The Rayman team has always been good about creating character in (and for) their games. I mean, they came up with a character with no arms, legs, or neck and made him fun and wacky. Better yet, they built mechanics around his design, such as being able to throw his hands for long-range combat. Rayman: Origins is no exception to the rule. In fact, it may set a new standard.
From the get-go, Origins blasts you with colorful whimsy: here's a bunch of funky looking characters, zonked out on a tree branch, making music with their snoring and munching. Beautiful. Catchy. Fun. Oh, I'm sorry, did you not want whimsy and child-like euphoric fun-times? Wrong game. You're out of luck here.
So you're liking the art style and the crazy characters. Then there's a crazy plot: these sleeping heroes are disturbing not-so-jovial downstairs neighbors whom choose to unleash a horde of baddies to wreak havoc in response. The characters strike a dynamic pose and jump to action. A menu with arms and legs shows up: this menu is waving at you, by the way, while you're choosing your options. The music stays fun and fresh and integrates foley like a symphony uses violins. And the style of wackiness just continues.
Rayman has a perfect, wonderful, impressive marriage of arts to really give the game a personality and identity. As enumerated above, the character designs, animations, gorgeously rendered layered backdrops, level design, music, and SFX play off of each other like it was a symphony – all blending into something more colorful and crazier than an archaeopteryx wearing a tutu. You will never wonder what kind of game you're playing. You will never wonder if you're supposed to be having fun now. The game demands that you have fun. Actually, the game almost starts having fun without you as soon as you boot it up and just assumes you'll join in.
But this sense of whimsical personality extends beyond the presentation. The levels are built to inspire your imagination. (For instance, you visit the Desert of Dijiridoos where all of the platforms are musical instruments; another level consists nearly entirely of bridges made of golden hair.) Even the game play mechanics join in. The multiplayer co-op is a direct pull from New Super Mario Bros. Wii and that's not a bad thing – those guys know a good way to make four-player platforming. With multiple people running about, all trying to collect things, all trying to attack and break stuff, it's inevitable that some people are going to hit their friends. But the triggered animations are so fun! In fact, my dino-partner and I wasted a good portion of time trying to slap one another on the loading screens. (Yes, you can play the game while on a loading screen!) And then there's hardly any punishment for slapping each other around. Friendly-fire doesn't cause any damage and there's really no concept of lives present. If you die, you "bubblize" and float back to be popped by a partner. You can only really "lose" if all players are bubblized simultaneously.
The near-lack of death penalties is very conducive to stress-free game play, which, really, is good because otherwise I may have started trying to chomp my dino-partner for being a frequent source of my demise. Instead, it encourages the player to just go for it: make that jump, slide down after that coin, throw yourself at the enemy like an allosaur lunging towards a triceratops' lowered head. It keeps the game play moving, keeps the player involved, and can allow for some really hilarious maneuvering. The music is upbeat; the art is upbeat; the game play should be upbeat too.
Rayman: Origins could have just been another side-scrolling platformer; it could've just been "Not New Super Mario Bros. Wii." But it isn't. It's Rayman. It does it's own thing. And it makes sure that you know it's different, it has a different style, it marches to the toots of its own didgeridoo. And it's a better game for it. This isn't about just standing out from the crowd (though that is a good and helpful thing) and it's not necessarily about being remembered five or ten years from now (though also a good thing); this is about building a full, lucious world for your players to enjoy and get lost in. This is about integrity of design and really knowing what your game is. Rayman: Origins has no identity crisis and will beat you silly with its personality. Rayman drips and overflows with personality.
It's beautiful, fun, and delicious.
Rayman: Origins was developed by Ubisoft Montpellier and published by Ubisoft. For this post, I played for about 1.5 hours, through the second world, on the Nintendo Wii with 2 players.