on 6 March 2012
The first Rayman, on the PSone, charmed gamers with its delicious visuals, addictive side-scrolling gameplay and its innocent, smile-inducing humour. Rayman Origins, the franchise's latest outing, can be described in exactly the same-way but with one additional trait: its fascinating ability to continuously encapsulate your interest until you're ½ hour-or-so, one-or-two level intended play session has turned into a multi-hour sitting of pure, side-scrolling brilliance. To be so well-immersed in a modern game of this genre is truly an amazing thing.
The game's transition from console to Vita is also a completely imperceptible one. The graphics look, without exaggeration, no different from the gorgeous HD visuals your Xboxes and PS3s presented you with. If anything, the visuals look even better on the handheld because the screen is closer. Granted, the Vita's OLED display is also slightly smaller than your HDTVs (hopefully) and so sometimes the wider landscape shots can induce a very slight squint now and then. But the simple, touchscreen-based zoom-in/zoom-out controls will doubtlessly fix any complications you may have in this area. There are even a couple of extra elements for the Vita-version; such as the ability to pop bubbles containing Lums and Hearts or inflated enemies with a simple tap, which avoids the frustrations of the console-versions, where you couldn't get that last Lum just because you couldn't reach it before it was out of range of your fist. There's also Ghost mode which pitches your level-speedrun times against other Vita-players. I suppose this is a welcome feature but probably not one you'll invest much time in.
Gameplay, as stated, is loyal to the classic side-scrolling, jump, swing, avoid spiked plant and skinny green guy wearing safari-outfit play-style, which is simple but definitely not repetitive or boring. The variety in the environments and level-structures as well as the pacing in unlocking abilities and characters, and even the progression in enemy-types is as impressive as that of any other game of any other genre. Additionally, I'm not even a fan of arcade-style side-scrolling games. I enjoyed LIMBO but found it a rather forgettable production and I've only ever played the first Rayman, and even in that I hardly got anywhere as I just found the game frustratingly difficult most of the time. But Rayman Origins is consitently fun and has a great difficulty progression which doesn't present you with seemingly impossible level-structures where you had to avoid three different kinds of attack simultaneously while trying to time your jumps to land on platforms before they disappear again, and then making you start all over again if you fail (Rayman 1). Origins has similar scenarios but seems to give you more time to plan your moves so its more a case of your skill with the timing rather than being a master of reflexes and button-control. The faster, more intense scenes are actually made more accessible as well as you seem to be able to plot your route through the level much easier and so you can be jumping, swinging and avoiding obstacles at fast pace, on your first playthrough while still feeling extremely cool, especially in the more epic, almost set-piece-like levels where debris is falling down on you or parts of the level are collapsing while you chase after a captured fairy.
I hope I'm not upsetting anyone when I say Rayman Origins is actually my favourite Vita game so far. Yes, Fifa, Everybody's Golf and Virtua Tennis will more than satisfy your sporting fancies. Yes, Uncharted will once again draw you into another great story-driven, intense platforming shooter. Marvel vs Capcom and Wipeout might even eat up a few dozen of those empty hours in your lives. But, in my opinion, Rayman is the only game which provides the illusion that you're holding your very own portable next-gen console in your hands. Yes, that is because the game is a port but look at the rest, every release can be described as a port in their own way. Origins supports the greatest visuals on the console, and offers simple gameplay that may not equal Dynasty Warriors' stratagem or Uncharted's set-piece driven intensity, but is perhaps still the more reliable of games to deliver exactly what gamers want from the Vita: accessible, engaging and immersive next-gen fun, on-the-go.