It’s remarkable that Rayman Origins won the BAFTA for Artistic Achievement. Not because it isn’t a thing of beauty – it is, even on the distinctly standard definition Wii – but because of what it is. It’s a 2D platformer, with levels based around fire, ice, water, desert and so on. In the 16-bit heyday, it would have been unremarkable in the extreme. But now it stands out as a refreshing change, and wins a BAFTA for its trouble. Funny how things change.
While it looks lovely – and sounds just as good, with a dangerously high risk of earworms – the real genius lies in how it deals with death. The levels are split into short sections, separated by doors – which, incidentally, you pass through by punching an oversized eye – which act as checkpoints, and restarting after dying is admirably instantaneous. There’s no fuss around dying. Try. Die. Try again. No worries.
What this means is that individual sections of levels can become fiendishly exacting without crossing over into frustration. The game pushes its luck towards the end – the long last level in particular – but when you’ve got no time to mope around between deaths, it’s impossible to give up.
It’s a gentle difficulty curve though, and for the first half or so, it’s just a joy to play a game which seems to want only to delight you. The elements are familiar – jumping, swinging, floating, hitting – but unusual in execution – for example the long blue chap with a big hand who acts as a rope – and combined absolutely expertly. Rayman feels weighty, flopping around the place in his limbless way most satisfyingly.
The game is littered with clever little set pieces, involving defeating enemies to release the little creatures you’re trying to rescue; some are a neat test of skill, but often one hit triggers a very pleasing chain reaction. There are also very competent scrolling shooter sections, and bonus chase levels requiring pixel-perfect precision. The latter are hellishly demanding, but get away with it because they’re not crucial to progress. And they’re fun, in a masochistic kind of way.
The addition of bosses in the second half of the game is not terribly welcome. They’re not unimaginative in design, necessarily, but their mechanics are tediously clockwork. There’s little skill involved, since it’s virtually impossible to react to a lot of their attacks – you just need to keep dying until you memorise the pattern, then make sure you’re in the right part of the screen at the right time.
But that’s soon forgotten once the brain-rottingly catchy end of level jingle kicks in, and it’s on to the next slice of retro platforming goodness.