Review: Rayman Origins (X360)

There have been so many attempts at standing tall in the world of platforming games, with Mario overshadowing other key players like Sonic and that Bandicoot fella. Sometimes, one game shatters the glass ceiling and causes the Italian plumber to fall off his feet.

Rayman Origins is the fourth game in the Rayman series. The Glade of Dreams is in disarray once again after Rayman’s neighbours unleashes a multitude of Darktoons, the stuff of nightmares, and imprison all the Electoons, the stuff of good dreams, unravelling the links between the islands around the Glade of Dreams. So it is up to Rayman and friends to beat them back to where they came from.

The game is a return to the series’ roots as a 2D platforming game and is powered by the new UbiArt Framework engine that allows developers to focus more on the game’s art and and less on the technical knowhow. The engine takes the illustrations and distorts them to form the basic skeleton, allowing developers to generate the animation without any loss in quality. Adding to the graphics is its wonderful soundtrack. Rayman Origins has music with a level of whimsy unheard since Crash (Bandicoot) Twinsanity.

Players must earn the right to use all of the player character’s hidden skills, such as the ability to attack enemies, glide through the air and dive underwater. These are unlocked after freeing the fairy Betilla and her sisters during the first stage of a new world, so there’s something to look forward to when you finish stages from the previous world.

That doesn’t mean the stages are drab and repetitive. Rayman Origins manages to keep things fresh and exciting. Each stage has a Electoon medallion. Freeing imprisoned Electoons in cages at the end, or stashed away in obscure parts of the stage, earns you an Electoon on your medallion. Collecting a certain amount of Lums or blazing through the level to beat the best time helps to fill that medallion in order to gather enough Electoons to put things back in order.

Collecting Lums (those yellow things with wings) to meet the quota is sometimes easier said than done. There are Lums hanging out across the stage, but the non-prominent Lums are hidden, appearing only when you brush against a bush or stomp on a bubbly platform. You also increase your Lum count by picking up a larger Lum King that causes Lums to start dancing and cost double when collected or snagging golden skull coins, which requires skill and some lives lost.

Thankfully, there aren’t any “lives”. When you take damage without a chance heart, you simply swell and pop, lose your collected Lums at that point before respawning at the last checkpoint you went through, giving you a chance to try again. If you keep doing badly, the game will offer you the option of pulling you out of the level. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Fail, and you’ll find yourself laughing it off and picking it up until you get to the end.

Some of the stages vary in format, such as Gradius-like “Moskito” world-transition levels where you have to pound the fire button to defeat enemies and bosses to earn your Lums. There are also levels where you chase down a walking treasure chest across the stage to grab a skull tooth that will eventually unlock a secret world.

While playing alone by yourself is enjoyable, the fun really begins when you gather your friends. Every stage in Rayman Origins supports jump-in play for up to 4 players to enjoy a round of frenzied slapping, hopping and jumping across the various worlds and levels. Playing multiplayer co-op also allows friends to save friends from certain death, unless all four perish in the fight and are forced to respawn from the last checkpoint just like in single-player mode.

Rayman Origins is one of those rare platforming games with an pinch of difficulty that doesn’t make you want to toss the controller at the screen if you are just bad at it. Its flair and equal balance of wonderful art and level design makes the game shine like that skull coin you can’t reach. I’m glad this one grew larger than the initial plans to make it an episodic game. I would love to see what Michel Ancel, his creative team and the UbiArt engine can do next.

Graphics 10
Brilliant amount of detail on the highly-defined characters and levals unseen in any other Rayman game.
Sound 9.0
An addictive soundtrack that soothes the pain of platforming mishaps.
Gameplay 9.0
Twists and turns on most levels keeps gameplay interesting.
Lasting Appeal 9.0
There is plenty of action and plenty to collect if you like shiny Electoon medallions.
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Rayman Origins is a Ubisoft game developed by Ubisoft Montpellier for the Xbox 360. Also available for the PlayStation 3 and Wii. Coming to PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS. Single- and 2-player gameplay tested.