Rayman Origins

A Limbless Beginning

We go hands-on with the first half of Rayman Origins and walk away stunned.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 17, 2011
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2D games are disappearing. That's not a wistful, tinfoil hatted theory drummed up by an old fogey (well, not exactly), it's plain and simple fact. In this era of giga textures and billions of triangles and tessellation and anti-aliasing, the idea of releasing a game that still uses sprites in any form is damn near relegated to fighting games and little else. And why not? Hand-drawn environments and characters are time-consuming (particularly if one is trying to match the fluidity of 3D animation these days), and many collapse under the scrutiny of HD resolutions -- if not for the integrity of the artwork itself, than at least because few 2D assets are actually drawn on a scale where 1920x1080 pixels are the baseline.

But not Michel Ancel. The creator of the Rayman franchise (among other great games) is clearly unafraid to embrace high resolutions while sticking to a hand-drawn approach, and for that we couldn't possibly be more thankful. The work that the art team at Ubisoft Montpelier has done is... it's honestly beyond words. Built on an entirely new engine framework dubbed UbiArt, Rayman Origins has a keen focus on putting 2D imagery back at the forefront, and the result is a level of detail and visual richness that simply isn't available elsewhere. This, genuinely, one of the most attractive games we've ever seen, and it pops with a kind of ocular splendor that has to be seen to be believed.

Though we've kicked up a few new images to complement this preview, stills simply can't do the game justice. Running at 1080p and a rock-solid 60 frames a second, Rayman Origins is essentially a love letter to anyone who still remembers 2D art, a reminder of just how good it can all look in the HD generation. And it looks gooooood.

But of course this is more than a visual showpiece. Ancel and company have literally gone back to the beginning, trotting out Rayman, Globox and friends for a four-player drop-in/drop-out platforming experience that feels initially like New Super Mario Bros., but quickly becomes something different the longer you play. Though it's geared for multiple players, the real draw here is just in seeing how Rayman himself comes to be a hero in later games. Here, he's goofy and brash and actually must unlock his normal raft of powers (even just basic attacks) by freeing trapped fairies that give him the ability to punch/kick, glide, and so on.

Even the story is basic stuff. Rayman and Globox are happily resting in the tree-top home, with Rayman's oafish friend snoring away right into the trunk of the tree. The noise travels down into the underworld, angering the denizens there, and finally unleashing their fury when Globox simply won't shut up. Simple, effective, and undeniably adorable.

The result is a cartoonishly fearsome threat of multiple types of enemies (most of which can be jumped on or punched, which causes them to inflate and pop when struck again) and a bevy of trapped fairies. Rayman frees 'em, he gets new (well, at least for this origin story) powers, and eventually gets to have a showdown with the baddies.
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