Rayman Origins extended hands-on preview – Back to bouncy basics

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Most current gamers probably only know Ubisoft’s Rayman from the game that spawned those annoying, but delightfully charming Raving Rabbids. It’s been 16 years since the disembodied Rayman first charmed PlayStation 1 gamers, and 8 years since his last bona-fide platform game. Well he’s back, and he looks better than ever.

I’ve been terribly excited about the game since this year’s E3, where I got the chance to go hands on with the delightful platformer. I’ve since gotten the opportunity to sit down and play through the game at my own pace in the comfort of my home. Here’s why it’s one of the best games I’ve played all year.

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Rayman Origins, which as its name implies, takes the series and its titular character back to the beginning, showing how he -and his band of chums, including his stalwart side-kick, Globox the Glute, became the heroes they are today. It’s not just the story – what little of it there is – that goes back; this is a classic 2D platformer – like the ones we used to play decades back. It’s just one that utilises the technology of today to full effect, producing one of the most beautiful, vibrant, colourful and cheerful games I’ve ever played. The story’s only there as an excuse to throw you in to sixty frantic levels of complete madness across 12 stunning backdrops.

3It is, for the most part, a straight-forward platformer; it’s all about getting from one end of the level to the other, collecting things – in this case, jolly firefly-like insects called Lums – manoeuvring  through decidedly tricky environments. The difference here is that those environments are incredibly detailed, mind-blowing gorgeous hand-drawn works of art. It’s highly inventive, but also terribly derivative at the same time; taking many of the best (and very few of the worst) elements from generations of platformers to make what could well be the ultimate 2D platform game. Though the game has its own character, it’s hard not to be reminded of other games in the genre, like Rayman’s new shrinking ability, similar to the effect of the mini mushroom in New Super Mario Bros; zipping around loops like Sonic the Hedgehog; beautiful silhouetted levels taken straight out of Donkey Kong Country Returns or even the odd chanting of the aforementioned Lums, which sounds like it was lifted from Loco Roco.

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Thankfully, it’s all been ingeniously implemented and designed. Controls are mostly simple. Controlling either the eponymous Rayman, the clumsy blue mass that’s Globox or one of two magical teensies, you have the platform standards of run, jump and attack available, but as the game progresses you begin to unlock new abilities – like flying, swimming, wall climbing  that open up levels to new opportunities for incredibly clever design, and yes, you can go back to earlier levels with your newfound powers and find stuff you hadn’t on your first run through.  You’ll actually find yourself doing this more often than you imagine; hidden on each level are imprisoned Electoons, who help you unlock extra levels and extra playable characters. The controls, despite all that you’re able to do, are quite simple and this approach gives it an aura of being a simple pick-up-and-play title – which it is, until the difficulty starts kicking in.

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Like the very best platformers, the game can be incredibly challenging – making it a lot more like the first brutally difficult Rayman game than I had anticipated. It’s not as difficult as say, Donkey Kong Country Returns or Super Meat Boy – but it’s more challenging than I expected it to be, often requiring pixel perfect jumps and ninja-like timing and finger dexterity.For fans of the series, you’ll be reintroduced to old friends, most notably Betilla the Fairy and Bzzit the mosquito, who once again becomes your mount for some incredibly entertaining “shoot-em-up” sections.

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I had an exceptional amount of fun playing Rayman Origins, especially its 4 player co-op, drop-in/drop-out multiplayer – which is where the game really comes alive. You can choose to work together, lifting each other up or creating chain ropes to reach otherwise inaccessible places – or grief each other through careful slaps in to pits of spikes, and it’s all incredibly fun. Fans of the Rayman series have every reason to be excited, while owners of the HD consoles who haven’t played some of the Wii’s greatest games get something comparable – and in 1080p too.

Rayman Origins is wacky, whimsical and wholly irreverent  – but it’s tied together by some of the tightest pure platforming you’re likely to experience. I can’t wait for more, and you’ll find me standing in line when the game launches on November 25.

Last Updated: October 28, 2011

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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