Ubisoft’s “Rayman Origins” feels like a game that was sent out to die at retail. Released the same week as “Saints Row: The Third,” “Halo: Anniversary” and Ubi’s own “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations,” and just four days after “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” the side-scrolling, two-dimensional platform-jumping game had no shot of getting noticed by anyone other than fans of creative director Michel Ancel or parents looking for a colorful, cute game for their kids.
Even Rayman himself, part of a generation of game-company mascots that included folks like Banjo, Kazooie and Crash Bandicoot has become something of an afterthought, eclipsed by the Raving Rabbids. Originally just planets orbiting Rayman’s star, the maniacal bunnies have been spun off in recent years into their own series of party games while the original mascot has languished.
Released at another, slower time of year, “Origins” might have caught some buzz and become something of a cult hit. Because of the game’s release date and scant promotion, many gamers will miss a whimsical, well-designed romp through gorgeous environments that take equal inspiration from Disney cartoons and Dr. Seuss.
There isn’t much in the way of a plot to “Origins” (rated E10+, $60 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii). At the beginning of the game, Rayman and his buddies are snoozing loudly under a tree before their musical snoring wakes up the neighbors, whose anger plunges the world into chaos. That’s about it, really. Apparently some PG-rated, scantily clad nymphs have been kidnapped and you need to rescue them one at a time to unlock new powers, such as the ability to glide or shrink to a small size. The “story,” told mostly through word bubbles and speech that sounds like a combination of pig Latin and gibberish, is window dressing for the sort of running, jumping and collecting that gamers have been doing since “Super Mario Bros.”
As players guide Rayman and up to three of his friends through each level, they’ll gather Lums, magical creatures of light that serve as your “score” for the level. Collect enough Lums as a group, and you’ll get a higher reward. These rewards come in the form of medals and extra Electoons, little pink puffballs that unlock later stages. You’ll get one Electoon for finishing a level, plus up to two more based on your Lum total. Additionally, most levels have hidden areas in which additional Lums can be found. There’s not much penalty for dying, which is represented by the character turning into a bubble. In co-op play, this bubble can be steered around the screen for another character to pop.
Though “Rayman Origins” is the sort of platform-jumping fare we’ve been playing for decades, Ancel and his team mix things up from time to time. Some levels have Rayman and pals climbing into their world’s equivalent of little spaceships, from which they blast enemies with a little pellet gun and suck up others with a vacuum attachment. The soundtrack is particularly strong for the genre, particularly in the midgame underwater sections.
Platform-jumping games have become increasingly rare, and “Origins” is a good one, thanks to its tight controls and perfect marriage of cartoony visuals and cute music. While the latest “Rayman” doesn’t reinvent the genre, it can hold its own with the likes of Nintendo’s “New Super Mario Bros. Wii.” It’s easily the best in its genre on the Xbox 360, a console for which developers have struggled to produce well-made, kid-friendly games that aren’t toy, movie or cartoon tie-ins.
The game’s only shortcoming is its lack of online play. If you want to game with your friends, you’ll have to invite them over. It’s understandable that Ubisoft didn’t invest time or money on getting the $50 Wii version playable online. The decision to launch a four-player, $60 game on the Xbox 360 and PS3 without including multiplayer is a head-scratcher, though.
For this review, I played an Xbox 360 version of the game provided by the publisher for review.