PREVIEW: Rayman Origins [X360]

Michel Ancel created Rayman 15 years ago, and despite having no arms and no legs, the little guy’s still running amok. His latest outing – Rayman Origins – is an impressive return to form, after being somewhat overshadowed by those pesky Rabbids in recent years.

The story this time around is pretty simple. The Glade of Dreams has been overrun by Darktoons, and it’s down to Rayman to save the day. He’s brought some friends along with him – the large blue, frog-like Globox, and The Teensies, a miniature pair of crafty wizards. In a great move from Ubisoft, you can bring your friends too – four person drop-in/drop-out co-op makes it easy. (No friends? Play through solo as Rayman, no problems.)

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It’s important to note though, you will have to bring your friends – there’s no online multiplayer for Rayman Origins. It’s a deliberate choice, too. While the game is very much a case of “the more the merrier”, Ubisoft understands that it’s always more fun to slap the person sitting next to you, rather than voicing your disapproval over a headset.

It might not sound like a key feature, but slapping the person next to you is a requirement for the game, as essential as making sure your controllers are fully charged befor eyou begin. The AI isn’t the only obstacle, in the all-too-brief time we had with the game, I lost count of the number of times my playing partner pushed me off a ledge into a pile of spikes. He stopped claiming they were ‘accidents’ after the first few, and while plenty really were intentional, there were some that were unavoidable slips – the camera pans back to fit all four characters onscreen at once, and even though one Teensy has a crown (that’d be Grand Minimus, in case you were wondering), it can get pretty tricky to tell which one is which. Often, by the time I figured out who I was, it was as I was plummeting off a cliff.

In an environment where everybody is moving towards 3D technology and motion-controls, Rayman Origins stays true to its name – a 2D side-scrolling platformer – while bringing full high-def graphics and a stunning art style.

Don’t be fooled though, this one’s inspired by the classic platformers of days gone by, and it has a difficulty level to match. Timing is everything, as Darktoons swarm and invade at every corner. There’s a definite learning curve: My first few levels were all about surviving, rather than collecting the Lums dotted around the place (that’s the Rayman version of the inevitable, collectable coins). It wasn’t until later, once I’d visualised the map, sorted out which powerups to hit and counted out the timing of attacks, that I could start thinking about scoring points.

Realistically though, this is no ‘mere’ platformer. Levels are thrown in representing a whole bunch of genres (no, sorry, FPS doesn’t get a look-in here), suiting all sorts of different play styles. We only got our hands on a few levels from the game, but there are roughly 60 in total, so this one should keep you going for a while.

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Learning from the past and looking to the future, the crew at Ubisoft Montpellier has shunned the idea that platformers must be simple, linear affairs. Instead, we were encouraged to improve our skills and gather upgrades as we played through the game, before revisiting earlier levels to find alternate paths, extra collectibles or simply to chalk up more points. It’s definitely a good one for people who must collect 100% – some of those Lums are hiding in really tricky spots you might not spot the first time through!

…in fact, Rayman Origins isn’t simple at all, when it comes to level design. You’re not revisiting the same place you played earlier. As you unlock new skills and powerups, you also unlock new levels in each area, with a corresponding spike in difficulty. In order to complete the game, you will have to play through some levels several times.

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Rayman Origins is coming to Wii as well as PS3 and Xbox 360 as part of Ubisoft‘s holiday lineup – and while we didn’t get a chance to check out the Nintendo interpretation, we’re told that it’s pretty consistent (as in, surprisingly consistent) on the Wii. The glorious graphics carry over even better than anticipated, so if you don’t have an HD console, you won’t miss out on this one.

Trust me, you don’t want to miss this one. If you’re a fan of platforms, of glorious, hand-drawn art styles, or simply of four-person on-screen chaos, Rayman Origins should be on your wishlist.

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