Rayman Origins was like a breath of fresh air when it was released onto the consoles last year. In many ways it copied the successful idea behind New Super Mario Bros. Wii by allowing four friends to team up to complete the levels in a chaotic mass of gathering items, defeating enemies and platforming. It was a nice throwback to older platformers by featuring difficult but fair situations to test a gamers abilities as well as his patience. Now it has dropped onto the PlayStation Vita and the results are almost as impressive as the console outing.
The story is thin and mostly serves as an excuse to get you into the game without pesky things like backstory just like an old school platformer should. Rayman and his buddies are chilling out but their snoring aggravates a cranky old lady in the Land of the Livid Dead. Her response ends up sending out monsters that drive the whole world into chaos which means Rayman and his buddies have their work cut out for them. There is a bit of a swerve in the storyline near the end but that's mostly for the longtime fans as it only really carries an impact if you've been following the series. Otherwise it follows the traditional platformer game design of beat level, get object, use object to unlock more levels, repeat.
Now the platforming gameplay is where the bread and butter of the game lie. Thus it is of the utmost importance that this stuff is flawless and in this case it most certainly is. Rayman can leap, bounce, punch and sprint his way across the various worlds with precise controls. The PS Vita has a bit of a bunched up button setup so I was surprised to never find myself having issues with controlling what was happening. Learning all of the little ins and outs of the game so that you get through the stages with minimal deaths is a fun process so the game never gets too stagnant. Just when you start to get bored it throws something new at you whether it be a new enemy, level obstacle, ability for Rayman or a side-scrolling shooter that has you riding a mosquito. It's just that sort of game.
The one place the game does kind of falter a bit is in balancing the difficulty. Much of the game is only vaguely hard, think of it as a 5 out of 10 on the difficulty scale. This allows hardcore gamers to feel awesome as they speed through the stages, gathering everything in sight with only some difficulties while not chasing away more casual gamers with a ridiculous difficulty. However some areas get hard rather abruptly and this can really kill your momentum. You'll have finally gotten the hand of what's tasked of you when it throws a swerve and just screws you up. Then you get stuck there trying to figure out the safest way to advance. These areas are rare and I think they would probably have been easier for a group of players, like in the console version with its addition of multiplayer, but the difficulty is mitigated by the lack of punishment actually dying carries.
More important than the story or the gameplay we have to talk about these graphics; they're absolutely gorgeous. Rayman and his pals look are sharply detailed, vibrantly colored sprites moving across backgrounds that look like a gorgeous cartoon. Strictly speaking these aren't the greatest graphics to grace the PS Vita even at launch but from a creative, artistic standpoint it just blows most other games out of the water. Paired up with the smooth animations, creatively designed enemies and sometimes chaotic levels themselves the whole package is just a treat for the eyes.
Honestly the complete lack of any form of multiplayer doesn't really hinder the game but it doesn't do it any favors either. If there was at least some ability to play with other gamers this would easily be, hands down, one of the best traditional platformers released in years. Even if all we got was two player co-op it would have helped although the PS Vita should be capable of doing something awesome like letting you play as one of the characters in a connected version of the PS3 game.
But all of that said you're still looking at a standout title for the PS Vita much less it being a launch title. This game alone elevates the Vita's launch to something that is noteworthy especially if you aren't the sort of person who enjoys gaming with a bunch of other people. I personally prefer single player games so, for me, Rayman Origins on the Vita is the definitive version of the game.