“Girlfriend Mode,” Barbaric Barbara And An Ancient “Origins” Review

Rayman Legends Barbara The Barbarian via Eurogamer

Am I the only one who didn’t hear Rayman Legends was coming out this year? And that it was a Wii U launch title? And that they just introduced the world to Barbara the Barbarian? And that bloggers everywhere started making “axe to grind” jokes? I guess that last one’s not surprising.

If you’re just hearing this as well, this not-so-news of Legends’ (token) female character comes on the heels of yet another sexism-in-gaming debacle, in which a developer let fly a lazy and insensitive jab at girlfriends everywhere. “Girlfriend Mode” is what he called a certain skill tree geared towards less experienced players.

Many are saying that it’s a mild symptom of a bigger sickness and maybe not worth fighting over. That’s almost true — certainly Hitman and Tomb Raider are much more deserving of vitriol. But it should go without saying that dismissing “small time” sexism is a cop out. In my mind, it’s exactly John Hemingway’s sort of presumptuous cheap shot that begs a response because it’s made so casually, with the unspoken assumption that “Hey, you know what I’m talkin’ about, huh buddy? Broads!” It’s offhand sexism — offhand racism, offhand homophobia — that is the most insulting because it is perpetrated in broad daylight, with full confidence of one’s safety from criticism. They’re just plain asking for it.

But, hey, wait, still — Legends is looking really good. And I don’t have the usual sequel worries. I’m not concerned about Legends being worse than the original, even though Rayman Origins was immaculate. It was masterful. Can it be topped? Dunno. Probably. These folks have been making these games for a terribly long time, and Origins was less a pioneering exploration of unknown wilderness and more an artisan distillation of years of experience into a nutrient-rich, technicolor maple syrup. Origins wasn’t some ideological gamble Ubisoft is now forced to repeat — they knew exactly what they were doing, and my guess is they can do it again.

Happy Monday, everyone. If you’re on break, read on for what I had to say about Origins back in February. (Sorry for all the archiving; not sure how long these old articles will be hosted on the University server.) Cheers!

Barbara the Barbarian Porno(Bonus edit: apropros questionable depictions of women, in replacing a broken link I learned that “Barbara the Barbarian” is a apparently an 80’s porn starring Barbara Dare. Ms. Dare also starred in such classics as “Bratgirls,” “Where The Boys Aren’t” and “Blame It On Ginger.”)

Review: Rayman Origins

Rayman: Origins is the sort of game to make you fall in love with games again. A direct descendent of the classic platformers that stole my heart — and, I can only hope, many of yours — as I was naught but a budding dweebling, Rayman surprises, challenges and delights, all with the carefree confidence of an old friend who knows exactly how sorely he was missed.

I’m a little late on this one, but I’m not alone — sitting pretty at 89 percent on Metacritic, Rayman: Origins has seen surprisingly little commercial success since its release, but as Joystiq reports, Ubisoft sees in the title a “capacity to become a long-term seller.”

Ubisoft is certainly taking steps to make it so: the game, originally released for PS3, 360 and Wii Nov. 15 of last year, was re-released for the Playstation Vita on Valentine’s Day and will be ported to 3DS and PC come March.

Since its debut in 1995, the Rayman series has proved plucky competition for platforming’s standard bearers (read: Mario). Taking full advantage of its status as a kind of sideshow celebrity, the series adopts a cavalier attitude towards the mainstays of the platforming genre specifically and the gaming industry more generally.

With a villain by the name of “Mister Black” and a protagonist with an improbable lack of limbs, the series has always sought to underscore — and, I think, celebrate — the happy absurdity of the running-jumping-racing romp.

Rayman: Origins is no different. Denied the extra feature-frill that tends to weigh down contemporary titles, the player is dropped directly into Rayman’s beautifully cartoony 2-D universe, and one sets about collecting Lums, saving the Electoons, and having too much fun to ever consider asking “why.” It sometimes seems that the developers made the premise as hilariously threadbare as possible, as if to give a knowing wink and say, “We think you’ll play it anyway.”

And really, who could resist? The game’s visuals alone are enough to hold one’s interest: the worlds are flawlessly and deliciously painted; their visual themes are refreshingly unique, or at least unique takes on the endlessly repeating biome cycle (jungle, desert, ocean, volcano) native to the side-scrolling adventure.

Each world introduces a new ability to play and struggle with, so the gameplay never gets stale. Use of these powers is simply demonstrated and thus adopted into the player’s arsenal organically—a welcome throwback to a time before endless tutorials and spoon-fed how-to’s.

Rayman’s mechanics, while clearly operating in a traditional mode, are outfitted with a modern sensibility. The anachronistic “life” system has been nixed, and upon each failed attempt the player is returned to the start of the challenge without penalty, à la Super Meat Boy.

Local four-player cooperative play—a mode almost identical to that popular platformer re-vamp and kindred spirit New Super Mario Bros. Wii—is refreshing as well, but does little to change the basic dynamics of the game for better or worse.

And of course there is the music. Its themes are as lush, cheerful and full as the worlds they accompany, but even more impressive is the integration of atmospheric noise into the soundtrack—enemies whistle along to the tune and power-ups ring up and down the appropriate scale, all lending the game a natural wholeness and instilling in the player a sense that he has entered into something very much alive.

More than a charming bit of nostalgia, Rayman: Origins stands up as a modern title with real edge, and priced at $30 for all consoles, it’s a definite must-have for any child of platforming’s golden age. Not many games on the market can make you laugh out loud while whitening your knuckles—Rayman makes it look easy.

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