In a world where popcorn-shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield reign largely dominant over their industry despite their tiresome linearity and woeful storylines, it’s refreshing every once in a while to find a game that doesn’t rely on a formulaic template set down by the past legends of its genre. Those of us who aren’t waiting for the midnight launch for the next COD look to a select group of prized developers who will offer us consistently innovative and thought-provoking experiences: developers like Valve, Rocksteady, CryTech and Capcom, all masters of their respective trades rarely given enough attention by the wider gaming community, but treasured by those with a keen eye for talent. We added Ubisoft Montpellier to the list with the release of Rayman Origins…
Origins tells a simple tale – Rayman and his buddies are fast asleep, and their snoring awakens a menacing granny and her army of Darktoons, who then precede to capture a handful of Glade Kings and run off into the distance, just begging to be chased. Sound familiar? Yep, there’s more than a hint of the Mario franchise about this one; from the whimsical soundtrack to the fast-paced, rhythmic gameplay, countless elements that have made the iconic plumber’s recent escapades such captivating romps are present here, and as you might expect the whole experience plays out all the better for it.
However, what might come as more of a surprise is just how much Origins has to offer of its own accord. For starters, there’s a great variety in the styles and themes of each of the levels on offer, ensuring that the player won’t ever be stuck with the same repetitive gameplay mechanic for too long, but equally that they’ll get enough time with the thrilling flight sections, the incredibly addictive bonus chase sequences and the oft-hilarious boss battles that they won’t ever be left feeling short-changed either.
Perhaps even greater an achievement than that, though, comes in the simply sublime animation. The in-house UbiArt Framework engine made specifically for this project works wonders, giving a distinct visual flair to characters, locales and objects throughout every level, and is rendered stunningly in high-definition. You need only watch a trailer or gameplay demo of Origins to get a glimpse at the sheer level of attention and detail that’s gone into each aspect of its graphical style. This was undoubtedly a trend-setter for any development teams who dare to take a new approach to their animations and artwork.
I would offer a word of warning: Rayman Origins is not for the faint of heart. Like the Mario Bros and Prince of Persias of old, this game is not afraid to have you throwing your controller across the room as you fall down that same pit you’ve been trying to conquer for the past hour for a hundredth time. Ubisoft made the opening half of the game deceptively accessible, providing players with a fairly simple bunch of levels that can be breezed through in the best part of five hours, but once you’ve reached the midway point (and believe me, you’ll know when you’re there), the difficulty ramps up dramatically, as you’re forced to scour back through past levels to desperately search for more Electroons that can open up the path to new worlds.
Such an unprecedented shift in challenge is likely to alienate a significant proportion of the game’s younger audience, simply because there are so many titles out there right now which don’t pose so much of a struggle or require as much time to be invested in order to complete them. Personally, I would say that the team at Montpellier should really have balanced out the learning curve of Rayman Origins’s later levels a little better to make the idea of putting the disc back into our consoles for one more go seem a little less daunting.
That said, I commend the studio for sticking to their guns and giving us a ‘hardcore’ platformer that gloriously harkens back to the days of the Mega Drive and the SNES, packing all of the challenge and innovation that made the classics such a joy to play in their heyday. Whether you’re able to beat it or not, there’s absolutely no denying that Rayman Origins is a stunning pinnacle of modern platforming and visual design. Above all, it’s a cracking showcase of what consoles can offer (besides first-person shooters).