A long time ago, 2D platformers ruled gaming, but somewhere along the line they began to fade away. I can’t pinpoint an exact time or an exact reason. Maybe it occurred when Mario 64 revolutionized 3D games; maybe tastes changed as people grew older; or maybe it’s simply a result of consoles becoming more technologically advanced.
Games today are all about gritty realism, fully developed stories, and shooting anything that moves in the head. While I do love the more complex, adult experiences modern gaming has to offer, I also miss the simpler stuff. Nintendo has managed to hold onto their 2D roots with fan favorites like Mario, DK, and Kirby, while Sony has provided me with LittleBigPlanet, one of my favorite IPs of this generation. But other than that, 2D platforming junkies are left to purchases smaller bite and/or byte sized downloadable titles to get their fix.
But, lo and behold, here comes Rayman Origins, an eye-poppingly gorgeous 2D platformer that makes full use of the color spectrum, with a hand drawn art style that oozes creativity from every orifice. The gameplay and story are what you might expect from a game of its type. You run to the right, jump, and spin your hair around like a helicopter in an attempt to avoid obstacles and reach the end of the level. The proverbial carrot on a stick that keeps you playing is simply your sheer enjoyment and the will to see each new artistically brilliant environment. Over time, you also pick up a few moves to help you traverse and dispose of some ‘bad guys’ in an effort to save some imprisoned ‘good guys.’ There is a deeper story, but it’s still simplistic in its roots (Plus, I treat even the most complex stories like an 8 year old). One would think that with the advancements of video games, this formula would have grown stale, but even over the course of 25 years, it’s still extremely satisfying.
From the very second started the game, I had a smile on my face. The opening cinema punches you right in the retinas and a quirky, whimsical world is yours to explore. The sights and sounds, which complement each other perfectly, are blissful and dreamlike, and the sharp cartoon-like visuals never fail to impress. Each vibrant environment offers something new to experience. I happily made my way across multiple worlds, collecting Lums, freeing Nymphs and Electoons, and wondering what each new world would bring. After a handful of levels just to get an introduction, I turned the game off and left my room. After only a minute or two, I realized I really had nothing more important to do (at least in my opinion) so I ran back in there for some more.
Even after I turned the game off for real for the second time, the joy continued. I looked at the case, and flipped through the art book (I’m a sucker for concept art) that I receive as a preorder bonus. Then I thumbed through the game manual, which in most cases has been reduced to a few sheets of paper with a seizure warning, some control and menu information, and various pages of legal mumbo-jumbo. I was delighted to find a manual that didn’t follow the cut-everything-cool-out norm of today. Although it included all the previously mentioned useless information, it also contained a section I have not seen in a manual in a while: a story and characters section with some nice background information and pictures. In the last paragraph, you probably read the characters called Lums with an ‘uh’ sound, but a skim of the manual would inform you it is pronounced Looms, as in illumination, for obvious reasons in the game. It’s the small details like that that set Rayman Origins apart from the rest of the pack and make it a true masterpiece.
One would expect greatness, since Ubisoft Montpellier, led by the talented Michel Ancel, has been nothing short of amazing over the years. On paper they have created some truly fantastic works of art. Beyond Good & Evil is a cult classic (an HD version is available for download if you’ve never experienced it). Much like Rayman Origins, it released at the same time in a market filled with blockbuster titles, which was extremely detrimental to its sales. I can’t speak for Rayman’s sales since it just released, but I can’t help but assume it will share the same fate. The midnight event at which I worked (at a retailer who shall remain nameless as to give them no reason to fire me) had a strong showing. There were people who picked up the new entries in the Assassin’s Creed and Saints Row series, and some for the Halo remake. There were even a couple of people for Need for Speed, and one guy for Shinobi on the 3DS. But not a single soul picked up Rayman, despite its numerous awards and rave reviews, which is understandable considering I can count the amount of preorders the store had on one hand. I expected it, but it’s nonetheless disappointing for a game I would easily consider to be one of the greatest this year.
I’ve never been one to lend much weight to reviews, and don’t want to assess some numerical score to my experience thus far. A while back, Josh Knowles, a friend of mine from a former job, asked me if I wanted to be part of the site, but I shot him down due to those opinions and the fact that I didn’t want the obligation or burden of writing. However, this is a subject I feel too strongly about and was more than willing to compose my thoughts, and may more often. I want more full-fledged 2D platformers. Many people may consider me nostalgic, or maybe I just like cartoony platformers because I have failed to grow up. Whatever the case, I wish the genre had never dwindled, and this is an opportunity to show that the strong fundamentals of old concepts and the fancy technology of today can combine to form some remarkable experiences that weren’t possible back in the 80s and 90s, and can easily go toe to toe with the top notch experiences of today.
So I beg you, please go out and buy Rayman Origins! Show the industry that games like this are still relevant. Maybe it will influence other developers to revitalize some old franchises you love. Plus, your money could very well help shorten the wait for Beyond Good & Evil 2. And if that is still not enough, take pleasure in knowing that with every purchase of Rayman Origins, you also gain my love for all eternity.