Look mom! No arms!

Gaming gurus are well aware that the eleventh month of every year tends to crank the intensity dial on our consoles far past eleven, and this traditional rule of thumb has never held more true than in the year 2011. With at least two hot releases savouring their spots on store shelves every single week, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of saturated action and non-stop balls-to-the-wall button-mashing. Eventually, you’re just looking to cool your jets and there’s no better game to do just that than Rayman Origins, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, available for all major consoles.

Rayman always hated ‘Hell’s Kitchen’.

As its eponymous title suggests, Origins puts Rayman back in his two-dimensional, side-scrolling, primordial place and consequently the game’s story is a mere afterthought. Lazily lounging in the land of Lums, Rayman gets a rude awakening as a particularly perturbed old woman and her legion of Darktoons arise from the Land of the Livid Dead to wreak their own hoodlum havoc on the limbless hero’s home world. For what reason, you ask? No idea. Rayman and his buddies could not have been less of a nuisance. To restore order, the game’s protagonists must collect enough Lums and Electoons – never mind the names – and free a bunch of caged fairies. The generic Mister Dark also stands in the way of rectifying all right in the world but, all told, a classic ‘beat-the-bad-guys’ routine doesn’t do much to make you care. Perhaps acceptable for an XBLA title, the scarcity of any plot in the slightest for a retail-priced package is more than a little insulting, regardless of its developers intention to opt for simplicity over story.

Traversing a fairly traditional map screen, you advance from stage to stage, free to re-traverse at will in order to best previous scores.

Ray-ly Easy

Origins’ gameplay reasonably overshadows its tale-telling faults with enjoyable – yet far from perfect – 2D side-scroller action. Beginning at the game’s hub, the Snoring Tree, the player is free to choose his character from Rayman, Globox, or the ant-like Teensie. Nice to know, but why would I not want to be Rayman? Traversing a fairly traditional map screen, you advance from stage to stage, free to re-traverse at will in order to best previous scores. As a 2D side-scroller, few surprises are in stock: hold that control stick to the right, mash on some monsters, and collect as many Lums as you can. A number of cages filled with Electoons are set in each stage, and when you bust them open Rayman performs a fairly disturbing pelvic thrust… not exactly important, but we thought we’d throw that out there. Enemies poise virtually no threat at all, taken out with one-button attacks. Coupled with minimal death penalties, you may find early on that Origins offers little challenge to the hardcore. The more you progress and the more fairies you free, the more powers you unlock. Rayman can use his dog-like ears to glide over gaps and shrink in size to squeeze through smaller areas, among other abilities. Board the occasional mosquito to engage in typical retro space shooter action. Only later in the game does the difficulty ramp up and you’re forced to rely on quick reflexes to save you from environmental perils, and that’s when Rayman Origins gets really good, but a more balanced campaign would have been appreciated as Ray-fans of yesteryear are bound to be turned off by the toddler-tailored gameplay.

“Get your hand off my new Nikes!”

Ray Tracing

Ubisoft Montreal, under the direction of the company’s veteran design lead Michael Ancel, have, if nothing else, crafted a work of awesome artistry. Colourful and vibrant, the animated sketches within enliven the game, and not the other way around. Beautifully drawn environments are varied and vibrant, with enough diversity to keep your eyes at ease. Characters are animated so well that their two-dimensional figures almost appear three-dimensional, with a flawless frame-rate – naturally, for this sort of title – sharpening the game’s already razor-sharp edges. Words minced, Origins’ graphics define the title and set it apart from most XBLA titles, justifying its retail release. Sound design, though occasionally frustrating, is every bit as crisp and concise as the graphics. Like our previous gameplay gripe, the music can get a little cutesy and soft – and, every time you grab a sleeping Lum, painfully annoying – but, overall, a solid re-edited score is not all that invasive and pleasantly reminiscent. With no additional modes, it’s disappointing that there isn’t more from this title than a brief campaign, but four-player co-op is an entertaining experience that is sure to extend the game’s value. In the end, Rayman Origins’ presentational prowess far outweighs its content shortcomings and provides, no matter for how short a time, good, clean fun to those who seek it.

Prefer moving pictures and sounds? Then watch our video review here.

Rayman Origins was reviewed on Xbox 360.

A Bit Limbless

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