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Rayman Origins (Xbox 360) artwork

Rayman Origins (Xbox 360) review


"Taken as a counterweight to the flood of steely grey shooters littering the market, Origins is weaponized bliss. Itís also freakishly difficult, and thatís where Ancel and I have our differences."



When I was in eighth grade, my history teacher made us all memorize the Declaration of Independence and recite it individually in front of him. The long, grueling process of committing this entire document to memory, down to every last letter, has only grown more aggravating as the years go by and I realize just how pointless this exercise was. Today, I canít recite a single word of the Declaration of Independence, nor could I even really summarize its contents, beyond the fact that it declares independence. It wasnít a lesson; it was an ill-placed assessment of our ability to recall words in a certain order.

The teacherís name was Mr. Farmer, but letís not talk about him anymore. Letís talk, instead, about Michel Ancel.

Rayman Origins asset


I donít have much affinity for his Rayman character beyond considering The Great Escape to be one of the best 3D platformers ever made. Rayman Origins is purportedly a return to form, but itís been so long since Iíve played the first game that I couldnít tell you how well this new prequel-thing recaptures its essence. Maybe thatís for the better, then, because this way I can judge it for what it really is: a celebration of old-school 2D platforming. Ancelís love for the genre is constantly apparent, and he borrows from the best Ė the acrobatics of Prince of Persia, the dizzying speed of Sonic, some design choices that are obvious nods to Ice Climbers and the original Donkey Kong, among others. Itís like a greatest hits collection.

But whatís even better than a tribute to 2D platforming is a beautiful tribute to 2D platforming, and Ancel uses the seriesí trademark whimsicality to his advantage, taking us to places few games would dare to, and exercising the attention to detail that no 3D game could ever showcase. Crisp characters are animated to cartoonish perfection, and Ubisoftís clever use of modern hardware tricks makes this distinctly a product of the HD generation. People were hyping up Bastion as some sort of 2D savior, but Origins makes it look like a GBA game projected on a big screen.

And the music! The inhabitants of the Rayman universe are hardly the only video game characters to speak in daft gibberish, but the makers of The Sims or Banjo-Kazooie have certainly never thought to spin such nonsensical babble into actual musical numbers. Who would hire a choir just to sing made-up words in comically high-pitched voices? Michel Ancel, thatís who. In one particular instance, a kitchen-themed volcano level Ė just go with it Ė is scored by a mariachi band accompanied by what sure sounds a hell of a lot like the Trolololol guy, and heís just bellowing and chuckling absurdly, and it works somehow, within the gameís spiraling myriad of kookiness.

This all sounds great, right? An ode to classic platforming that feels instantly familiar and yet is constantly painting its own picture. Taken as a counterweight to the flood of steely grey shooters littering the market, Origins is weaponized bliss. Itís also freakishly difficult, and thatís where Ancel and I have our differences.

Frequent readers of my reviews, if they exist, might believe at this point that I donít like to be challenged when I play games. This is not true. I donít like to be frustrated needlessly, though, and as such, I see a good challenge as a learning experience, one that takes developing skill to overcome. A good challenge is when a triumph over one obstacle acts as preparation for the next obstacle. A good challenge is when a game gets less frustrating as it becomes more difficult. A good challenge is when I can return to a notoriously brutal game like Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia for the first time since its release and find that I still have a fluid command of its complex combat, despite not having played it in years.

Ancelís idea of a good challenge is not unlike Mr. Farmerís: memorization and flawless recitation. During Originsí most rigorous moments, the game forces you to move at lightning speed, either because youíre chasing something, or youíre being chased by something, or because the area youíre in is collapsing or whatever. The game asks you to perform complicated platforming maneuvers with precise-to-the-millisecond timing so you donít fall behind the levelsí hyper-scripted events, and youíve got to ensure the well-being of Rayman, who will usually die in one hit.

I consider Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time to be one of the greatest platformers ever created, partly because it gave us impressive-looking acrobatic maneuvers and the means to execute them intuitively, which Origins does, and because we were allowed to take it at our own pace and were given some margin for error, neither of which Origins can manage very often. And itís not like the game is going to get less difficult as it progresses. At first, the tedium is limited only to optional levels that have Rayman pursuing treasure chests with legs, but then the game hits you with mandatory chase sequences and some of the most scripted-to-hell boss battles Iíve ever come across. These encounters take trial-and-error to new extremes. Each boss fills most of the screen and is always in a very specific place at any given time, and you have to be in an equally specific place to avoid and counter its movements. Thereís no rhyme or reason to any of it; just survive as long as you can, and when you die, remember when you died, and try to be in a different spot next time.

This is empty frustration. I want to stress that what annoys me about these sequences isnít their difficulty, but their pointlessness. The checkpoints arenít usually unreasonable, but youíll have to play certain segments dozens and dozens of times before you master them, and once you do, youíve gained nothing, learned nothing, and have nothing to bring with you to the next frustrating segment. Theyíre like feature-length quick-time events without prompts, forcing you to simply memorize a complex series of button presses and analog stick tilts and execute them with flawless timing.

Itís a shame, because of the many traits of old-school 2D gaming that Origins channels, one of the most notable is its replayability, starting with the various assortments of collectible doodads and ending with time trials that arenít even available until youíve finished the level in question once. If youíre into achievements, expect to know this game inside-out before youíve hit the 100% mark. It hearkens back to the days when your parents would only buy you a certain number of games, and thus youíd have to squeeze the most out of everything in your collection. Unfortunately, Origins houses some bits that Iíd prefer to never revisit. After a first half joyous enough to make me reconsider my choice for 2011ís Game of the Year, my image of the gameís latter half is one of vibrant, upbeat tedium.

In fact, I thought I was finished with the game Ė watched the credits and everything Ė until I realized that there was still one ďhiddenĒ achievement I had yet to earn, and discovered through a bit of Googling that Origins has a secret final area, containing the gameís most grueling sequences of all, and its most grueling bossÖ and opening it would require such-and-such amount of shiny gizmos collected from those infernal treasure chest chases. No thanks, I say. I still see enough charm in Origins to recommend it to old-school gaming enthusiasts, especially those less prone to frustration than I am, and I donít want to jeopardize that.

Rating: 7/10

Suskie's avatar
Featured community review by Suskie (January 17, 2012)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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jerec posted January 17, 2012:

Yeah, this game looked good and I was considering buying it when it was cheaper (seriously, releasing this around the same time as Skyrim and other games probably didn't help sales). But yeah, I don't like frustrating games. And Rayman 2 was a bit of a doozy in that respect, too. I remember one level late in the game that had collapsing platforms and required you to move very fast, making each jump perfectly. I failed it over and over and over and was screaming (and I was 15 at the time). Almost broke my N64 controller. Burst a blood vessel in my eye I was so frustrated. Mum rightfully banned me from video games for a week.

These days I care far less about video games. If it frustrates me, it usually doesn't get played. So it's good to know that before I waste money on it. Thank you for your informative review!
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Suskie posted January 17, 2012:

Thanks, and if you ever get your hands on the game, you should at least play the first four major areas. I'm incredibly sad that I had to mark it down, but there were too many instances in which I just wasn't having fun.

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