Rayman Origins (Xbox360)

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It’s a bit of a daunting task engaging in critical discussion surrounding the latest Rayman game from Ubisoft and industry luminary, Michel Ancel. It’s always tricky providing critique for a game of any description, but when one encounters a title that has clearly been lavished with love, care and attention at every step of development, with tons to see and loads of small touches to enjoy, it becomes a frightening prospect simply because you don’t want to leave anything out or make that game sound less than amazing.

So it is with Rayman Origins, an action platformer quite unlike anything I’ve played before. A game that’s fit to bursting with sights and sounds of utter delight and spellbinding charm to spare. A game that combines the speed and precision of the best Sonic games with the ingenuity and flow of a classic Mario adventure.

Rayman Origins is a pure game, and I want to tell you all about it.

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The story setup for Rayman Origins is pretty lightweight: Rayman and friends are snoozing and relaxing, but even in their tranquil state they’re able to cause a ruckus with enough noise to ‘raise the living dead’ – which they manage to do. Soon enough, the gang is captured before breaking free again and setting off on an escapade through lush, hand-drawn side-scrolling worlds filled perilous challenges, helping hands and beautiful scenery, all of which is imbued with wonderful character.

It’s difficult to talk about Rayman Origins without mentioning the visuals, so let’s get that out of the way: This game looks amazing and runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second in every situation. Every level is able to tempt your eyes into glancing at incredible background and foreground details with activity and motion on offer everywhere you look, while crafted special effects (like explosions, dust clouds and impact spikes) add fantastic flair.

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The developers weren’t content to make their lives easier and stick to one theme or colour palette, either, so Rayman Origins will take you to luscious jungles and through foreboding (and astonishing) rain storms, to ancient temples saturated in bright beams of light, reverent temple caves, a music-themed land of sun, sand, drums and didgeridoos, sparkling oceans and fruit-themed winter wonderlands. Every level has differently themed allies and enemies, but they’re all familiar enough that you’re always keenly aware of the function of each.

And boy, are those characters drenched in personality and attitude! The facial expressions on your enemies are classic while allies (which can take the form of platforms, swings, collectibles and walkways) are simply ecstatic to help you on your journey as the very level itself reaches and extends to more easily get you to where you’re going. Dancing creatures and smiling faces can be seen everywhere you look, while explosions of colour, confetti and cheers erupt at your every success. Playing Rayman Origins is a great method for self-affirmation!

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While I would like to talk about the gameplay of Rayman Origins, I can’t go any further without discussing the music and sound effects of the game, which only further enforce the character-rich world. Music themes are performed with recognisable instruments and are generally light in nature, but because there’s such a familiar quality to the compositions the whole game is more inviting, laid back and even homely. It’s a joy to simply sit and listen to the melodies, while audio rewards abound in interaction, too, as collectibles sing enchanting songs and secret areas are revealed with an always satisfying chorus of “Ooooh!”

But… what do you actually do in Rayman Origins?

While collecting Lums (the ‘coins’ or ‘rings’ of the game) and Electoons (comparable to ‘keys’) in the levels, as one of a variety of characters (selectable at any time in-between levels) you’ll generally be running through the world, jumping on enemies, leaping from wall to wall, swinging on vines (and those helping hands) and smashing enemies with well-timed melee flurries, ground-pounds and charged punches. As you progress, you’ll learn new abilities and you’ll soon be floating, changing sizes, running along ceilings and swimming like a pro.

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If you’re really nimble on the controls, it’s not uncommon to be able to flow through levels without stopping for a moment’s break as you run, slide, glide, jump, bounce and dive from platform to enemy to wall to swing to the ground again, before floating on streams of air, gracefully swimming in the sea and desperately ‘climbing’ up falling debris to reach your goal. Rayman Origins incentivizes these chains of movement by expertly placing collectibles and extensions of levels in your path to not only reward you for your elegant skills, but also to keep you moving.

This movement is backed up by the aforementioned super smooth frame rate as well as the ultra responsive controls, but the game does demand your attention during every split-second of the journey. While I was never outright punished for a lapse in concentration, there were times when I missed out on special items because I didn’t see a path just fast enough, but most of my mistakes can be put down to my own greed – it’s a mark of a great platformer (or any game, really) when it’s able to tempt you into performing extraordinary feats just to pick up an out-of-reach collectible, and I was undone many a time thanks to my own gluttony for Lums.

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While Rayman Origins is a fine solo experience, it springs to life playing with friends and with support for up to four simultaneous players, there’s a lot of life in this game! While there’s unfortunately no support for co-operative play online, I think much of the excitement (and speed) of the game would be lost as this sort of experience is best enjoyed on a couch with other people to share in the elation, successes and failures of one another, together. The action can get a little frenzied with more than one character on screen, but luckily the game compensates by zooming the camera out to accommodate all players while failures are easily remedied. Play with friends and you’re guaranteed a great time!

The worst thing I have to say about Rayman Origins is that it gets pretty difficult pretty quickly, and especially in the last quarter of the game, there may be times when you need to remind yourself to breathe. Your grip on the controller may become a little tight, too. This is easily rectified with a quick (or even extended) break and the commonly experienced phenomenon of ‘rest success’ will bear fruit, I promise.

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I’m reaching the end of my time with you discussing the wonderful world of Rayman Origins, but there’s so much more to talk about! So many more stand-out touches and experiences to let you in on! What about that musical level with the birds? And swimming with fish? And those mosquito shooter levels? And using glowing balls of light to navigate through swarming enemies? And-and-and…

But… perhaps it’s best that you play Rayman Origins and journey through this beautiful adventure with friends to experience these stand-out moments for yourself. The next time we meet, and after you’ve got to know Rayman Origins a little better, we can further discuss the joy and delight of one of 2011’s most amazing and charming games together, OK?