In a month full of big game releases involving dragon-slaying and liberating war-torn countries, Rayman Origins provides a colorful break from the heavy, grim and/or epic adventures of saving the world and/or kingdom. But it might break your fingers a little bit.

Rayman Origins opens up with our hero, Rayman, taking an afternoon nap with his friends and making a pretty nifty hip-hop style musical number with their collective snoring. Unfortunately, their funky beats aren’t appreciated by a rather crotchety-looking undead grandma living underground, who sends an army of not-so friendly looking creatures up to the Glade of Dreams to shut them up. Rayman learns the armies of “Darktoons” have swept through the land, imprisoning the ever-optimistic Electoons that inhabit the world and the scantily-clad magical Nymphs who created him. With evil and chaos and reigning in the Glade, Rayman and company venture out to put things back together.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Rayman Origins is that, unlike its predecessors, the entire game is a 2D side-scrolling platformer rather than 3D, but it looks fantastic. The cartoon-style visuals in each level are incredibly detailed, and there’s a wide variety of worlds to run and bound your way through. You’ll be hopping around vine filled jungles, sliding through fruit-covered ice caverns, swimming through spiky underwater ruins and working through steampunk factories complete with robots and electrical wires. It was really enjoyable to play through each section and see what sort of weirdness Origins would throw at me next.

The goal of each level is to rescue a bunch of caged-up Electoons, which you’ll need to unlock some of the extra character models and a few optional levels later on and of course move the plot forward. Along with our hero Rayman, you’ll be able to select from other characters from the Rayman series such as his best friend Globox and the Teensies. Regardless of who you play the game as, you’ll have tons of obstacles in your way, as Origins throws all sorts of craziness at you such as sentient, argumentative forks and fire-breathing jalapeno peppers. All it takes is one hit to kill your character, but thankfully there are plenty of checkpoints so even if you take die or fall off-screen, it’s only a small setback. You’ll also pick up a few useful abilities in each world when you rescue one of the captured Nymphs, such as the ability to run up walls or fly short distances.

Unfortunately, all of the levels are more or less a straightforward dash from beginning to end, and you won’t have too many opportunities to explore your surroundings in-depth. You’ll often be launching yourself off of trampolines, sliding down rivers and wall jumping up mountains so fast that sometimes you’ll barely have time to blink. In a way, the fast-paced gameplay in Origins can feel like an awesome adrenaline rush but can also be a bit of a hindrance. Considering how lightning fast everything can be through most of the levels, your first instinct will probably be to have an iron grip on your controller and the dash button. However, this is a pretty good way to spend a few agonizing minutes repeatedly dying as you overshoot a particular jump or get repeatedly caught in the same trap simply because you’re going too fast… which is a little contradictory to how some levels force you to move quickly or else end up getting crushed by rocks/being eaten by piranhas/falling down a bottomless pit. It’s almost feels jarring to have to let go of the dash button, take a deep breath, and carefully jump through a complicated section rather than tear your way through at high speed like the rest of the game.

One of the highlights of Origins is definitely its soundtrack, and how it’s just so darn catchy. Each of the levels has its own themes, ranging from jazz to folk to classical to didgeridoo-laden traditional Australian music, and they really tie into each world very nicely. There were quite a few times where I was tempted just to put a pause on the action, sit back for a minute or two, and just listen to the game’s tunes cycle through.

Origins is an impressively long game, with approximately ten worlds each with about half-dozen or so levels. However, other than going back to collect any Electoons you’ve missed or trying to beat the time-attack mode, there’s not many reasons to go back to an area you’ve finished. It’s kind of a small shame considering there’s not much else to do once you’ve completed your first playthrough. There are a few optional levels where you can engage in a frantic dash to catch and pummel a fast-running treasure chest to collect red skull teeth for the optional Livid Dead world, and about a dozen unlockable characters from previous Rayman titles for use in single player and co-op, but that’s about it.

Overall Rayman Origins is an incredibly well-put together platformer that looks great, plays great and sounds great. It’s hampered a little by some pacing issues with the game’s speed, but there’s still plenty of gameplay for anyone looking for a solid and challenging experience.

Bottom Line: Rayman Origins is a beautiful looking platformer with a wide variety of levels, but is marred slightly by a handful of pacing issues.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a very well designed, fast-paced platformer that’ll challenges your reflexes, Rayman Origins will deliver.

[rating=4.5]

Game: Rayman Origins
Genre: Platforming
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform(s): Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, 3DS
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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