Rayman Origins: An Exercise in Good Game Design.
This is going to be both a review of Rayman Origins and an opinion piece about why I think this game’s design is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant games industry.
Now, the story of Rayman Origins is not really up to much, but at the same time this is not really the point of the game. Rayman and his friends are chilling near the Snoring Tree when they wake up the witch, who responds by sending an army of hideous creatures. They capture Betilla the Nymph and Eclectoons and it is up to Rayman and Co to free them all. Like I said, the story is not really up to much, but the way it is told is a blast. It’s fun, sets the game up, and then leaves. It does not get in the way.
Simplicity is the name of the game when it comes to Rayman Origins. This is a side scrolling game where you jump on things and collect Electoons. Rayman Origins is basically a video game version of a Saturday morning cartoon; charming, cartoony and wacky. You just have to get from the start of a level to the end, collecting what you can. There are also chase levels where Rayman and his friends must pursue a box containing one of the Nymphs. These are a blast, and get tougher as the game goes on. And by Christ does it; the difficulty curve of this game is ridiculous, but I would not call this a bad thing. Some games establish the difficulty, and then leave it the same until the end. This makes the player feel good about themselves, but ultimately there is no challenge to the game after a while, and deep down you know this. Rayman Origins instead chooses to ramp the difficulty up, thereby making any achievement the player makes all the more earned. After trying to chase a chest over and over again before ultimately catching it gives a fantastic sense of achievement that few other games these days can rival.
Ubisoft Montpellier clearly had the best time making this game. Everything about it pops with charm, from the gorgeous graphics to the sublimely trippy soundtrack, this is a game made to have fun with. Having an epic narrative and fully voiced cutscenes is a good thing, but only when it suits. Rayman chooses to streamline everything to make it fun for the player. This is not an exercise in showing off the game’s engine, or how epic they could make a game. It is an example of a developer making a game that is fun to play.
Rayman Origins a pragmatism game. Platformers have had a hard time of it since the Playstation 2 era, to the point where they no longer were the go-to genre for making games; a position now held by the FPS. This is mostly because there was an expectation that because 3D graphics were possible, every game had to use them. This is evident in Rayman Revolution, and also other games such as Sonic and Mario. Name me one good 3D Sonic game and I will be surprised. While Rayman Revolution was not a bad game, the camera was a pain, and ultimately it was not the same experience as the older Rayman games. Also, Rayman himself was in an odd place, given that he was more or less usurped from his own series. This is return to form.
So, could Ubisoft Montpellier have made a 3D game? Of course, and everybody probably expected them to. Obviously, they chose to make an old-school looking 2D game because that would make a better game. This is evident in the simple art style, which is not the most fancy design ever created, but it serves and gives a fantastic atmosphere to the entire game. This also means that load times are short, as there is not an awful lot going on under the hood. I am not for a second saying that 3D games are bad, but what that a game should be about the overall experience.
Rayman Origins is a fantastic example of a team making a game that is made to be played, not spectated. With so many games (I’m looking at you Call of Duty) being made as technical showcases, it is refreshing to see a game being made with the player in mind. Everything about Origins screams fun. If you have not played this game yet, please pick it up! This is honestly the most fun I have had playing a video game in so long. After replaying this, I am very much looking forward to Rayman Legends.