Rayman Origins hit consoles late last year and brought with it a delightful 2D platforming experience combining the best of old-school and modern game design. Now Ubisoft's limbless mascot has made his way to the PlayStation Vita, and the transition has been a smooth one. This eccentric side-scroller plays every bit as well as it did on consoles, and the Vita's large screen does great justice to the game's vibrant artwork. The one drawback is that four-player co-op from the console versions has been lost along the way, but the introduction of a new feature that lets you share your best speed runs and race against those from your friends helps ease the pain. No matter how you look at it, this portable version of Rayman Origins remains a wonderful adventure.
Rayman Origins is a living, breathing testament to the artistic capabilities of a 2D canvas. Every one of the game's numerous landscapes is filled with rich, hand-drawn detail, from the lush foliage of Jibberish Jungle to the flurrying snowfalls of Mystical Pique. There's an almost eccentric level of variety on display here. One moment, you swim through a haunting underwater abyss; the next, you leap across an industrial cooking pot full of molten lava in some hellacious version of a Mexican restaurant kitchen. Whether it's your own character or the many different enemies you encounter, the 2D animations are wonderfully fluid and impress a strong kinetic energy onto every last bit of movement. The Vita version even lets you pinch and drag the touch screen to zoom the camera in and really soak up those details, but the novelty is fleeting because you need to be able to see as much as you can to keep up with the fluid action.
Keeping up with the action is key, because this is a platformer built with the idea of player momentum firmly in mind. Most levels are intricately designed pathways built to encourage a quick pace, with rapidly transforming (often crumbling) environments, wide gaps, and enemies that frequently get the best of you if not attacked head-on. Fortunately, the tight, responsive controls in Rayman Origins give you every tool you need to accomplish this left-to-right journey. You start only being able to sprint and jump, but you eventually unlock new abilities, such as gliding through the air and running up walls or ceilings. And no matter how extravagant your move set becomes, the game always responds precisely to your inputs.
That's a good thing, too, because Rayman Origins is a deceptively challenging game. Though it starts out easily enough, the difficulty curve moves on a constant, gradual upswing. Later levels become twisted death traps outfitted with swinging radial saws, spike-covered monsters, and crashing electrical storms. Yet none of it ever feels cheap; you're always in control, and the sensation of darting through these intricately placed hazards makes for an extremely rewarding experience. You never need to worry about having to repeat entire levels over and over again either, thanks to the game's generous use of checkpoints. The difficulty exists--palpable and ominous--but there's nothing artificial about it.
The one area where the difficulty curve falters is in the game's small handful of boss fights. In keeping with the game's uniformly delightful aesthetic, these creatures are always a sight to behold, but they're an inconsistent bunch once the battles unfold. The challenge posed by these bosses holds little correlation to the sequence through which they're unlocked. It's a random smattering of encounters where one particularly harrowing fight is immediately followed up by a relatively easy one, which creates a weird inconsistency in an otherwise very consistent game.
Fortunately, boss fights don't offer the only change of pace to the game's core 2D platforming. One recurring palate cleanser has you jumping on the back of an adorably angry pink mosquito and shooting your way through a series of hazards that range from easily startled puffer fish to heat-seeking missiles. These levels are a blast and feel like a vintage shoot-'em-up covered in a thick layer of Rayman Origins' absurdist humor. Other notable examples of switching up the standard formula include levels where you have to frantically chase an equally agile target and subdued journeys through an underwater landscape of beautiful but deadly sea creatures.
Throughout all of this, one persistent element of Rayman Origins is the sheer abundance of collectible doodads strewn across every chunk of landscape. Everywhere you go, you find things like lums (the game's version of coins), hidden challenge rooms, and other scattered rewards placed in treacherous locations, which often puts you at odds with your own survival instincts. A few of the benefits are purely cosmetic, like collecting enough items to unlock new character skins. But unfortunately, the level progression system suddenly becomes very demanding once you cross into the second half of the game, forcing you to go back and replay prior levels that you didn't already scour for collectibles with an obsessive-compulsive attention to detail.
It's unfortunate that you can't return to these levels with friends in tow as you could with the co-op feature found in the console versions. However, the Vita version of Rayman Origins does have a ghost mode that lets you take your best speed runs and share them with people using the Vita's Near functionality. It's a more social and interactive version of leaderboards that makes for a fun way to familiarize yourself with levels you've already completed. It's not quite as exciting as co-op, but it's a welcome addition nonetheless.
You won't find many other changes to Rayman Origins on the Vita because this is almost the same game that was released on consoles last year. Ubisoft has avoided the temptation to shoehorn unnecessary touch-screen or motion controls into the experience, carefully preserving what made this game such a delight in its original form. If you're a Vita owner who hasn't played Rayman Origins yet, this handheld port provides a terrific opportunity to change that fact.