It’s not often that games can have the honour of sitting side by side a piece of music. Their dominant visual approach, bombastic effects and dramatic storylines all lend themselves to mirroring theatrical and filmic methods, rather than anything heard in any of the great concertos, ballets or operas. For game developers it’s not that one art form holds more virtue over the other, it’s just easier to be inspired in design by a medium much closer to your own. The process of creating music is also one that does not naturally lend itself to the creation of a game. Often a solitary and protracted affair, the committing of sound to a sheet of paper or through a microphone is of a separate creative drive to that of piecing together the parts to make a coherent videogame design. In essence they appear as two very separate art forms. Though often inspired by each other they are almost creatively opposed.
However different they are, Rayman: Origins is a game driven by sound. Its symphonic approach between gameplay and design leads to a resulting experience that is rich in melody, rhythm, cadence and harmony. It’s a game that relies on the balance of tempo and action, the delicacy of instrumentation and the delivery of tone. In no game that I have played before has music been such a rich and valuable part of the experience. So much so, that playing the game on mute has a detrimental effect, not only on how the game plays but also on the player. Rayman: Origins could be the first symphony ever written for consoles.
From the menu screen to each of the hand drawn characters and levels, Rayman: Origins attests to a certain quality and standard that is above and beyond much of the animation that exists in games today. With a colour palette that is lively and vivid and an attention to detail that will surprise you from beginning to end, Rayman: Origins is a platformer that is a true delight to behold. Everything here has been considered, from the eyes of animals that will follow you around rooms, to the shiver of a puffer fish before he expands. All of which is shown off in glorious high definition at a constant 60 frames per second that never drops. The glee that is Rayman: Origins’ unique design never fails.
Set in the Glade of Dreams, Rayman and his pals disturb a granny from the Land of the Livid Dead with their snoring. In her vengeful wrath she unleashes Darktoons which brings much dissonance into the world. The attack can only be healed by saving the friendly Electoons that have been caught up in the invasion and hidden around the map. However, what starts as an entertaining and simple tale, fails to ever properly evolve in the game. The omission of narrative drive is no severe oversight but it would have made certain elements of the title perspire with radiance when they unfortunately just glow.
Whether you’ll know it from the start or not, much of the core mechanics of the side-scrolling platformer surrounds these purple Electoons that populate the map. Some are locked in cages and some are only let free when you collect a certain number of Lums, the gold musical sprites that inhabit almost every level. It’s an compelling system, one that is made even more so by the Lums actually informing parts of the level design. They will lead you along certain routes sometimes guiding you past danger, whilst other times they will tempt you into trouble with the promise of a plentiful bounty.
These Lums might, at the start, be a periphery distraction but soon they will become your main concern. The Lums are perfectly entrenched into the experience of the game to such a point that you’ll be doing everything you can to remember their positions as some of them will only be reachable if you follow certain patterns with your jumping or take certain routes. Also your muscle memory will become trained over time to properly take advantage of each of the special King Lums that for a short time double the amount of Lums you gather. The Lums offer a rich musical motif that runs through the entire game and you’ll soon start going out of your way to collect as many as you can to dive deeper into the symphony.
At each turn, Rayman: Origins delivers an experience that is desperately unique yet dripping in knowledge and confidence. The level design never takes a step wrong and is musical in its production, both metaphorically and literally. Nearly every single platform makes a noise when it’s stepped on, each Lum strikes a note when collected and the fish will also serenade you whilst you swim. When it comes to sound and level design Rayman: Origins never drops below brilliant, in fact it’s often staggeringly superb. The fact that you can add to an already excellent soundtrack with your own deft musical flourishes is a fine touch and makes sure you feel part of the performance. Also, the final platforming stage in particular is nothing less than a work of art. By fittingly combing sound and tempo to a stage which is constantly changing as you move through it is worth the price of admission alone.
The difficulty curve in Rayman: Origins is also deft and slight, but you will begin to notice it as you move through the game. Specific areas will require you to make it through without missing a single jump and in some the only way to make it through will be to rely on memory. There’s a lot of trial and error here, but it never feels like it’s born out of frustration or bad design. During one level I was asked eight times if I wanted to leave the stage due to my constant failures. However, it’s evident that the repetition of death and rebirth is part of the overall routine and once you start to trust the developers in their design, you’ll be gurning like a school child the moment you get it right.
Rayman: Origins is an outstanding execution of what it would be like to have an orchestral score written for a videogame. From the ground up, the whole thing has been designed to suit a melody of action and environment. The levels are some of the best I have ever experienced, from escaping the terrors of heartburn, to chasing a red treasure chest over terrain crumbling beneath my feet, to riding a mosquito whilst accompanied by a Kazoo. Add to this a standard of sound design that surpasses much that I have ever heard and you have a title that is utterly, utterly wonderful.
There might be a slight moment when you long for better online functionality though. Leader boards would have been a fantastic addition considering Lum collection and time trials. Also, whereas the drop in-out couch co-op is a much obliged addition, not having online co-op is a strange exclusion. There are not many moments though to mourn these missed opportunities as Rayman: Origins does a fine job of proving that it’s probably one of the best single-player experiences of the year.
A game with one of the highest levels of craftsmanship, design and execution, Rayman: Origins is a constant pleasure and charm. There have been many titles out this year that have gained such equal numerical praise but I promise you that none of them deliver an experience quite like this.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: PS3/ Xbox 360/ Wii Release Date: 25/11/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Rayman: Origins for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of four days on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.