Rayman Origins: Style Over Substance

Posted December 8, 2013

The buzz around Rayman Origins at release was huge. People described it as an excellent platformer, whimsical, fun, important. With the release of Legends I realized I had a copy of Origins on the Wii, that had gone unplayed. This morning felt like the perfect time to try it out. Now about 3 hours later, the first ice level is finished and so am I.

I started the game with Wiimote controls. In this configuration movement is on the d-pad, jump and attack are on 1 and 2, with running on the B button. Immediately the controls felt off. The B button is worthless in a sideways configuration, so sprinting was a chore. The d-pad tends to confuse directions, causing Rayman to cling to walls instead of dropping, or ground pound into the abyss instead of attacking. About 4 levels in, the frustration with the controls was so high that I almost quit there.

I asked myself, “Wait, this game is supposed to be awesome. Why do I hate it so much?” The internet met me with glowing reviews and a few people saying it sucked without explanation. Eventually I found out that there was a nunchuck control scheme and switched to that. That took away enough of my woes to get through the next few worlds. The game never shows or insinuates that there’s another control scheme.

The controls still felt off. Not broken like on the Wiimote but enough to screw me over in tight spots, enough to destroy the flow of the game. Speed is weird while running. It feels clamped in some sections and forcibly accelerated in others. The forced scrolling sections seemed like they were laid out in such a way that there is a certain path to get everything and have good flow. However, the speed was so variable and unpredictable that it was hard to tell where and when you should and shouldn’t be running to lock into that flow.

The levels have a collect everything phase, in which you can go slow. However sometimes the levels have forced scrolling and you can’t be slow. Then you can run through the whole thing again in a time trial. I’m speculating that they tried to design the levels to feel good for both speed runs and collection, making the levels feel off for both purposes. In fact the most fun sections were the treasure chest chase levels because they were focussed and well paced.

Enemy hit boxes were hard to figure out sometimes, though poor attack timing is more likely input delay. I say that because jumping off wall slides at the last minute often meant death unless pressed earlier than anticipated. The end of level lum count is fun and exciting the first few times, becoming tedious and demanding a skip button after that. The unlocks are empty and meaningless, making the collectibles more chore than fun. The last world I ignored them completely. There’s no story beyond a vague sprinkling so your actions carry no weight. Which is fine if the game is fun, but it plays mediocre and frustrating.

It has a lot going for it in the aesthetics department. I can see why people would call it whimsical and playful. It makes great use of colour, the animations are smooth, and the art style has a dreamlike quality. It’s a testament to the beauty of 2D. It looks like a great game and sadly doesn’t play like one.

My only concern is that the game is great but something is messed up with the Wii version. That there’s some amount of controller latency that’s borking everything, and I’m judging it unfairly. Then again I thought Mario 3D Land was only OK when everyone else thought it was amazing, so maybe I just have impossible standards for platformers.