Ever since the release of the original Super Mario Bros. 30 years ago, Mario has regularly and persistently found himself at the top of the platforming heap. Oh sure, there’s been some competition: a Sonic the Hedgehog here, a Crash Bandicoot there, even the occasional Banjo-Kazooie or Bubsy (wait, scratch that last one). None of them have lasted for long against the venerable plumber however but that could be changing some day soon.
First appearing in his self-titled game, Rayman, all the way back in 1995, Rayman has relished in relative obscurity ever since. Always an also-ran, never a front page platforming mascot like many of his brethren. Though he achieved some relative success later on in Rayman’s Raving Rabids, it’s pretty clear to anyone who deigned to play these games that they were mere spin-offs which had nothing to do with the classic platformers of yesteryear.
As even these titles became commonplace and oversaturated, like so many Ubisoft series have in the past, it looked like the graveyard of platforming mascots was destined to bury its latest casualty but in 2009 all of that changed.
With the arrival of Rayman Origins, Mario had his first real challenger in years. A slick 2D platformer with gorgeous animation, a huge adventure that could take upwards of 40 hours to fully complete, and an insanely addictive gameplay style that offered challenge after painstaking challenge, Rayman Origins dropped jaws and reset the game as far as classic platformers were concerned.
This was a world that was colorfully alive and as carefully constructed as a Rube Goldberg machine. The difficulty curve was steep but to those who persevered, there were few games that offered a more rewarding gameplay experience. And as players advanced through it’s nine disparate and diverse worlds, the level design only wowed them more and more profoundly.
To those who managed to complete each of Rayman Origins‘ many time trials, find every carefully hidden bonus level, and collect enough of the sporadically dispersed teensies, only to these careful and talented players was gifted the piece de resistance in platforming challenges: the infamous Land of the Livid Dead. The Land of the Livid Dead was a level so monumental and devious that it could take even the most skilled of platforming veterans hours to complete but for the few who conquered it, 2D gaming had rarely produced such a daring mirror of nightmarish persistence.
In 2013, Rayman returned once again with Rayman Legends, a game so pristinely and perfectly designed that it even beat out Rayman Origins critical scores. The title also debuted the maniacal and hilarious musical levels, stages with such carefully calculated rhythms and synchronized obstacles that literally every action in each selection had to match perfectly with the tune of the song in order to be overcome. Including riffs on classic rock tunes like “Black Betty” and ” Eye of the Tiger”, as well as a callback to the aforementioned Land of the Livid Dead in the form of Granny’s World Tour (a level in which guitar playing zombie grandma’s surf throughout the stage on flying coffins), these levels are a marvel to even gaze upon, and are even more thrilling to play through.
Unfortunately, like many of Ubisoft’s best titles, the new Rayman titles are being released under a staggering timeline as the developer rushes out more and more Assassin’s Creeds and the like in favor of more diverse and mind-blowing titles like Rayman, Valiant Hearts, and Child of Light, each of which are a treat to look at and play.
If you’ve already experienced these wonderful additions to the platforming canon, than we’re merely preaching to the choir here, but to those of you who have missed out on these titles, Origins and Legends are destined to become among your favorite journeys in the neo-classical era of revamped 2D.
With amazing aesthetics and soul scathing challenges, Rayman may usurp Mario’s crown yet, but not without your support. So get out there and grab those teensies, The Land of the Livid Dead is waiting for its latest victim.