Four months ago, Rayman Origins hit consoles and dazzled players with the most jaw-dropping platformer in ages. It marked a glorious return to the series’ 2D platforming roots and took everything that worked before and made it better. The controls are tighter than ever, the level design is outstanding, everything just looks incredible, and the soundtrack is one of the most diverse out there. The core platforming game is exactly what series vets would want - an adventure where you punch out as many foes as possible, make seemingly impossible leaps of fate possible via a helicopter upgrade, and while you’re at it, save cute little yellow lums as well.
Doing so not only feels good, since they’ll sometimes break into song, but also allows you to unlock new levels and even entire worlds to explore since you‘ll get electoon coins for finding them, and can use those coins to unlock new areas. That’s a blessing and a curse depending on the situation. Early on, the requirements are low to progress, and then they ratchet up later on. It’s the closest thing to a bad point the game has since you’ll spend a lot of time farming earlier stages for coins.
The multi-player co-op makes it easier to collect coins, at least as far as collecting lums and using them to get more, because you’ll be able to have up to three friends attack enemies and go into places that you, as a single character, can’t do so safely without risking slamming into something. I wouldn’t really recommend playing with that many people at once though since things get too crazy - two players at once seems ideal as far as allowing you to collect goodies and see what you’re doing easily. The co-op integration is pretty seamless, and you’ve got a lot of playable characters to choose from as well to keep things even more interesting.
Rayman Origins isn’t just a tremendous platformer, oh no - it’s also a pretty fine side-scrolling shooter when levels require it. You can either shoot enemies or suck them into the mosquito you’re riding and spit them back ala Kirby to vanquish more foes. The shooting stages are a lot of fun, and remain challenging without falling into the bullet hell trap that hurts some games in that genre. Also, unlike most platformers with underwater levels, the ones here are a blast because you can speed through the stages with a shoulder button (which also allows you to run briskly in normal stages, greatly speeding up the pace compared to the original game) and you aren’t helpless like in the Mario games (sans power-ups anyway) because you can always punch foes.
The swimming stages give you some of the game’s best challenges, like a stage where the environment is collapsing around you, and another where you’ve got some spikes coming up at you from every direction in alternating sequences, and like the DKC games and their mine cart stages, these parts come down to pure memorization and having the skill to still beat the stage. Actually, the tough nature of the game reminds me a lot of DKC Returns, only this game is a bit more forgiving with checkpoints after every room and unlimited lives, so even with only being able to take one hit until you find a heart jar power-up, the game never gets TOO difficult. It never gets so hard that you want to shut it off, just hard enough to keep you playing because you get so close, know you can do, and then eventually do. Every stage gives you the thrill of victory when you conquer it, and the agony of defeat is minimized wonderfully.
With this being a game that absolutely relies on sharp controls for both its platforming and shooting sections, any hitch in them can absolutely cripple the game. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here. Every control element is spot-on, from jumping to punching, and now being able to dash with any shoulder button allows you do to everything with relative ease. The Vita’s tremendous d-pad makes this easier to control than the console versions, although if you want to take screenshots, you’ll have to use the analog stick since it’s nearly impossible to use the d-pad and then click the PS and Starts buttons at the same time. The stick works well enough, but there’s always something that feels off about using one for a 2D platformer. The control layout is easy to get used to, and the only learning curve is getting used to the new abilities you earn throughout the game, like running up walls, and properly chaining them with your other abilities at just the right time. You’ll screw up many times, but it won’t be due to the controls.
You might be able to blame at least a few deaths on being floored by the graphics though. They’re some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in a game. The original Rayman has held up very well over the past 16 years, and I can see this doing the same because there’s so much detail in everything. Clouds, for example, have a ton of detail - there’s a lot of shading, and they even break apart at times. The characters are full of life in every way - their faces are very expressive, their animation is smooth, and basically, as good as the game looks in screenshots, it looks even better in motion because of the high-quality animation. Even the loading screen is a thing of beauty, as it’s a playable mini-level with a silhouette visual style that’s quite striking.
The stellar details in the graphics really pop out with the new pinch and zoom functionality only possible on the Vita. It allows you to zoom in or out whenever you want, and while it’s not a feature you ever really need, it is nice to have since it does showcase the graphics more and can also help you find some hidden stages slightly easier since they show up more clearly zoomed in than using the default view. As one might expect, the gorgeous visuals also serve as a fine showcase for the system’s OLED screen, and like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, no visual sacrifices were made in bringing a console game to the Vita.
Beyond great graphics and gameplay, the Rayman series can also be counted on for some awesome music. Rayman 2’s soundtrack is my favorite in the series, but Origins might’ve surpassed it due to the sheer variety of music included. There’s a lot of music made up of in-game sound effects that I like, including the little jingle that happens when you collect the super-happy dancing lums. There’s also some interesting Tuvan throat singing during the desert-themed levels and use of a didgeridoo in a few places too. The soundtrack really stands out and is one of the finest I’ve heard in quite some time. I’m also glad that voice acting isn’t here, because in replaying Rayman 2 recently, I was amazed how annoying it was, and I was hoping Ubisoft wouldn’t burden this game with it - thankfully, they didn’t. Outside of very broad noises, the characters never utter a thing.
Aside from the annoying coin farming issue, Rayman Origins delivers the goods in every major way. The game controls wonderfully, delivers satisfying platforming and shooting experiences while also featuring underwater stages that are actually fun. The soundtrack is a joy to listen to and is far more diverse than most games out there. The Vita version loses nothing, adding in some pinch and zoom as well as touch screen menus to make use of the hardware. If you loved the console version, this is a must-buy at some point - although you might want to wait for a price drop since it‘s currently selling for more than the console versions. No matter what price you pay, you’ll get one of the best platformers of the past half-decade, and the best game in the series as well.
This review is based on a retail copy of Rayman Origins for the PlayStation Vita provided by Ubisoft