When we talk about old-school games or retro throw-backs, the immediate image to jump to mind is usually of boiled-down shooters such as Painkiller or Serious Sam; games which generate appeal primarily by their singular focus on violence. It's not often we think of retro platformers - with the reasoning being that it's hard to see how the concept of a 2D run-and-jump game could get much more old-fashioned.
Rayman: Origins flies in the face of that thinking, however; showing up modern platformers as not being anywhere near as old-school as we may have casually assumed. This is what a retro platformer really looks like.
You can tell because, for starters, the barely-explained storyline doesn't seem to make a lick of sense unless you're already well grounded in the lore and wider fiction of the Rayman universe. Like the earliest Mario and Sonic games, there's almost no narrative being funnelled towards your face; just left-to-right levels filled with obvious monsters and a somewhat bizarre choice of hero.
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Rayman: Origins story starts with the titular, limbless cartoon snoozing high up in his treetop home, along with some pals. The collective snoring is so loud that it annoys the monsters at the bottom of the tree however, who in response decide to invade the world and put all the little critters in cages. Rayman wakes up and it's up to him to restore order - that's the plot and Ubisoft is sticking to it. And it's a good thing too, because it's refreshing that, for once, there's no tutorial or belaboured cutscene to sit through.
If the classic platform games have shown us anything, it's that this genre doesn't need a sensible or well-communicated story at all. Rayman embraces that and is all the better for it, while also managing to stave off confusion and leave enough references for long time series fans.
What a platform game does need though - what it needs to absolutely nail if it wants to be any good at all - is a sense of precision and fluidity in its movement of characters and environments.
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Rayman: Origins nails this in a way that's so sublime, so stunningly accurate and articulately communicated, that even if it were utterly devoid of challenge then it would still be a joy to play. Rayman: Origins is a playground where you can have so much fun running in circles and jumping on the spot that it's possible to forget the slides, swings, bouncy castles and spike pits are there at all.
What, didn't you have spike pits in your playground as a kid?
Rayman's wacky character design and unusual style help boost this joy of movement too, especially as you progress further through the 60-level adventure and add more strings to your bow. At the start of the game, Rayman is an armless, legless sprite - but he quickly gains familiar abilities such as being able to twirl his hair to float, or throw his disembodied arms great distances.