Back in ‘94, Rayman was the only reason I had to want a Jaguar, but couldn’t justify spending whatever the system cost to effectively play one game. So I was overjoyed when it got a release on the Saturn and PlayStation - systems I owned and loved, to finally be able to play it. The game featured a nice mix of platforming, combat, and was one of the few platformers of the day with a protagonist and a sense of humor that stood out without being “xtreme”. Nearly a half-decade later, Rayman 2 hit the Dreamcast and was revered as one of the finest 3D platformers of its day, and kept the same core gameplay, only in a 3D space, and with a far better soundtrack. Now, Rayman Origins seeks to tie those two games together by explaining how some things came to be in both adventures, and brings back the traditional 2D gameplay that has been dormant for many years.
Origins is a glorious return to the series’ 2D platforming roots because it takes everything that worked before and makes 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 it, 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 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.
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 perfectly, delivers satisfying platforming and shooting experiences while also featuring underwater stages that are actually fun. The soundtrack is a joy to listen to and far more diverse than most games out there. If you’re a fan of the genre, you owe it to yourself to play this game. Anyone on the fence should try out the demo because it showcases platforming and shooting and gives you a pretty good idea of what the full game is like.