Friday 5 July 2013

Rayman Origins

Hurray for misleading screenshots.

Rayman Origins. It sat unopened on my shelf for six months. I should pay more attention to shelves.

So, graphics are a thing. Back in the 80s and early 90s they weren't - visuals were but a means to an end, conforming to the restrictions of the day in a desperate crusade to give you something to look at. We weren't aiming to decorate our spare room with screenshots - we were simply fighting primitive processors in a bid to save our eyes from burning. And often we succeeded, and for some that became art in itself.

When Earthworm Jim turned up in 1994 an entirely different school of thought was unveiled - Jim's view on game development was to let artists do their thing and worry about the programming later, resulting in flowing, vibrant, cartoon-like worlds free from blockiness and repetition... but also coherency. Working out where one platform begins and another ends is an often tricky task, but with millions of shipped cartridges to its name (not to mention a cartoon series), favouring looks over feel might seem like a sensible option to take. That, or maybe we need to reassess our priorities, or, more likely, we're dealing with low expectations again.

Nearly two decades later the school's still open, with the delightful Rayman Origins among its graduates in 2011. Allegedly a return to form for a character whose... "form" has never been fully determined, Rayman's back in co-op 2D in an effort to prove something to someone for some reason. And you can bet its Rabbids-free nature inflated those review scores.

Of course the great irony about this post is that the very thing Rayman Origins was praised for - the artistic talent of Ubisoft, falls flat on its face at the outset, as I own the Wii version of the game. Not only this, but the situation is worsened by the fact few (if any) optimisations were made for the smaller resolution - text is sometimes unreadable and much of the scenery goes unnoticed, including that which seeks to hurt you. Bosses are often horrendus and later levels become needlessly frustrating. It's like they released this copy without adqeuate testing - surely not!

But although it's all a bit blurry and precision goes out the window, it's obvious you were never meant to buy this version - a Wii release was likely an executive decision, not a developer one, and it was never going to match its high definition peers. But the situation can also be advantageous - without the opportunity to be captivated by pixel counts, I can rate Rayman Origins for the game it truly is... and when doing so, it turns out this game really isn't really all that great (or at least, not as great as the world insists in believing).

Rayman is a tricky series to deal with. Vast differences between the first and second games have led to divides amongst the franchise's fanbase - I prefer the 3D endeavours of Rayman 2 and 3, while others opt for the 2D "this was on the Atari Jaguar don't you know" style of the original. Title character aside, the two factions often struggle to see eye-to-eye - the slow-paced happy platformer from yesteryear doesn't bode well with the darker, action-orientated affair of the Dreamacst and PS2 games, so while I get my pleasure from Murphy making snide comments about an instruction manual, others prefer him to just to smile. Or not exist.

But don't worry, Rayman Origins attempts to build bridges!.. although like all stupid ideas, the plan leads to awkward compromises. I lose the charm and personality of the characters, while others have to make do with the faster-paced and often brutal nature of the updated gameplay. But the result is not horrific - Origins is a pretty game which stays surprisingly faithful to the Rayman concepts of old, updating the right parts while ignoring ideas which didn't work (in the original game anyway). Life is mostly good - at today's prices it's certainly worth the money.

However, while Origins is certainly a breath of fresh air from the usual triple-A video game dross, it can hardly be said to be revolutionary. One could even say it falls short of expectations - the gameplay is at times repetitive and ill-suited for single player experiences, the music is still mostly unmemorable and even its art grows tiresome. It's not the game it could have been, but when you've clearly built it exclusively for the fans, you can't help but question why that is.

Rayman Origins feels watered down. All of the characters play the same regardless of stature (or history - Globox was designed as the antithesis to Rayman but here he plays exactly the same), and the cookie-cutter approach to level design fails to disguise a game built on the cheap. Rescue the fairy, rescue the pink guys, do a bit of shooting while riding that mosquito from the first game, rinse and repeat, by the way you missed some lums. Though there's certainly some originality to the experience, you'll encounter no major surprises after the first world. Sure you inevitably fight some bosses, but they're grossly unfair and mind-numbingly tedious, to the point where the game would benefit without them.

There's length to Rayman Origins, but later levels pose a significant challenge due to momentously poor game design. The game frequently degrades into the worst kind of trial and error, wher even minor slip-ups deprive you of end-of-level prizes. While speedrunners and perfectionists are set to benefit, the rest of us are forced to guess what the developers were thinking with often obtuse level layouts, wrestling the physics system and camera while being crippled by the limitations of the Wii.

You could back the game on its artistic choices alone, but I'm very wary of doing so, not just because I can't see half of it in this version, but by the nature of the current console market. Origins has no competition, and it's clear that its budget pales in comparison some of Ubisoft's A-List stars. It succeeds simply because nobody else is trying - it's structurally rather basic (and is certainly no huge leap forward from the platformers seen fifteen years ago), and the quality of the aesthetics is frankly not surprising from a Rayman game.

This isn't to say I hate Rayman Origins - again, it gets the job done and is well worth the money, but it pulls into doubt the relevance of the upcoming Rayman Legends, a game which although makes substantial improvements, is currently failing to address many of the concerns above. Quite frankly I question the excitement, and I'm just left wondering why we can't have a fully fledged Rayman 4.

1 comment:

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