(Words by Ryan Magnole, updated on 7th June 2022)
The Rayman franchise has had its very high highs, its rather low lows, and its run of silence since November 1995. The original Rayman was difficult (I don’t even remember if I fully beat it without crying a few times and unplugging my PlayStation), but it was all in good nature as the music was cheerful and the colors were vibrant. The franchise lost this glowing vibe as the games were released down the line. Rayman 2 took the limb-lacking hero on a third-person adventure that practically overshadowed its side-scroller predecessor to the point where the flat Rayman was aimed towards extinction.
Fast forward six years and Rayman Origins digs the 2D Rayman world up from the grave and onto the console screen. Nowadays, video games come by me very thinly. There are only certain games that I actually want to have the time to dedicate to play through. Rayman Origins was one of those. Several times. Why? Because the game is beautiful from top to bottom, side to side, speaker to speaker, button to button.
The gameplay is the first reason it’s so beautiful. Origins is difficult, but it’s the type of difficult that you begin to laugh and feel cheerful with the amount of times you run your character off the edge or into some thorns. Classic side scrollers and platformers like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Country use lives as a disincentive to keep you alert and attentive to their surroundings. Origins flips the switch and it makes the experience so much better. When no lives are entered into the equation, the game is put on full throttle. It’s what you always wanted to do before: hold right, hold whatever button is to run and never let go. If you fall off the map, the next step is to jump right back on and go faster.
The game goes about in a flowing, precise fashion as your character (some form of Rayman, Teensie or Globox (with unlockable different colors/costumes as you progress)) is expected to know to run on the sides of walls and hop to another wall in a matter of seconds without hitting the spiraling spike wheel that’s up ahead. In this game, death is a running gag and only makes you stronger in this world of creatures that dare to entrap adorable Teensies.
There can’t be any way someone has beaten the last level, “Land of the Livid Dead,” without dying and memorizing that you have to short jump-slide-attack-short jump-long jump at a precise pixel and moment onto a platform and flutter past the fire balls all in a matter of seconds to reach the first check point before the actual tough part of the level kicks in. I wish I kept count on how many times I knocked into a grandma monster thing (there’s no dialogue in this game so I have no idea what half of these enemies are called) or fell off the level. However, the satisfaction I had after beating “Land of the Livid Dead” was only met in one other video game: Guitar Hero 3, when I beat Jordan on Expert. I mean don’t you want to be as cool as this guy?
Not only is the gameplay exhilarating and entertaining, the art and music are a showcase of their own. Origins debuted a new engine of graphics development called UbiArt Framework, where every still image can be animated—described as 2.5D. (For behind-the-scenes technical neat stuff, watch this video.) As you run your character through puzzles, the backdrop is full of vibrant, detailed, beautiful pieces of art that are never overlooked. Every spot of the screen is accounted for, filled in with a looney plant or Globox-influenced headstone. (Peep the concept art here.)
To complement these artistic backdrops, Christophe Héral and Billy Martin curated the perfect soundtrack for Origins. Not only is the soundtrack a great composition of jazz, salsa, folk, funk and more, but it is the foundation of the Origins experience. As the player, you maneuver your character through the level along with the tempo of the backing track. Whether it’s high-pitched playful voices singing “glou glou” or a string-led symphony with thumping percussion, the soundtrack is fun and serves as your guide to saving all the Teensies and Lums.
For a game to have such an ambiguous storyline, no online play or no leveling up and still be one of the best games of the last few years says something. Those factors seem to carry such heavy weight nowadays that it often weighs out the natural fun of a game. I constantly preach about this game because of the price tag it has reached just over a few years. You can go on Amazon right now and buy it for your computer for only £2.58. £2.58! I originally had it for the Wii and then bought it for Xbox 360 for the gorgeous HD-ness for only $25 and that was a couple years back. I even bought the UK version because UbiSoft released a deluxe edition overseas that came with an art book and soundtrack, and as I said before, that’s a huge part of this game.
Moral of the story: if you haven’t played this game, grab some friends, pitch in a few bucks and be prepared to laugh at how many times you die trying to save these little creatures.