Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Later Levels In Rayman Origins Are Too Hard And It's Breaking My Heart

Playing Rayman Origins is sublime. It's so full of joy and whimsy that it's tough not to be seduced by its charm. There's some "pure glee" part of my brain that its able to tap into effortlessly every time I play. It's just fun.

But goddamn, the last stretch of levels is way too hard.

Rayman is all about precision platforming. Did you tap X to jump or did you hold it? How long did you hold it? Were you holding the run button? Letting off a hair too soon or too late can mean having to restart an entire level. The level design often asks you to take literal leaps of faith that the designers have mapped out a safe route through hell so that all you have to do is keep running to the right and jumping when needed, knowing there will be something there for you to land on.

When you pull it off, it's exhilarating. If feels like you can out-jump and out-pace anything the game throws at you, like nothing can touch you, like you're invincible. But one wrong move, one little slip, one zig when you meant to zag, and it's back to the start. And it is so easy to slip up.

It's not a huge problem in the early levels that strike a good balance between wanting you to move forward quickly and demanding perfection, but in these last few levels I've been playing, right near the end of the game, it's getting maddening, and believe me when I tell you: Rayman's whimsy is not nearly as charming the 30th time through the same level.

The demands are getting less forgiving, and it's getting less fun as a result.

The boss fights are worse because there's not even the thrill of sprinting at full speed through an entire level. They're single-screen, contained fights all about memorization and pattern recognition. It's trial-and-error design in the worst way; I get a little bit further each time, learning the next phase of the fight before inevitably dying and retrying. Again and again.

Listen, I like a good challenge. I've beaten Dark Souls four times now, and that's a game all about fiercely punishing you for making a single error, forcing you to memorize every inch of its world and its inhabitants.

But Rayman Origins is not Dark Souls. So far, I've loved Rayman because it's so colorful and cheerful and fun. I've had a blast with it until now, and I don't want it to end on a sour note because it randomly decided to ramp up the difficulty like crazy and now I have to play each level over and over until I stop wanting to play at all.


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