If you peruse the review scores for the PlayStation Vita launch titles, you might find that an unexpected game is currently #1 according to critics. It doesn’t have Uncharted in the title (although I honestly believe some reviews have been unduly harsh on Golden Abyss ) and it’s not the highly anticipated Wipeout 2048 . In fact, it’s Ubisoft’s Rayman Origins . And I’m inclined to agree with its critical top-dog position.
This is a beautiful, inspired adventure and one that thrives on fantastic animation, cleverly designed levels, and a charming presentation that allows you to easily traverse the colorful, engaging world. Each element appears to be meticulously crafted, and so many of the landscapes are chock full of pretty decorations in addition to the well-drawn enemies. In truth, this is about as good as Rayman has ever looked, so don’t be surprised to see such technical prowess on the PlayStation Vita.
The sound is another amusing aspect of the production, as we’re never without a quirky effect to go along with our platforming, and an equally quirky soundtrack adds to the richness. “Quirky” is most certainly the name of the game, as has historically been the case with this series. There’s no clear narrative – besides some humorous gobbledy-gook at times – but the effects and music will continue to draw you in; they’re lighthearted and generally appealing. You’d have to have a heart of stone to not smile at Rayman ’s audio.
This is one of the last true platforming games out there. That alone might be enough to entice veteran gamers. But don’t let the straightforward concept dissuade you if you’re unfamiliar with the franchise; this title boasts plenty of creativity and inspiration, cemented by rock solid controls and great overall gameplay. You jump with the X button, attack with the Square, and perform a variety of maneuvers with just those two buttons and the left analog stick. For instance, a downward smash is executed by pressing Square and holding down on the stick.
The environment will frequently come into play, as you’ll be launching yourself off a variety of bouncy things (from squishy plant-like things to what appear to be bongo drums), swinging from vines (and helping hands with smiley faces), and sliding along streams of water. Your goal is to free your imprisoned buddies and restore peace to the Glade, which means you’ll be on the lookout for little prison cages that hold captives. You’ll know you’re close when you hear, “Help me!”
The more you rescue the more you can unlock. The rest is an excellent combination of sprinting, jumping, slapping, sliding, swinging, diving, and even flying. There are over 60 levels spread across 12 distinct worlds, plenty of memorable bosses, and incentive to go back through conquered levels to nab more of your buddies. You navigate between each level via a simple map, and you’ll definitely want to revisit the more challenging areas. It’s just one of those games that’s extremely tough to put down.
The touchscreen aspect isn’t complicated. You merely touch any bubbles holding precious Lums, thereby bypassing the need to touch them with your character. This proves to be awfully helpful when those bubbles are floating out of reach, although as the levels progressed, I felt less inclined to remove my fingers from the standard buttons. Things tend to happen faster and quickly attempting to pop those bubbles with my fingers got a little tiresome. But it never got in the way and the screen was always responsive.
Overall, perhaps the most lovable trait of this game is its whimsical, innocent charisma. These days, we’re so often about gritty realism, photorealistic action, and epic, majestic themes and settings. There’s nothing wrong with that – this has resulted in memorable masterpieces – but sometimes, we just want the cute, charming atmosphere that reminds us of simpler times. This world features such wonderful artistry and imagination; it’s very similar to Wonderland. Plus, as you obtain new abilities in each new world, you almost always want to go back and have some fun.
The only significant downside is that we don’t get the four-player co-op feature found in last year’s console iteration. The Vita installment is one-player only, which is a disappointment. Ubisoft tossed in a Ghost Mode to try to compensate (this allows players to share time trial results), but that doesn’t really cut it. Also, I have to say that about halfway through, I encountered a massive difficulty spike. Things got crazy tough and although I always say we need more of a challenge these days, this was a little too unforgiving and lowered my interest.
That being said, Rayman Origins is a pretty little handheld treasure. It looks absolutely incredible on the Vita, the environment is endlessly immersive and imaginative, the overall creativity is impressive, and the controls rarely let you down. There are plenty of unlockables – from new characters to character skins to whole new levels – and many of the stages are masterfully designed. There’s no multiplayer and it can get disturbingly challenging, but this throwback to a more innocent time in our industry shouldn’t be missed.
If you get the Vita this week, get Rayman Origins with it. Trust me.
The Good: Beautiful visuals and presentation. Smile-inducing audio. Fantastic design and creativity throughout. Lots of content. Controls are solid and reliable. Addictive and well-paced. Platforming at its best.
The Bad: No multiplayer. Difficulty can spike quickly. Story is a little weak.
The Ugly: “It’s the most artistically accomplished and visually inspired Vita launch title…so…no ugly in sight.”