Gaming, Reviews

Review: Rayman Origins

Rayman OriginsNostalgia is a great thing, especially when it revives an interest in something I’d not experienced since my childhood. A good friend of mine recently recommended platform game Rayman Origins to me and I jumped in – Rayman was a franchise I’d not dipped into since the original game for the PlayStation. I expected good things and wasn’t disappointed.

As a pure, old-school platformer, Rayman Origins features a simple premise: Rayman (or the character you elect to play as; a selection is unlocked as you progress) must free as many Electoons from their cages as possible to restore the balance of the game world. These cages are usually hidden in secret areas of levels or amongst elaborate traps and puzzles. Additional Electoons can be freed by completing each stage to a certain degree of competency measured in the number of “lums” collected; I frequently called the lums “tings” in error in a nostalgic callback to my time playing the original game.

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Rayman Origins is not a perfect game, but gets a lot right (and a lot wrong, but I shall discuss that later). Artistically, it’s a standout title that I can’t commend highly enough. The graphics are joyous and  whimsical, slightly cartoony and giving the impression almost of a “kids game” when it’s anything but. I really enjoyed experiencing some truly beautifully sculpted levels. The cel-shaded animation style is refreshing, crisp and engaging. Vivid colours and exciting effects drew me in and kept me playing, as traversing frankly beautifully layered levels was simply enjoyable. Standing out for me was the “Gourmand Land” levels that are a juxtaposition of ice-cold and red-hot, but avoid the typical snowman and lava tropes in an inventive, whimsical and fun way – instead of dodging lava monsters and snowmen the character glides through levels filled with dragon waiters, lemons on forks and giant chilli-fuelled heat streams. One overall theme I didn’t really approve of was the overall raunchiness in the design of the fairies that granted additional powers.

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Gaming, Reviews

Review: Rise of Nations Extended Edition

When it comes to gaming, a lot of my joy comes from nostalgia and rediscovering gems from my youth. Rise of Nations ticks all the boxes there so discovering Microsoft (in a rare display of doing something good in the gaming sphere) was planning to re-issue the revered strategy game in a remastered format I was jumping at the bit to experience the game again!

Thebes falls to the mighty Bantu impi.

For the uninitiated, Rise of Nations is a real-time strategy game that pits the player as the omnipotent deity that is guiding a fledgling civilization through history, from the Ancient Age to the Information Age with the tasks of building cities, setting up industry, conducting research and building armies to wage war against neighbouring states. Released originally in 2003, the game combined gameplay elements from Civilization, Age of Empires and Risk to form a truly compelling strategy experience. Indeed, the Civilization cues are by no co-incidence given that Rise of Nations’ lead designer was Brian Reynolds, who designed the legendary Civilization II in 1994.

What made Rise of Nations special was it’s ingenious use of turn-based 4X strategy tropes in the real-time plane. There is still a tech tree to climb and epochs to advance to, but this is heavily simplified as to not detract too much from the faster-paced gameplay and add an appropriately-linear progression. The standard RTS “base” was decentralised around city centres the player could build around the map and construct resource-gathering buildings around; these cities also formed the main part of the conquest victory condition. World Wonders, of which only one can be constructed per city, bring unique and powerful benefits to their owners, and Civ-style Wonder races remain as common and infuriating as they are in Civ! Cities also brought the notion of national borders into real-time strategy, opening up an additional facet to tactics, claiming resources and winning the game.

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