I was first introduced to Rayman during the late '90s. I'd asked for a PlayStation for Christmas one year, and in addition to getting the two games that I asked for (Spyro the Dragon and Tomb Raider), my parents decided to get me an extra game as well, one that I'd never heard of before. I wasn't sure how I felt about Rayman by looking at the case; the guy on the cover looked very strange and goofy. I put Rayman to the side for a while, and instead busied myself with the adventures of Spyro and Lara Croft. Once I'd finally exhausted those games, I decided to give Rayman a try.
I went into the game with very low expectations. On top of having never heard of Rayman before, the graphics were not 3D like the rest of the PlayStation games I'd played, and the super cheery, bright colors seemed to be a little over-the-top to me.
Once I finally got to actually playing the game, however, I quickly found that I was enjoying it a lot more than I expected. Sure, the graphics weren't 3D, but never before had I seen such beautiful 2D environments in a game. Before Rayman, I'd only played pixelated games on the NES, SNES and Genesis, and then jumped to the not-as-stunning-today-as-they-were-back-then 3D games on the original PlayStation. I was super impressed, then, with the smooth, beautifully-crafted 2D artwork found throughout the world of Rayman. The backdrops seemed to give each level incredible depth; in particular, the later levels in the Cave of Skops really blew me away. The backdrop made the cave seem like it was utterly huge and endless, and I'd start to think I'd never get out of it.
I got used to the silliness of Rayman pretty quickly. Soon I was playing the game with an endless smile on my face. The crazy face that Rayman made to scare enemies and the silly dance he did at the end of each level never failed to make me laugh. I also really loved that Rayman did a little dance with each of the bosses after he beat them, as if to show they were good guys now. The different themed worlds were delightfully crazy, and were always throwing the most unexpected things at me. I'd be jumping on pencil erasers, riding mosquitoes, trying not to get impaled by razor sharp musical notes, fighting giant saxophones and so many other things I never thought I'd be doing in a video game, and it was always so much fun because I never would have thought of such things myself.
What's even more amazing to me was that, despite the happy, colorful, youthful nature of the game, it was actually surprisingly challenging. Each new world seemed so much more difficult than the last. The second half of the game can be a true test of your skills as a gamer. In fact, I have a confession: I've never beaten Rayman without using a cheat to gain more lives. I die so many times in the Blue Mountains and onward that I don't think I'd ever be able to beat the game otherwise.
Despite the difficulty (or maybe in part because of the difficulty), Rayman quickly became one of my favorite games growing up. A few years later, they made a sequel to Rayman. It was a 3D sequel, so I was intrigued to find out how they would translate the ridiculous world of Rayman into the third dimension. I played the sequel for a little while, but found that a lot of the charm and silliness that I remembered from the original game seemed to be lost in the sequel. The game was fun enough, but for some reason it didn't really feel like Rayman to me. It felt like they took the character of Rayman and placed him in an entirely different world. After that, I decided not to play the third game in the series. Then they began making a series of Rayman games featuring rather obnoxious little things called Rabbids, and I decided that the Rayman franchise was officially over for me. I still had the original game to return to if I ever wanted more Rayman in my life.
And then suddenly they announced something that I never expected to see. They were going to be making a new Rayman game, and it was going to be a 2D platformer like the original, and the story would focus on the origins of Rayman. I was officially excited about Rayman again!
Rayman Origins definitely did not let me down. In fact, I might say that I like it even more than the original. There are so many things about this game that I was excited about. I was very happy to see characters from the original game make a return, such as Moskito and Betilla the Fairy. There were other returning characters that I didn't really know so well, such as Globox and the Teensies from Rayman 2, but they fit in really well with the world of the game, and I began to really like them. I'm just glad they decided not to include a single Rabbid.
The artwork is even more impressive and breathtakingly beautiful than the environments from the first 2D Rayman; you can tell that a lot of love and effort went into creating each level. I never grew tired of admiring the scenery, and I'd often get distracted by a particularly beautiful set piece. I have to say that the ice levels with various sliced fruits frozen into the glaciers are my favorite areas of the game, as far as visual appeal goes. The glaciers just look so beautifully serene and delicious! The soundtrack is also super awesome and humorous. I loved all of the ukelele tracks and the silly vocals. The gurgly song that's played during the underwater levels always makes me smile.
The silliness from the first game is back in full force, with the eccentric level design and quirky soundtrack. You'll find yourself jumping on babbling forks, swinging from long beards, running from spiky citrus fruits and other crazy stuff. I'm also glad to see that Rayman's excellent dance moves are back, and that the bosses all have happy endings, which reminded me of the dancing bosses from the first game. It's one of the happiest, silliest games you can find.
And just like the original, the charming nature of the game is in no way an indication of the game's difficulty. Taking away the lives from the first game was a good idea, as I ended up dying just as many times in this game as I did in the original. The difficulty steadily increases as you traverse the different worlds, leading to some especially challenging final levels. Then there is the final world, the Land of the Livid Dead, which you must unlock by mastering all of the other levels you've already played. I'll just say this about the Land of the Livid Dead: it gives some of the more difficult levels in Super Meat Boy a run for their money.
In short, I can't recommend Rayman Origins enough. In my opinion, it embodies the Rayman franchise perfectly. If you never played the original game and want to know what Rayman is all about, this is the game to get. I like to think that the game is so appealing because of its return to the 2D platformer model. We see so few games like this nowadays, and Rayman Origins happens to be quite possibly the best looking game in the genre. They didn't go the Nintendo route and try to make a 3D game in a 2D plane, they went all out with two dimensions. A return to beautiful, quirky artwork, charming humor and satisfying difficulty is just what the Rayman franchise needed. It's a triumphant return of everything that made the original Rayman game great, and it somehow improves on those things to make for an even better Rayman game!