First things first: The 'Origins' in the title does not refer to the game's story - we open with not just Rayman, but Globox and two Teensies in medias res. And to be frank, who really gives a damn, it's Rayman. The game almost revels in how little of a story it musters up. More power to it.
It's also not purely a case of Ubisoft thinking numbers are too uncool to call this Rayman 4, as this goes halfway back to the roots of Rayman
in terms of gameplay. And since that is the only Rayman game I've ever played prior to this (save for a very brief and frustrating stint trying to get the hang of the 3D controls of Rayman 2
at my cousin's house) that suits me just fine.
Fundamentally, while we are back to 2D platforming, freeing electoons from cages, gradually receiving additional powers from fairies as the game progresses and facing a boss every now and then, the pacing has been turned on its head compared to the spiritual predecessor from 1995: The frequently, slow, precise and punishing nature has been replaced with a fast, and more importantly, quick-flowing romp of a platformer suited for 4 player co-op. To that end, the iconic thrown fist had to be axed in favor of more modest melee attacks, and instead of electoon cages being frequently tucked away and/or locked behind esoteric hidden triggers the completionist approach relies on making the player collect boatloads of lums that the game throws at you and finding at most two (more or less) hidden extra cages per level. The old design paradigm will not be missed.
Especially since Rayman Origins has a much more modern resource system. It forgos lives; a death simply sends you back to the last checkpoint, which is usually the start of the current room. At most you can occasionally collect a heart which lets you survive one hit, but that's it. Granted, this does incentivize simply killing yourself to reset the room once you fail to collect the desired amount of lums from it, but hey, The Glade of Dreams is a free country, or will be soon, anyway.
With an arsenal of moves that will quickly include wall-jumping, running (and eventually wall-running) and hovering, there's little stopping you from barreling through the levels, though optimizing your lum count, especially through the hidden or well-guarded coins, as well as finding the rooms with additional cages will require a slightly more careful approach and keeping your eyes peeled. Thanks to time attack challenges, true completionists will inevitably have to play most levels more than once. The biggest interruption in the gameplay loop comes in the form of the mosquito levels. A one-of in OG Rayman, the flying autoscroller levels are upgraded to a recurring level type in Origins and feature shooting to make them just a little more involved.
Most of the game's difficulty lies in the optional objectives. If you put on blinders and completely ignored all the lums, I'd imagine the game would be relatively easy, but I really could not fathom doing so, they are just far too inviting. The same goes for the entirely optional Tricky Treasure levels, tough high-speed faux-autoscrollers which unlock a secret final level serving as the ultimate test of skill à la "Champion's Road" from Super Mario 3D World
The game is at its worst whenever it does demand great precision, which happens in the case of a few coins and certain Tricky Treasure segments. Although not too egregious because of generous checkpoints and the lack of lives, the boss fights and some TT parts are also very hard to react to without prior knowledge. Tricky Treasure levels, which have you chase after a running treasure chest, feature some unpredictable rubberbanding to keep the chest ahead of you until the end while keeping the environment collapse at the appropriate pace. However, this can lead to frustrating situations where a minute slip-up can make an attempt unsalvagable even if that same mistake has no consequence whatsoever in a different spot in the same level.
But it is very easy to forgive Rayman Origins, because the game is just so damn charming
. The hand-drawn character designs (especially the ludicrous bosses) and animations (especially for the player characters) are stellar, the environments, enemies and obstacles colorful, flavorful and creative, the music perfectly whimsical, the nymphs a great boon to the shortstack cause, and the overall goofy vibe simply bound to put you in a good mood.