Ray’s Origin With the Rayman Franchise. A Rayman: Origins Review. By Ray.
In case you hadn’t heard (which is likely judging by sales), a brand new Rayman game subtitled Origins was recently released across all 3 home platforms. Now what the hell is a “Rayman” you may be asking yourself? Well, it’s a long running series of mostly action/adventure platform games starring an armless, legless Frenchman as he runs and jumps around beautifully designed worlds killing bad guys and collecting stuff. If the thought of that doesn’t rivet you, then I guess you probably wouldn’t be reading this website to begin with. I’m sorry for making things awkward.
But before I get into my proper review of this new entry, allow me to indulge myself as I revisit my personal experience with this franchise which has flown so criminally under the radar for nearly two decades. Where to begin? Oh right, the beginning:
Sometime in early 1995 and at the tender age of 14, yours truly stumbles across a few screen shots in GamePro magazine (R.I.P.) of a new game called Rayman. My jaw drops. These graphics are beautiful. For a kid who loves the platforming genre more than any other, I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Only, what’s this? This is a 32-bit game meaning there’s slim to no chance it can be contained by an SNES cartridge. Upon closer inspection, the article confirms that Rayman is coming to the Playstation and Atari Jaguar. Nintendo is not mentioned anywhere. My heart sinks and I take a long walk across a sunset showered beach, tears and snot all over the place. As a Nintendo loyalist I struggled to convince myself that it didn’t matter that the game wouldn’t be made immediately available on one of their consoles. Maybe the upcoming Nintendo: Ultra 64 would bless me with the lush, detailed environments that those screen shots promised. I can wait. There’s something about this game that is calling to me and it isn’t the obvious. But it didn’t happen. At least not right away. A few years later, Rayman did make an appearance on a Nintendo console but it wasn’t exactly what I’d been pining for. This is the closest I came to experiencing Rayman as filtered through a Nintendo system back in those days:
Which admittedly wasn’t too shabby given the limitations of the Game Boy Color hardware but as you can see it was a far cry from the multi-scrolling beauty of the home version that I was dying to play. The GBC iteration was decent enough and gave me my first taste of the mechanics of the series but it was obviously a diluted one. I can remember trying to convince others that it was “just as good” as the original game but obviously that didn’t make for a very convincing discussion. Still, it was a fine game but ultimately just a pale shadow of the home version. It would take a few more years and another portable Nintendo system before I’d finally get my hands on a more faithful adaptation in the form of Rayman Advance for the GBA.
Which blew my mind. The Game Boy Advance despite the lack of back lighting was a VERY powerful portable and Rayman was just as jaw droppingly gorgeous to look at as I’d expected for so many years. The only problem was the venue. Displayed on that tiny system, the big, beautiful sprites sacrificed screen space which made it pretty tough to navigate at times. Sure, throwing the cart into a GBA Player helped a bit, it’s just that the “camera” was zoomed in a bit too closely making timing your jumps properly extremely problematic. But ultimately it was as close as I had gotten to experience Michel Ancel’s vision of platforming and I wanted more. Oh, did I forget to mention that guy? He’s the lead designer for the french development team at UbiSoft who created Rayman (and the just as beautiful game, Beyond Good and Evil but that’s a rant for another day).
Michel Ancel is sort of like France’s version of Miyamoto. He’s an incredibly talented weirdo who happens to have a knack for consistently delivering incredible video game experiences with a style that is uniquely his own. Obviously influenced by Mario’s creator, the main difference between the two is that Ancel puts just as much effort into the art and design of his work as the mechanics of the gameplay. His games are rich and full of character right down to the blades of the grass and the mushrooms that inhabit his worlds. He creates seemingly living, breathing environments and after making a name for himself with Rayman he turned his attention to developing the inevitable sequel…
Rayman 2: The Great Escape
Rayman 2 is a game that was in every way just as successful a transition from 2 to 3D platforming as the one Super Mario experienced 3 years earlier on the Nintendo 64. The Great Escape was my first console experience with a Rayman game and it was one that managed to stand shoulder to shoulder with not only what Nintendo themselves were producing for the N64 but also with RARE, the British developers who were at their creative peak at the time, responsible for games like Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini and Goldeneye. Rayman 2:The Great Escape solidified Ancel and Rayman’s place in the industry as a creator and franchise to be taken seriously. The sheer passion that poured out of every pixel and polygon made it clear that this was someone’s life work and we couldn’t wait to see what would come next.
Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc
Until what came next turned out to be Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc, that is. Now I don’t want to be too harsh on this game since it is well made and still manages to capture the general spirit of what came before. It’s just that overall, you can’t help but feel like the entire thing is a slight step to the side and not forward. It’s painfully obvious that Ancel’s involvement was minimal as he was off working on other projects and his absence is definitely missed. The whole affair just feels far more mechanical and less the organic experience that had come to be expected. For a series that had always delivered a sense of “completeness,” in this third adventure the seams were beginning to show. After this misfire, it would be quite some time before players would get their hands on another “proper” Rayman game as the character was about to hop onto the mini game bandwagon that was introduced with the Wii. And this time he wasn’t alone.
Rayman: Raving Rabbids
If you haven’t heard of a Rabbid before, chances are you haven’t played a video game in the last half decade. Garnering immediate popularity upon release, it was clear that Rayman would be taking a backseat to these critters in this new side-series. Ubisoft capitalized on the mild success by releasing sequel after sequel and Rayman eventually found himself not only out of the spotlight but eventually completely out of a job. While I did enjoy the first entry, the Raving Rabbids series quickly became over saturated and I wondered whether or not the Rayman brand was gone forever. It would take a few more years and a rumor that Ancel was leaving Ubisoft altogether before word got out that he was hard at work on an all new entry in the main series and it would be a triumphant return to the character’s side-scrolling roots.
Which brings us to Rayman: Origins, the long awaited return to form for the character and (thankfully) without a Rabbid in sight. Originally, this game was intended to be a downloadable title but quickly became too large for the format and found it’s beautiful code slapped on the back of physical discs for the Wii, PS3 and Xbox. Time to break it down:
Graphics: Um, have a look:
You’re going to have a tough time finding a more beautifully drawn and animated title than this one. I honestly can’t remember the last time the graphics in a game have made me audibly gasp and this frickin’ thing induces that reaction almost nonstop. Of course, I’m playing this on Wii and am well aware that the higher definition that other platforms offer only serve to enhance the beauty but it’s a testament to the artwork that even on a system with nearly 10 year old tech, Rayman: Origins can still be considered one of the flat out prettiest games ever made.
Unfortunately, the sound is a mixed bag and the one element in the game that I find lacking. The bouncy, upbeat tracks that accompany each stage are pleasant enough but not exactly memorable. Also, it’s too bad that the music is occasionally accompanied by some rather grating character chants. Early on in the adventure they aren’t so bad but as you find yourself replaying some of the tougher stages later on, you’ll find yourself reaching for the volume control pretty quickly.
The control in this series has always been one of it’s strong suits and Origins continues that trend magnificently. Simply put, it’s at a Nintendo level of polish. Jumping has perfectly balanced weight and the game only gets better as more abilities are introduced in a perfectly executed learning curve. The option to play with a Wii-mote by itself, with a nunchuk, or a classic controller is also a nice touch and goes a long way toward helping each individual find their own personal sweet spot (mine is the Classic Controller, not that that’s any of your damn business).
The Final Word:
And after all of that, all that really needs to be said is this: Rayman: Origins is game that not only deserves to be bought. It deserves to be flirted with, fondled and yes, even the L word. Lubbed. It has managed to give me, now a grown man the same sense of wonder and amazement that I had at 14 when I first saw those screenshots. If anything, this truly feels like the game I’ve been waiting to play for all of these years and I am nowhere near disappointed. Quite the contrary, I’m actually shocked at the level of artistry on display here, despite the franchise’s formidable pedigree. Rayman: Origins is a masterpiece of a game pure and simple, and I once again find myself dying to see what Michel Ancel cooks up next.
It better be a Beyond Good and Evil sequel on Wii U.
By the way, the price on this thing just dropped to $20 at Toys R Us, so be nice to yourself and go grab a copy.