‘Rayman Origins’ is wacky 2-D fun

Reviewer’s Rating: ★ ★ ★1/2

There are three kinds of people who should play “Rayman Origins”: kids who have lost their innocence to gritty and violent shooting games, gamers who remember how much fun all those classic 2-D platformers like “Mario” and “Sonic” were, and everybody who loves beautiful, rewarding and challenging games they can play with their friends.

The “Rayman” franchise made the transition to 3-D back on the original Playstation, and while those games were great, they didn’t quite have the magic of the hand-drawn, side-scrolling original.

“Rayman Origins” takes the series back to its roots from a visual and gameplay standpoint, but don’t expect a rousing origin story. It turns out that before Rayman was a world-saving hero, he spent most of his time napping and snacking with friends, until one day their loud snoring ticked off an undead grandma, who sent an army of monsters after them. The silly setup (and the laughably brief ending) are no more than an excuse to run to the right and beat up some bad guys, but hey, does anyone care about what Mario did before he spent all his time rescuing Princess Peach? I didn’t think so.

Running, jumping, collecting powerups, and smacking enemies with Rayman’s disembodied limbs makes up the core gameplay of “Rayman Origins,” which plays like it could have been released on the Super Nintendo. The controls are sharp, and you’ll need your reflexes to be similarly honed if you want to complete all of the game’s challenges. The segments where you chase down a runaway treasure chest are especially tricky and reward patience and muscle memory.

If you’re having trouble, up to three other players can join in to help out as Rayman’s froglike friend Globox and two little blue creatures called Teensies. Instead of dying outright when struck by an enemy, you become “bubblized” and can be rescued by another player. I wouldn’t recommend four players at once though, since it quickly devolves into chaos.

In each world Rayman and company will rescue a fairy who will endow them with a new ability such as wall running. These accumulated skills make replaying already-beaten levels much easier, and allows the player to snatch up every last collectible. Most of the gameplay variety comes from how different each world is, both visually and gameplay-wise. For instance, the underwater levels feature swimming and dangerous sea life, while the fiery kitchen levels (complete with Mariachi music and fire-breathing chef lizards) play like a traditional platformer. Mosquito riding segments return from the original “Rayman,” transforming that traditionally pesky insect into a vehicle for epic sky battles against giant clockwork flying machines. There’s no standout innovation, like with, say, “Mario Galaxy,” but the solid 2-D action is relentlessly fun and just varied enough to keep you interested.

Much digital ink has been spent praising the gorgeous 2-D graphics and whimsical art design in “Rayman Origins,” and all I can do is agree. This is easily one of the prettiest games ever made, with lush rainforests and zany musical-themed worlds providing jaw-dropping backgrounds for Rayman’s antics. The sprites look and act just like Saturday morning cartoon characters, and a goofy sense of humor pervades every crevice of this game.

My only complaint is that the camera is pulled back too far from the action. What’s the use of colorful and lovingly crafted enemies and environments if the player has to whip out a microscope to see them?

Ubisoft’s composers prove they are among the best in the business with an upbeat and inventive score. Tribal chants, Chipmunk-esque vocal choruses, digital didgeridoos and the jubilant wailing of a mariachi singer all get tossed into a blender together and come out as a medley of wacky tunes that perfectly match the game’s lighthearted feel. In the vein of games like “Okami,” there’s no real voice-acting to be found, since characters speak in gibberish. It’s disconcerting at first, but quickly grows on you.

Of all the games for sale this Christmas season, I can’t think of one that is more fun to look at or more fun to play than “Rayman Origins.” While it doesn’t blaze any trails, it gives the classic Mario games a run for their money. So pull that younger brother away from “Call of Duty” and explore the world of “Rayman” together.