November might be dominated by video game releases from the likes of Modern Warfare, Skyrim, Halo, and Zelda, and a whole host of others, but there is one little gem that deserves your attention — Rayman: Origins.
For those who aren’t up to speed on the Rayman franchise, it is a platformer series set in a wild, and fantastical world. Faries, bouncing mushrooms, talking whales, and surreal, cartoony locales are trademarks of the game’s setting. The protagonist, Rayman, is a limbless hero who has been called into action numerous times to save the topsy-turvey world from destruction. Our hero jumps, dodges and punches his way through enemies, collecting items and hidden treasures along the way.
I’ve always been a fan of Rayman ever since the original game on the Playstation 1. Rayman 2: The Great Escape was probably my favorite 3D platformer on the N64 (sorry Mario 64) and Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havok continued the tradition of highly-creative worlds and top-notch gameplay. When the series went the way of party-games, and began featuring a race of small furry ‘Rabbids,’ I lost interest. However, now that the series has returned to it’s platforming roots, I am happy to once again hop into the disembodied shoes of Rayman.
The demo for the game, available for free on Xbox live and the Playstation Network, offers a glimpse at three of the game’s levels. Each one showcases a different environment: a dense jungle forest, ancient ruins coursing with lava, and under water tunnels.
The jungle level is the demo’s only platformer stage: moving flowers to hop on, enemies to punch, items to collect, vines to swing on, and ledges to jump to. The basic goal of the game is to collect little fairy-like creatures called ‘Lums’ (familiar for any Rayman fan), and find hidden cages in each level, which contain small sprites called Electoons(yet another familiar face). The more cages you break and more Lums you collect, the higher your end-level score will be. The demo features an unlockable costume for finding all 9 cages, and if you hit the high score for each level, you earn a special medal. From what I can tell playing single player, Lums and Cage collection will play an important roll in the multiplayer, but to what effect I’m not sure (I’m not sure if the demo offers multiplayer either, though I wouldn’t have any others to play with even if it did). In single player, the incentive to collect items is based on unlocking new costumes/characters. There will probably be tons to unlock in the full game.
The other two levels are “moving screen” levels. In the lava temple you’re flying on the back of a mosquito (yes, he’s back!) and shooting at enemies shoot-em-up style. You still collect items and avoid obstacles, but the level has basically no platforming. The level ends with a boss battle against a giant sea creature. The third and final stage of the demo is an underwater level. Jumping off a pier into a bright blue sea, you’ll avoid a few jellyfish, then two monsters break through the walls and begin to chase you. As the screen races forward, you swim, jump and dive to avoid rocks, enemies and sudden changes to the environment.
The controls for the game are extremely responsive and smooth. I never felt that a misjudged jump or botched dodge was the result of poor controls. In fact, the controls are so well done that I felt I could make very precise movements when I needed to, and my jumps and attacks were carried out immediately. While the demo stages do have some difficult spots, I’m sure the full game will feature much harder levels, so the controls being tight will undoubtedly alleviate some needless headaches.
I guess more so than anything else in the game, what impressed me the most was how gorgeous the graphics, art design, and music are. The game may be in 2D, but the highly detailed and brightly colored hand-drawn graphics truly bring the fantasy world of Rayman to life, and are some of the best graphics I’ve seen in a game in a long time. this is all thanks to Ubisoft’s Ubiart Framework, which allows art designers to directly input and manipulate the game’s assets, rather than try to recreate the concept art within the game’s engine. Each level has multiple layers of depth, with something happening in every layer of the foreground and back ground, but without distracting the player. In fact, I found myself going back and replaying the levels in the demo just to see if I missed anything in the art of the world.
While marveling at the crisp HD graphics and super-detailed art design, you’ll be spurred along by a great soundtrack and sound design. Something I always enjoyed about the Rayman series was its top-notch sound design, and Origins showcases some of the best in the series. Each jump, ledge, enemy, item, or action has it’s own sound. They’re subtle enough to not be distracting, but their inclusion are a nice touch and show the developers’ dedication to making the game great. That’s also highly apparent in the music, featuring catchy flamenco-style guitar leads that would make Sergio Leone proud, tribal percussion beats, and heart pounding orchestrated moments — the music is just as breathtaking as the art design. This trailer shows it all:
Some people like to say games can be works of art. From what I’ve seen of the game so far, Rayman seems to be taking art and turning it into a game instead, and a damn fine one at that. I look forward to playing this when it’s released on November 15.
Check out the official Rayman: Origins website, and be sure to pry yourself away from Skyrim and Modern Warfare, and play this game!