When I played Ms. ‘Splosion Man earlier this year, I thought I knew I had played the hardest platformer of 2011. After all, MSM required precision timing, expert platforming, and just a general skill level you don’t see in most games. Rayman Origins, though…I didn’t think it would be hard. Colorful hand-drawn graphics. Hilarious trailers backed by a soundtrack with vocals that consisted of “wakka-wakka-doo”. Marketing towards kids. And the second you’re lulled into it, it turns around and kicks your ass.
Let’s just outright skip the minimal story and get to the first thing you’re going to notice about the game: the graphics. This is a gorgeous game. It uses the new UbiArt technology, which allows the artists to make beautiful stuff like this. It’s colorful and well-animated. And the bosses are so fully detailed, but still manage to exist in the game world’s style. I think there’s been this turn of some developers to have to make sure that, if they’re going to keep making 2D games, they better look damn good. And this game does.
And the other major part of this game is that it is not fooling around. This is platforming harkening back to the golden age, and it knows what that entails: a kid-friendly game on the outside, a completely unforgiving death-trap-laden world inside. This is a game where one of the trailers was called “10 Ways to Die”, and I’m pretty sure that barely scratched the surface. Now, the controls are simple enough. You can’t do anything but run, jump, and attack. Even the new abilities you unlock don’t affect the game’s basics that much. Running up walls or helicoptering around just means the game has a new element it can use against you. By the halfway point, which is around the time you have all your abilities, it’s expected that you’re also a master of them. And the game stops messing around. You mistimed a jump, you’re dead. You didn’t hit the attack button at the right time, you’re dead. You didn’t run up the wall, jump to another wall, keep this up, jump off, swing from a vine, and keep platforming in one of the auto-scrolling segments, all the while avoiding spikes? No points for guessing what you are (hint: dead). Rayman (or Globox or the two Teensies you can also play as) can’t be hit at all, or he’s dead. About the only nice thing the game does for you is giving you unlimited lives, which takes off some of the possible frustrations. Now, you can get hearts which give you a whole extra hit point. I found this was generally useless throughout the game. What tends to happen is that you aim your jump wrong and hit a spike, which makes you lose your heart, and then Rayman jumps around on the spikes more and dies. It can be a nice safety net in some situations, but rarely is it going to be a game-changer. The difficulty, however, makes the game rewarded. Every moment you memorize, every split-second jump you make or precision movement that saves your life feels rewarding. The game likes to put coins which give you more Lums (the game’s collectible, like coins or rings) in extremely dangerous situations, like surrounded by spikes. It’s a good feeling when you’ve got the stage down enough that you feel like you can get that coin. This arrogance is foolish. You’re dead.
The one gameplay switch the game makes, where you fly around on Moskito, at which point the game turns into a shooter. Strangely, these segments really don’t feel too out of place. In fact, sometimes they can almost be a breather. This doesn’t mean they’re easy. It’s still one-hit-and-you’re-dead. And it can still require some precision dodging. One segment almost went right into bullet hell territory. But in comparison to what the game asks of you platforming-wise in the later levels, it’s a cakewalk.
I know there were complaints when the game went from being a downloadable title to a retail release. These were ridiculous. Not only does the game have 10 worlds full of levels, but there’s plenty of replayability here. For one, on each stage (non-Moskito stage, the standard from now on) there’s two hidden Electoon cages that you can find. Getting enough of the Lums in a level also earns you an Electoon, along with completing the time trial for a level. Getting enough Electoons unlocks the chests, which are HELL IN AN AUTOSCROLLING STAGE. If the main game doesn’t break you, these little levels (which can easily be finished in under 2 minutes once you get them right) will. And getting all of these unlocks the Land of the Livid Dead. Which no, I did not unlock. On a related note, though, there’s no achievement for beating the game, but there is one for beating the Land of the Livid Dead. I normally try not to bring up achievements in reviews, but screw you, UbiSoft. You didn’t even use all 50 achievement slots. But yes, this is a full game. This is not a downloadable title slapped on a retail disc.
This is one of the must-have games for 2011. It’s a completely unforgiving, tough-as-nails, make-you-curse-like-a-sailor platformer. And I love it. It doesn’t pretend to be nice, but it is fair once you learn it. For all the times I was frustrated, I could never shake that feeling of “just one more level”.