At Last: A Worthy Rival for Mario
Review written by
July 6th, 2016
The one thing Mario holds over its platforming rivals is consistency of quality. Other franchises may take slight dips then return, a la Sonic; while others may make dips they never recover from (cough Crash Bandicoot cough). However none have ever been a Mario-rivaling pillar of quality, dropped into the dregs of gaming despair, only to storm back out; grab the industry by the neck and scream: I. AM. BACK.
Rayman was special. As a Nintendo fan it might be hard to admit that a platformer on the PlayStation was so good but it really rather was. Its bonkers aesthetic, kooky music and near surreal level design lead to an instant classic and Nintendo fans rejoiced when its equally brilliant sequel came to the N64.
But quickly this blossoming flower of brilliance was cut down by the brutal lawnmower that is the rabbids. With series creator Michel Ancel departed to craft the underrated masterpiece Beyond Good & Evil (stop reading this review and go get a copy of the GamCube version now. NOW!), the series fell into less dynamic hands and its tendency for innovation became a tendency for Miyamoto derivatives and limelight hogging, bouncy white critters.
One can only assume Ancel saw what had become of his franchise so he kicked down the doors to the Rayman office wielding an axe screaming GIVE ME BACK MY BABY! Or at least that is how we like to imagine it went down. It was probably just an exchange of emails.
Rayman Origins sees the franchise get reinvented, but reinvented by dialing it back to what it used to be. Sure, the graphics may be fresh; taking a Yoshi's Island cutesy look over the Super Mario 64 style of yesteryear's Rayman 2, but everything else has its origins in the original or its direct sequel: And that is the biggest compliment we can give. It is more bananas and bonkers than an episode of Adventure Time directed by David Lynch. One minute you think you get the game's internal logic, but then it throws a curveball such as mastering the art of running up walls or facing a boss battle inside the monster's own stomach.
This kind of nonsense fun is what great platforming can be. No, scratch that sentence. This kind of nonsense fun is what great platforming SHOULD be. To maintain such an incredible level of quality, whilst being a mere side scroller, is a testament to how graphics never matter when the gameplay is this superb. Its level design rivals Super Mario Galaxy's in its utter refusal to ever do the same thing twice. Much like the plumber in space barnstormer, every single gimmick it throws up could easily carry a whole game in itself and yet each one rarely consumes more than a handful of levels. This is the very definition of value for money. You are not just getting a game for your bucks; you are getting a playable universe.
And all this is complimented by the incredible artful music. Its jazzy pops and whistles and beeps and boops are like getting a free ticket to an electro-swing gig as you play. An album of the soundtrack would be worth the game price alone for. The fact you get a masterpiece of a game to play alongside it is almost a bonus.
Did we say masterpiece? Well yes, yes we did.
That is not a word we would throw around lightly, especially not in the platform genre, as it is a genre that is bogged down in formula, repetition and familiarity. It is worthy to note that each Mario game that stands out in memory (Bros 3, 64, Galaxy) is one that grabbed the format by the rude bits and twisted the concept into a brand new shape; all the while keeping what we love about the franchise intact. Rayman Origins does the same, offering up an onslaught of invention. Some platforming cliches stay true. Having to release caged Electoons from each level is highly reminiscent of many games of the genre, as is the addition of rare ruby teeth to collect. But relying a tad too heavily on staples of the form is a small price to pay when the page these staples are on is so utterly warped compared to anything that has come before it.
Does it quite reach the heights of the best Mario installments? Well no, not quite. But it comes a damn sight closer than you might expect from a franchise that seemed doomed to dwell in the hell that is rabbit themed mini-game packages. This is a flaw only of comparison. With nothing to square up against other than its own franchise, it is a blistering return to form dripping in creativity.
The only true negative is that the font was far too small and I found myself having to squint, or sit much closer to the screen, in order to read any subtitles. Having said that, about a month after completing the game I found out I needed glasses; that might not be Rayman's fault.
It has been a long time since any platform creation offered any real threat to Mario's crown, but the Brooklyn plumber should start worrying. Rayman has come back kicking and screaming with the kind of inspired lunacy that swiftly becomes gaming legend. If this is the only first step in an evolution, the sequel could be mind blowing.
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