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Wot I Think: Rayman Oranges

You've got to hand it to him

Rayman: Origins Oranges, the latter-day reboot of the Rayman platform series, made its way to PC yesterday, which was happy news for anyone who picked up on the surprising critical buzz around last year's console versions. I've been bounding through the singleplayer, though have yet to try the co-op multiplayer mode. Here = words.

I’ve pinballed from outright glee to making a pathetic whimpering noise like a dog locked inside a cupboard while playing the resolutely 2D reboot of venerable platformer Rayman, but the glee always returns. It is, especially in its initial zones, a purely joyful experience, showering its player with visual and interactive gifts like a weirdo French Santa. While the visual tomfoolery never ceases – angry mutant oranges, giant forks with the demeanour of a scolding fishwife – it’s nonetheless a precision jumping game that isn’t afraid to inflict suffering.

One of the many ways in which Rayman Oranges charms me silly is that it doesn’t make a lick of sense, nor does it even try to. The plot – a race of particularly grumpy undead raise hell because they’re narked about the music Rayman and chums play – is just the loosest of framing devices, an excuse for a parade of cartoon sights that only those who’ve spent a lifetime hepped up on goofballs could possibly predict.

Amazingly, I note someone on Wikipedia has carefully and humourlessly summarised the story. The idea of someone feeling compelled to do that, as if it’s something that anyone would want to find out about, floors me. This is a game about joyfully. crazy stuff happening for no reason.

It finds itself a comfortable place between impressively inventive and gratingly wacky, and very rarely tips into the latter. Nor does it become obtusely odd: its aim is to delight, not to show off. You can’t argue with the craftsmanship here. Much like visiting John Walker’s sex dungeon, there’s always a strange new monster or a happy song for no reason or a giant school of fish or a rope made of chillis around the corner.

Never having been much of a Mario The Hedgehog kind of a guy (I was too busy with my X-COMs and Syndicates, thank you very much), there’s a significant part of me which wishes Rayman wasn’t a straight-up platformer. It front-loads all manner of dicking around in the environment without too much risk, but as it wears on it somehow devolves into thoroughly traditional jumping puzzles while simultaneously piling on new abilities such as shrinking, hovering and swimming.

I think it’s the unpredictability that makes it surprisingly tricky to master: it’s not actually a matter of perfecting jump skills, but of simultaneously pulling off your leaps while traversing a busy, changeable environment and performing knee-jerk hovers and slam attacks. Never mind Assassin’s Creed 3 - if you can manage to usefully control Rayman Oranges on a keyboard you’re a better PC gamer than I. I couldn’t get anywhere without a gamepad.

That said, if you’re not of a mind to be a completist, or even to complete the game, sailing through without collecting all the pick-ups is more straightforward. Once I admitted to myself that trying to 100% levels was beyond my patience and just got on with getting to the exit and enjoying the spectacle, some of the early flow, that delightful chain reaction of mad, colourful chaos, returned.

Play Rayman on your own terms, not from fear that you won’t be able to unlock all the characters and bonus areas, and it’s relatively frustration-free. But if you are from that Super Meatboy school of challenge-fever, you’ll probably get more out of this than you might imagine. It doesn’t have that consciously punishing urgency and you won’t be able to make YouTube videos that people stare at in amazement before erecting a shrine in honour of your incredible skill at pressing the A button, but it certainly has an echelon of added difficulty if you want it.

We mere mortals will have to settle for a slow trickle of new playable characters unlocked as the game wears on, but really they’re only visually-tweaked variations on a theme, and are mostly references I don’t recognise to the early Rayman games. It’s a sweet little treat to get a guy with a different coloured coat or a hat covered in stars every couple of levels though, as one downside of the paper-thin plot is that there’s no real sense of purpose beyond ‘get to the next level.’

Knowing how many thingies you need to collect to access the next character/costume is a reason to keep on. Mostly, though, the reason to keep on is just to see what on Earth it’s going to show you next. Every time I was convinced the whole thing had worn thing for me and I’d stop after the next level, it seemed to sense it and dump something new and ridiculous on me, winning back my faith for a few more minutes.

It is, ultimately, a traditional platformer in the early 90s mould, but made with a knowingness of how absurd the whole affair is plus the sort of visual polish that the tech of the time could never have mustered. Its clear desire to be bold and be memorable keeps its head far above the waters of hollow nostalgia, and any question of ‘why is this on PC?’ entirely moot.

It’s only that it’s called ‘Rayman’ that makes this at all odd. A rose by any another name might smell a little sweeter, but don’t let the series’ divisive heritage put you off what is a massively rewarding and celebratory platformer in its own right.

Plus there’s no DRM (outside of whatever download service you grab it from). How about that?

Rayman: Origins is out on PC now, at retail, on Steam and the UbiShop.

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