With only a rarest of exceptions, I've never really been much of a platformer fan. I know, heresy in the industry that Mario helped build, but for the most part, mascot-driven left to right gameplay never really appealed to me. But back on the PSOne, Rayman really resonated with me for some reason. Maybe it was the oddity of the main character's design, the laid-back mood of the whole thing combined with the gentleness of the vision of the 2D original. It just stands that the series has stuck with me (I even got into the first 3D game on the Dreamcast, although by that point it wasn't the same anymore).
And now here's Rayman Origins, making the rounds across nearly every format, finally hitting the PS Vita as part of the launch lineup and it feels like a homecoming to the pleasure of the goofy little guy with no arms or legs. Okay, I just used a bit of hyperbole mixed with vague points about "charm" and mood to tell you that I loved the original and have now transferred that love to its prequel, but what does any of that even mean and why does it make Rayman Origins one of the best games that I missed last year and that just be essential for your Vita?
First off, there's no magic formula to Rayman Origins that made me unable to put it down—or that is to say, there is one but it's probably impossible to really articulate. Many gamers have loved Sonic because of the sense of speed or Mario because of the investment we've been able to pour into the mostly dialogue-less plumber, but with Rayman, it's almost the combination of the character and the worlds he's dropped into in each of the games he headlines (I'm excluding the Raving Rabbids games here, mind you).
Bright and colorful is nice and all, but more than anything else, even when you're in a pit spewing lava the game is still oddly soothing, if that makes any sense. You might zip and zoom through some of the game's many levels collecting this game's particular brand of bio-luminescent coin, Lums (the number of Lums you collect at the end of the level and little critters that you save give you a score at the end of the level that unlocks more levels and playable characters), but it's always a no-stress affair. Its challenge is on par with anything not in the orbit of Super Meat Boy, but the soft, hand-drawn style of gameplay, or the happy little dance your character performs at the end of a chapter simply pushes a "no worries" kind of experience.
You can mix things up with a bunch of different playable characters, although they all seem to play more or less the same—albeit with different body types. Unlocking these new characters is a big part of the fun, along with watching how uniquely they animate. It feels like a game built for younger gamers that has enough challenge baked in in terms of finding Lums on the maps or uncovering hidden sections of the map for older gamers. It's very much an "ages 8 to 80" kind of thing.
Varied level layouts and environments
I've gone on about the art style, but seriously, look at it. It employs a very populated but never busy hand-drawn art style that also has quite a few foreground to background shifts in the action. If nothing else, the game is super easy on the eyes.
Very solid controls to match
Rayman and his buddies have a nice weight to them as they zip through the game's levels. It might take you a couple of minutes (if that) to alternate between the rhythm of walking-running-dive attacking but once you do, the game controls like a dream and opens up all kinds of clever ways to interact with the enemies and environmental obstacles.
In terms of taking advantage of the Vita hardware, there's some touch functionality in there, mostly limited to mult-touch for zooming the world view in and out.
Carefully deployed ukelele
Kudos to the score and the game's audio—and I hate the ukelele. But the soundtrack carries the whole laid-back vibe without actually attempting to put you to sleep.
Style of gameplay is ideal for handhelds
The individual levels are usually broken into sections, meaning that you can drop into the game and drop out of it pretty easily during your commute. This bite-sized layout also means that Rayman Origins never overstays its welcome.
Wow. I have nothing. Can being too charming and amusing be a thing? If so, then that's maybe the sole strike Rayman Origins has against it.
Again, your mileage may vary here, but if you have even a passing interest in platformers, then Rayman Origins is the game for you. Each level, the inclusion of the character types, the depth-of-field switches, all of it feel specifically engineered to keep you smiling throughout, and I'll admit to being completely won over on that front. Besides, if you didn't pick it up for consoles, it comes with a whole bunch of extra levels on top of the 60 that shipped last year. Of the software making its way to the Vita during its launch, you could do much worse (but not a lot better) than Rayman Origins.
Now who's going to get on that 2D Bonk sequel?