You can read this review in full in our print edition.
Our Christmas 2011 issue, which is on sale November 22, also includes full reviews of some of this season's biggest games, including Skyrim, Modern Warfare 3 and Assassin's Creed Revelations.
Michel Ancel’s limbless, Fraggle-esque creation has long struggled to match the charisma of his platforming contemporaries, but it’s fair to say that Rayman exudes far more charm as a 2D sprite than he does built from polygons. And the first proper Rayman game in six years, Origins, is a bounding, joyful and unapologetically old-school 2D platformer.
It’s beautiful, too, Ubisoft Montpellier having created a lavish, painterly look for the game that’s nothing short of luxurious. There are more layers of parallax scrolling here than we can count, lending the game’s worlds convincing depth and providing an occasional change of track as you leap into or out of the screen. At 1080p, the game’s vibrant palette sings.
Despite such striking visuals, your early reaction to the game will likely be a world-weary sigh as jungle, ice, desert and lava levels make an appearance. Levels are split into short segments in which you must negotiate twisting obstacle courses while collecting Lums – the series’ perennial collectibles – and rescuing trapped Electoons. Saving enough of these small, pink creatures unlocks new levels in the game’s hub world and additional playable characters – including Globox and a selection of teensies – housed in the Snoring Tree.
Stick with it, though, and it becomes clear that Ubisoft has stamped its own signature on the genre’s well-worn clichés. The desert, for instance, is brought to life with a musical theme that sees you careening through giant didgeridoos, bouncing on drum skins and adding to the soundtrack through your actions. Ice and lava, meanwhile, are juxtaposed to great effect as the former’s cool-blue hues and speedy gameplay clatter into the more careful platforming of the latter over fiery vats drawn in rich oranges and reds.
New abilities are gained quickly, and once Rayman is able to attack, fly and run on walls he becomes a joy to control. The perfectly judged inertia and rollercoaster routes of later stages bring memories of golden-era Sonic rushing back, and the frequency of new ideas and spectacle occasionally makes us think, dare we say it, of Treasure.
In a world whose sales charts are regularly topped by ever-more-homogenised military shooters and action games, playing Origins feels like stepping into an alternate reality in which the 16bit era evolved by increasing in fidelity, not dimensions. So while Mario continues to make us reconsider 3D space and Sonic makes us reconsider buying any games that feature him nowadays, it’s left to Rayman to uphold the big-name 2D platformer. Going on this evidence, the genre is in very capable disembodied hands indeed.
Xbox 360 version tested.