Review: Rayman Origins (PS Vita)

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If you’re picking up a PlayStation Vita, you’re probably doing it for some combination of two major reasons: You either want to play new games that use the system’s cool front and back touchscreen features in unusual and interesting ways, or you’re craving a cutting-edge platform that can rock a portable version of your favorite PlayStation 3 games. Rayman Origins is aimed straight at the cartoon hearts of the second camp. Ubisoft has created a picture-perfect port of one of 2011’s strongest and most artistic platformers, and in the process, scored one of the Vita’s absolute must-have launch games.

If you missed Rayman’s major-console romp last November—you were busily hacking dragons in Skyrim, weren’t you?—feel free to smack yourself upside the head with the nearest available controller. Origins is true to its name, harking back to those Nintendo-esque days when platformers were all about the bright colors and sunshine. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Limbo and Outland’s bleak graphical outlook, but still). Our armless hero and his charming compatriots leap, swing and slide through universes that look like detailed, hand-drawn cartoons come to life, trying to collect luma and find secret areas. And simply survive.

You’d think some of that lustrous big-console detail would be lost in translation—and you’d be totally wrong. On the Vita screen, the graphics are luminous and vibrant, and yet large enough that all the little details, from grassy platforms that sprout when the correct objects are struck, to the goofy and changing expressions of Rayman and his pals when they slap enemies are crystal clear. The controls are an absolute dream, featuring none of the floaty physics or cheap deaths that sometimes sidetrack games like this. Rayman Origins is far from the easiest platformer you’ll play, but you won’t be able to blame the Vita’s dual sticks when your jump plummets you into the maw of an underwater piranha plant. Ouch.

The touch controls here are minimal. You can tap the screen to advance through the game menus, and you can also use your fingers to pinch and shrink or expand the screen, the same way you do when you’re trying to line up your slingshot in Angry Birds on iOS devices. One of Rayman Origins’ strengths is that it’s not cheap about the way it disguises pitfalls and secret areas, so while the broader view doesn’t feel strategically necessary, it’s nice to be able to zoom and pan as needed.

Side-scrolling shooter and synchronized sections break up the jump-and slap action neatly. A multiplayer mode didn’t make this particular platform jump, unless your super-loose definition of “multiplayer” happens to include being able to share ghost data with friends wirelessly. It’s a bummer, yes, but it’s hard to stay chapped when the core experience is so utterly entertaining.

It took the PlayStation Portable nearly four years to finally nail the feel of major-console quality games (think God of War: Ghost of Sparta). The PlayStation Vita has it down on launch day. For any of the system’s other shortcomings, I think we can agree to call that significant progress.

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Pros:
+ Picture-perfect port of one of 2011’s most awesome and essential platformers
+ Gorgeous hand-drawn graphics + tight controls = gaming bliss
+ Tons of levels and unlockable/collectibles

Cons:
– Touch-screen controls don’t add much to the experience
– Lack of multiplayer mildly disappointing

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation Vita (previously released on PS3, Wii and Xbox 360)
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: UBlart Montpellier
Release Date: 2/14/2012
Genre: Platformer
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.