Saturday, February 4, 2012

Top 10 of '11 - #7: Rayman Origins

When a team gets together and focuses their mind on the type of game they would like to create, comparisons are immediately drawn up. More often than not, the run-of-the-mill games that sit wistfully on store shelves are the ones where the team decided on a generic approach, emulating whatever the hot title was three months prior to its initial development. “This will be like BioShock, but with an emphasis on gunplay!”

The truly great games get made under the distinction that the development team decides to go balls to the wall in creating something all to themselves. The reason we talk about games such as BioShock, Shadow of the Colossus, and Braid in such a positive light is the team’s brash, bold decision to create something that they would want to play, a title that further evolves a familiar mold that we all love. You can add Ubisoft Montpellier’s Rayman Origins to this list of love letters that developers write to themselves that we are lucky enough to get our grubby mitts on.

I’m a firm believer that if you truly love the work you’re doing, it will shine through in the final product. This is the case with Rayman Origins, a game that works on various levels of emulation but rarely imitation, offering instead to work its own complex platforming engine and ingenious level design into the friendly confines of a colorfully robust world of its own creation.

Evolving past the days of Goomba-stomping and spinning through loops collecting coins, Rayman Origins instead focuses on the art of platforming itself. Revamping what we consider to be the prototypical platformer, sensitivity and physics have been thrown against the wall in an effort to mix things up in the form of various playable character types. The differences tend to be slight between the plethora of characters and skins, but when your engine is as sleek as that of Rayman Origins, the difference between massive success and colossal failure often lies in the most miniscule of detail; you may have hit that ledge instead of plummeting to their doom if your character provided the teensiest bit of gliding boost, for example.

Again, however, all of this is miniscule in the long run. The slightest improvement to a storied formula might not gel as well with others as it does with this open-minded platforming aficionado, and I understand that. What we can all agree on – especially Ubisoft Montpellier – is that the best way to improve the platforming genre is with sophisticated stage design. Rayman Origins delivers more than enough of that, as you will receive several handfuls of brilliantly developed and gorgeously animated stages after the initial introductory world, which is admittedly bland at first glance. This bleeds over to the smile-inducing boss battles, as well, where a myriad of oversized goons are yours for the smacking.

There are three types of stages in Rayman Origins, and all three types knock it out of the park. Your typical platforming stages have been beefed up with floating wind currents that send you spiraling between thorny vines, dodging debris while bouncing to and fro between shards of wood, and swimming through jellyfish labyrinths without getting zapped. Riding on the back of a friendly mosquito, you can take part in cleverly woven side-scrolling shooter tracks that would make the casual R-Type observer salivate, ricocheting bullets off of metal objects to land trick shots on pesky inaccessible foes. The best has been saved for last in the form of chase stages, where moving forward is a requirement in an effort to seize runaway treasure chests containing the teeth of the Grim Reaper, who has a heinous trick up his sleeve upon completion of his dental work. If you don’t grin and grimace as you figure out a tough portion of the chase scene only to meet the next roadblock, you might need to check your pulse. Simply put, Nintendo could use some pointers by playing through this inspired take on the genre they put on the map.

The title of best 2D platformer for this generation (and possibly ever, truth be told) still belongs to the epiphany-inducing Super Meat Boy, but Rayman Origins certainly won’t mind coming out of nowhere to blindside gamers everywhere for the second place spot. This game has regularly been available for bargain prices worldwide as of the past few weeks, which is unfortunately mind-boggling. Don’t miss out on one of the better throwbacks of this generation.

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