Review / Rayman Origins (360)

What is true happiness? Is it the love of a good woman? The building of a family? The piles and piles of money you earn from developing a Call of Duty title?

Or is it just playing Rayman Origins? Slapping Globox round the face, humming along to the delightfully annoying lum songs, and executing the perfect wall jump over the spikey thistles and into some fluffy clouds? Because that’s how I feel when I play this gorgeous 2D platformer – happy. So happy in fact, that if I were Ebenezer Scrooge, I would wake up the morning after playing and grant the boy in the street a shilling to go forth into the town and buy the biggest HD TV he could find so that Tiny Tim could play this one all Christmas day.

The name of Origins’ game is being beautifully simple, yet deceptively deep. It’s a true blend of casual and hardcore, with gameplay that’s super easy to pick up yet viciously hard to master and a jaw-dropping art style that’s obviously kid-friendly but also invites the adults along to play.

Story takes a back seat, which is probably best seeing as the characters can only speak gibberish. There’s little to get in the way of the gameplay here. No stat upgrades, no cutscenes, no QTEs; it’s switch on, pick a level, and go.

And my, how you’ll go. Our armless hero harkens back to his original PSOne adventure in Origins, navigating the tropical jungles and didgeridoo-filled deserts (never thought I’d say that) with jump-heavy, action-light gameplay. The innovation comes from level structure and objectives that set a different kind of pace and thought-process for every map. Sometimes it’s a case of chasing after a treasure chest, sometimes something’s chasing after you, sometimes it requires precise platforming, sometimes you’ll swim, sometimes you’ll even fly.

It never quite reaches the level of variety and ingenuity we’ve come to expect from a Mario title these days, but it stays fresh throughout. You’ll find safety in its reliable, familiar core mechanics rather than a host of new ideas, like it would rather pay tribute to the genre than build on it.

Despite being almost completely linear, the game thrives on a sense of discovery. Every inch of the screen you push forward on reveals a new challenge or something else that’s delightful to look at. There’s a real kid in a candy store sense to some of the environments as you trek through them.

The whole game starts to become a sort of supped up funhouse the further you dive into it. As you become more familiar with the controls its flow ramps up and leaping from platform to platform becomes an effortless joy. Throw in brilliant little bits like arcade shooter style segments featuring a very old friend, and Rayman’s message is clear – you don’t need the most tech-heavy visuals and in-depth gameplay to have a bloody good time.

Complimenting that childish feel is the care-free co-op mode that brings in up to four players locally (why no online?). Like New Super Mario Brothers Wii, it’s possible to kick and punch your friends, condemning them to a pit of spikes or pushing them into the enemy. From a gameplay perspective it doesn’t add much to the experience, though it does come in handy when players are effectively given infinite respawns, but it plays well to the game’s family feel. Those who are looking for a serious challenge might want to tackle it solo though; adding a second player quickly diminishes any sort of skill-based platforming challenge and turns it more into a chaotic frenzy.

What Origins is really is a brilliant blend of two generations. Its HD crispness and family-friendly options highlight what’s changed about gaming since the PSOne days that are reflected in its gameplay and spirit. And it’s great to get a taste of that spirit on a HD console (seeing as it’s arguably alive and well on the Wii), especially in a game without LEGO in the title.

But even with all the good will in the world, the argument can be made that gaming’s come so far now that there isn’t a place on the market for a $60 platformer of this nature. To some extent, that’s true here. There’s a lot of content on offer thanks to hidden collectables and time trials, but when there are games of similar quality available on both PSN and XBLA for much less, it does cast doubt over if it’s viable to stick Origins on a disc, especially when Rayman’s first sequel on the same system as the original went 3D. Epic’s Shadow Complex, while different in gameplay, captures many of the same feelings at a fraction of the price, for example.

All the same it’s great to see a game like this thriving in today’s industry, rather than being pushed to one side. Ubisoft definitely deserve a wound-up slap on the back for taking the risk of bringing Rayman (who’s been out of action for some time since the Rabbids took over) back to his roots.

Origins is a winner, then. It may be more of a swansong to the days of full-priced platformers than it would like to think it is, but that doesn’t hold it back from being a true feel-good game. Rarely has a title struck such a great balance between the casual and hardcore. As far as I’m concerned the guy hasn’t had it this good since the start of it all.