Review – Rayman Origins

One of the knocks on the otherwise stellar Vita launch lineup is that it’s filled with ports of games that you would be better served playing elsewhere. It’s an odd complaint, as anyone can play anything wherever the heck they would like. But I do understand the general point. Rayman Origins is a glorious game that should, in theory, only get better as you make the image bigger and bigger. The console versions were gorgeous at 720p and the recently released PC version is insane looking at 1080p.  So why is it that I find the game to be much more fun in qHD on a 5 inch OLED?

The Vita version of Rayman is, at the time of this writing, also the most expensive version. This is something I don’t have a witty retort for. Ubisoft is clearly extorting Vita early adopters. The aforementioned PC version came out *AFTER* the Vita version and is $10 cheaper. If you’re looking for a reason to not play this game this is it.  Because, other than this, one doesn’t exist.

I love many, many indie games… but no small, underfunded indie team is going to be able to put together art quite like this. Ancel and his team went above and beyond.

I will admit that my love affair with Rayman Origins started slowly.  I rented it on the PS3 when it first came out and thought it had a cool art style and seemed to control just fine, but I just wasn’t into it. When I got it on the Vita I went through the same feelings – except this time I owned it, so I kept pushing through.  The first world was good.  The second world was really good.  The third world was great.  The fourth world melted my brain.

Rayman’s level design is clever and gorgeous, but it’s the play mechanics which create the steady rise into greatness.  Like many platformers you start off with very few abilities, but as you gain more the game becomes exponentially better.  When I could float after jumping I thought I had reached the apex of platform control – until about an hour later when I unlocked the ability to run up walls.

So why the Vita version? For me it’s because I feel like platformers are the perfect portable gametype. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that these colors absolutely pop off of that beautiful OLED screen.

The sensibilities of Rayman Origins are really what set it apart from most platformers around these days.  There has been a 2D platformer resurgence lately – which is fantastic – and it’s mostly been from wonderful indie developers. What Rayman is able to bring to the table is some big studios aesthetics.  They didn’t need to make their game look retro to make it look cool because they had the money and the talent to make it look amazing in a modern way.  It truly does look like you are controlling a cartoon character running through an oil painting.  Rayman Origins is easily the game I’ve taken the most screenshots of with my Vita because each new thing I see I’m just so amazed by.

The game is not perfect, of course. The opening hour really is pretty blah and at parts downright confusing.  I’m not sure why they even introduce you to The Snoring Tree (basically a complicated character selection stage) so early.  When the game started I ran around it for 15 minutes trying to figure out where to go because I didn’t know better.  Also, while the mechanics do continue to ramp up through the game I feel like the difficulty takes a pretty sudden jump which halts progression for a while.  And in general the combat feels weird – I still can’t quite eyeball how far Rayman’s punch will go.

The stuff happening in the foreground is cool (and you can’t tell in the shot but im zipping down that line at quite a high speed). But, for me, I can just stare at those backgrounds for hours. I love the art in this game.

The game has tons of things to do however.  The main story is long and filled with collectables to keep you going back.  There is a ghost mode which turns each level a fleet-footed race to the finish – with the ability to trade ghosts over Near.  It’s also fun just playing old levels for the heck of it – like a great Mario game many of these levels have a timeless feeling to them which you can return to repeatedly.  If you must skip this game on the Vita due to Ubisoft extorting early adopters, I completely understand.  But do yourself a favor and go find this game somewhere.  It doesn’t matter which platform, this is a platformer for the ages.

For Your Viewing – Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack

Mutant Blobs Attack was reviewed a while back but I recently realized we had no video up of this wonderful title.  The video shows off one level about halfway through the game which shows off a lot of the different gameplay elementes MBA has to offer.

FyFYI Episode 139 – Pete Dodd: Petulant Child

This week Pete has delusions of grandeur. James tries to play Rage but ends up replaying Fallout 3 instead. A few Vita games are discussed, quickly.  Did CJ defile New Zealand? Pete hates kickstarters but does some soul searching and realizes he hates himself. The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition is touched, gently.  Pete is in the market for a Transformer Prime and some (likely) boring tablet talk follows.  Trials Evolution is amazing.


Stream here people.

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Free game standoff – Motorstorm: RC vs Treasures of Montezuma Blitz

In the world of smartphones, free is the new 99-cents.  Developers are figuring out that with in-app purchases, advertising and the basic lure of no overhead cost that they are able to make far more money in the long run by selling a game for, well, $0.  It also helps combat piracy because a game that is complete at 99 cents can be stolen, a game that is free and requires bought unlocks from an online server cannot.  On the Android, where piracy is a much bigger issue, free to play has effectively solved the problem.  The only catch is that the solutions are usually pretty poor for the consumer. As the Vita travels into this territory we are given a glimpse at the good and bad of free games.  Motorstorm: RC does just about everything as right as you can expect of a free game, while Treasures of Montezuma: Blitz is the epitome of what is so frustrating with them.

Montezuma, at its core, is a Bejeweled Blitz clone.  It’s a basic match 3; you have 1 minute to play, your score is posted to a leaderboard (which can be sorted by friends)… and then the leaderboard is wiped weekly so you can do it all over again.  This type of leaderboard chase is a lot of fun; I’ve dumped 10s (if not 100s) of hours into Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook over the last couple years.  The actual board mechanics aren’t as smooth in Montezuma, something that’s odd given that in general I find the Vita touchscreen to be superior to both my iPad and iPhone.  But it does the job well enough – it’s certainly playable.

The problems with Montezuma Blitz pop up in the for-pay mechanics.  The game uses a gem system for just about everything from buying power-ups to actually playing a round.  I burned through my initial allotment of gems pretty quickly – on day two, I believe.  You make some each game – typically 2-20, but it costs 200 per game, so that’s not effective in the slightest. Once you run out you have two options: win some from the daily scratch-off game, or buy them.

It is possible to play this game without paying a penny, it's just dependent on winning gems from the daily scratch-off game(and most nights you win enough to play one measily game). I do it, because I'm an idiot that loves match 3, but my friends leaderboard went from 15 people in week one to 3 people this week. Next week I expect to be alone.

Buying them wouldn’t be such a big deal if you could just buy the ability to never again had to worry about paying for gems to play, but you can’t – and that’s why this game is devious garbage.  You pay $5 now to get a handful of gems, but you’ll eventually run out again, and then you’ll have to pony up more.  If Bejeweled Blitz used this model and I paid (and to be clear: I never would – and I never will to ToM:B) I would easily have spent  THOUSANDS of dollars by now.  That is fucking mental.

And it’s not just gems that are for sale. You can buy scratch cards for 99 cents a piece if you like.  You also have heart containers that empty as you play and slowly refill.  If you’re completely impatient you can pay to fill them immediately.  The whole thing is designed to extract as much money out of someone hopelessly addicted as humanly possible. Whatever – good for them.  Make money off the weak. But what it means for the rest of us is that the game is basically unplayable.

Motorstorm: RC on the other hand is free because of in-game advertising by some car company.  Honestly, I can’t even remember the name of the car right now.  I can see what it looks like in my head – but I can’t remember the name.  Scion!  I think that’s it.  I have no idea who makes it.  Or is Scion a car maker?  I’m not really sure.

All of my confusion points to how non-intrusive the advertising is in Motorstorm: RC.  There is a splash screen advertisement that you see when the game loads, and it’s done in the art style of the game so it’s not jarring or annoying.  The car itself is one of the RC cars in the game as well so you can see it in 3D.  I have no idea what the people behind Scion paid for this but if it was reasonable and this is a business model that can sustain itself I hope we see more of it… because I got Motorstorm: RC for free, and this game is pretty rad.

Here it is: the ad that makes the game free. I will look at this loading screen in every game ever for a $10 discount. Motorstorm: RC does free to play right.

As you may have guessed from the title it’s an RC game, a sharp departure from the PS3 franchise.  The settings of the tracks are taken from the three PS3 games and one PSP game as well, though the tracks themselves are my biggest complaint with the game.  They are technical what-you-may-see-in-real-life RC tracks, which may be fun for some, but I want more jumps and dirt and banks and crazy stuff.  The tracks are usually just a series of S curves, a long straight with a jump and that’s about it.  It’s very tame design.

Controlling your RC is finicky, but in a fairly realistic way, and you get used to it.  The graphics are solid and the game is definitely a lot of fun.  It also has a ton of asynchronous aspects with ghosts of your friends and leaderboards on everything.  It’s a rather large game as well – so large, in fact, that it contains a platinum trophy.  The PS3 version costs $10, and the PSBlog alluded to the fact that it won’t be free forever on the Vita, but even at $10 I would say it’s worth it.

Besides, whatever payola they got from the Scion-ites, Evolution and Sony are also making their money with the DLC train, but are doing it in a very unobtrusive way.  All of the RCs in a given class control the same, so hopping onto the store and spending 50 cents or 99 cents for a new one doesn’t give the advantage to the person with the most money.  They also have released two DLC track packs so far, both modestly priced, and while I find Pro-Am’s tracks to be much more creative (it takes place in a skate park!) than Carnival (it totally does not take place in a carnival, as far as I can tell) they are both worth the couple extra bucks to keep the game fresh.  I plunked down for both of them and don’t have a single regret about it.

So there you have it – a free game that is basically unplayable without money versus a free game that is so good and fun that you WANT to give them money.  This is how the battle lines are being drawn and as a customer I have a feeling I can speak for nearly everyone when I say we prefer it the Motorstorm way.  My only fear is that the ugly, devious way that Montezuma Blitz is going about it will actually make them more money – which means that what we want won’t matter a single iota to publishers looking to bolster their bottom line.

Treasures of Montezuma Blitz———————————————————————————–Motorstorm: RC