is presented in either gibberish or pig latin (yes, I'm serious), or just pantomimed out.   However, I can honestly say this did not in any way detract from my experience of playing the game.   I spent most of my time thinking "I have no clue what is going on, but I'm having a lot of fun doing it!"   I have no idea who the large-breasted sexy pixie girls are who give me new abilities, but they're cute and funny and delightful.   Let's be honest, we never really played platformers for their story, we played them for the joy of the gameplay.

The gameplay in Rayman: Origins is pretty standard fare for a 2D platformer, and I mean that in a positive way.   It handles well, with tight controls and solid physics.  It knows just when to mix things up with new abilities or new styles of play (including the occasional mosquito-borne flying shooter stage in each world), but generally sticks to the core mechanics of running, jumping, punching, and of course, collecting.   The worlds are peppered with "lums", which are little yellow macguffins that can be obtained in the air, from enemies, from items, and from skull coins.  Collecting enough lums gets you more electoons, which is the currency that allows you to progress further through the game.  As I said, pretty standard fare for a platformer.   Still, the game is a ton of fun, with very creative level design.

If I have any complaints with the gameplay, it is the difficulty curve.   The game spikes sharply from "retardedly simple" to "fucking brutal".  You can almost pin it down to a specific level; somewhere in the latter half of the Desert Of Didjeridoos.   One moment you're gleefully leaping through the levels, collecting silly items and stomping on enemies' heads, the next minute you're dying every 10 seconds and screaming profanity and calling Rayman's mother a whore.  Still, as frustrating as it gets, it's legitimate challenge.  I never really felt like any of my hundreds of deaths were "bitch deaths", and I would always overcome obstacles and challenges.

The one area of the game that does not thrill me is the sound.  The music is great at first, and I absolutely loved it.   It's upbeat and fun, and really seems to suit the bouncy, silly style of the game.   Unfortunately, it's also incredibly repetitive, to the point of being grating after you've heard the same tune over and over again.  The tracks are not that long, and loop fairly quickly.   Combine this with the brevity of the level segments, and the difficulty of the game later...and you're going to listen to the same 5-10 seconds of a track several times in a row.  Yes, this happens in plenty of challenging games, but something about the music in Rayman Origins goes from sweet to sour very quickly.

The voices and character sound effects walk that very thin line between cute and grating, and wavers back and forth.   It follows the popular belief that high-pitched = cute.  Most of the characters are adorable and sound just fine, and I get a giggle out of the aforementioned speaking in pig latin. Sometimes, though, the pitch gets too high.  At times in each level, you can grab a "King Lum", which turns all nearby lums bright red, and doubles their value.  This lasts about 7 seconds, while the red lums all sing a quick little song.   This song is like nails on a goddamn chalkboard.   I cringe every time I grab a King Lum because I know I'm going to hear that fucking shrill little song.  

Annoying songs aside, Rayman: Origins is one of the best game purchases I've made in a long time.   It's imaginative, fun, challenging and silly.   It's a feast for the eyes, and a brilliant throwback to an older era of gaming.  It's been released on all consoles, PC, PSP Vita, and is coming out for 3DS shortly. At the time of this writing, I believe the PC version is still on sale on Steam for $14.99, and it's going on sale on PSN soon, but if you're a fan of old-school sidescrolling platformers, it's still absolutely worth the full price tag of $29.99.   

As an added bonus, the end of each level features a little magician dude tallying up how many lums you collected by creepily masturbating a giant test tube.   This picture doesn't do it justice, but trust me...the way he strokes the tube lovingly is weirdly sexual.

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