Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Wii
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (comic mischief, mild cartoon violence, suggestive themes)
Every post-holiday afterglow, when the gaming industry briefly but emphatically hibernates in advance of livelier spring release schedules, there inevitably emerges a game that demands another look after getting unjustly buried in the sea of sequels and blockbusters that released all around it in November.
In a year as stacked as 2011, there is no shortage of candidates. But even on those grounds, "Rayman Origins" belongs at the top of the list, and it really isn't even close.
Though not framed as an origins story - or concerned with storytelling in general, really - "Origins" earns its name by taking Rayman back to his two-dimensional roots. Like the 1995 original, "Origins" eschews three dimensions in favor of 2D platforming in the classic "Super Mario Bros." vein.
But to leave it at that, even with the stipulation that "Origins" does its roots extremely proud, would be to spectacularly undersell how far games have come during Rayman's 16-year lifetime - a point made apparent the instant "Origins" drops you into the first leg of its first level.
In contrast to the colorful but kinetically limited sprites of yesteryear, everything that animates in "Origins" does so with the visual fidelity of a Disney cartoon - ridiculously detailed, silkily animated and very overtly expressive. It doesn't matter if you're talking about Rayman, his friends, his enemies or random objects with no inherent pulse: If it's capable of being manipulated, "Origins" illustrates that manipulation in beautiful, incredible detail.
Presentationally, "Origins" is the total package, bringing all that line art to life in front of immaculate hand-painted backdrops and setting everything to a diverse soundtrack that's in tune with the action and unabashedly cheerful without ever approaching grating. Treat it to good speakers and a high-definition display, and it's a rare case in which hyperbole applies. Two-dimensional gaming has never spoiled the eyes and ears quite like this.
With all that said, though, the real shock with "Origins" may be with the way its gameplay evolutions gratify every bit as much as - maybe even more than - its audiovisual advancements.
Partially, it's a case of one feeding the other. All that pretty animation works in the service of "Origins'" controls, which feel as good as the animation looks. Rayman has an occasional tendency to overanimate and take a perilous step too far, but mostly, his movements are spot on. Even the underwater levels, typically the bane of any platforming game's existence, are a treat: If you ever played "Ecco the Dolphin" and know how fun it is to dynamically change direction in that game, you'll be pleased to know "Origins" does it even better.
"Origins" also provides an ample playground in which to put all this beauty to good use. The occasional special stage aside, every level has one goal in plain sight and two more hiding off the main road. Additional secrets abound, and while simply clearing a level isn't extremely difficult, perfecting one - finding every goal and performing the acrobatics necessary to uncover other secrets - very well can be. The truly accomplished can even replay cleared levels with a speed run option, which requires you to beat the level in one go and under the posted par time to collect a reward.
Tallied up, and fortified with four-player offline co-op that lets friends jump into and out of your game as they please, "Origins" is a surprisingly lengthy game on its first playthrough and a wondrously fun time sink for those bent on replaying and acing it. Perceptions about 2D games aside, it was as deserving of its original $60 tag as nearly any other $60 game. With rapid price drops now in effect, what was easy to recommend before is now a task of cakewalkian proportions.