We haven't really seen Rayman around for quite a while, not since his last major console release in Rayman 3, all the way back in 2003. Oh, there have been Rayman branded games since then, but he's really been upstaged by the manic Rabbids, who've finally been spun off into their own franchise. Rayman Origins returns the focus to the appendage-challenged hero, in a 2D platformer the likes of which we haven't seen since the very first Rayman in the 90's. It's a return to form for the ascot-loving one, and it's certainly shaping up to be a lot more than just nostalgia.
The visuals in Rayman Origins are clearly the standout feature of the game, with crisp, clear and colourful artwork running at 1080p at 60 fps. The characters are animated beautifully, and their designs can get pretty zany. There are shades of Ren and Stimpy in the exaggerated violence and surreal imagery in the levels, which include giant mosquitoes sucking up spiky oranges, chatting female forks piercing lemons and a world made out of didgeridoos. In short, it's French, and we love it. The UbiArt framework really allows the world to come to life, and at times it's hard to tell if the game is totally in 2D, or if some elements are 3D but have just been disguised, but whatever the case may be - it all looks terrific.
We primarily played through this Rayman Origins preview in single player, and our thoughts will mostly focus on that. However, a huge part of the game is the local multiplayer which allows four people to become Rayman, his froggy friend Globox and two Teensies. There is currently no online multiplayer support, so make sure to get your friends physically around to your place if you want to tackle the game together. Doing so will see you each slap each other in joyous trolling attempts and competing to collect lums.
As a 2D platformer, Rayman Origins is definitely very reminiscent of the original game, and it plays up this aspect, although it isn't chained to it. Ostensibly a prequel, you will encounter enemies from the first game such as the hunters, collect electoons by smashing cages open and receive powers from (curvy and sexy) fairies. While the level designs are original, the look of the levels also reflect those from the original game - the first world is a forest, the second based around music and the third a cold mountain. As Rayman plows through these environments, he learns how to slap his enemies into submission, use his hair as a helicopter to hover and even change size by moving through funnel-shaped areas.
The one thing we can say about the gameplay is that it's fluid. The game's fast frame rate certainly helps, but there's something about the responsiveness controls, combined with the animation that just makes flow from one move to the next, grabbing onto vines to slide down or swinging from weird blue hands. Rayman doesn't die from falling into water anymore either, meaning that sometimes a missed jump won't mean instant death and you can just swim along, while still avoiding any predators who may be lurking in the watery depths. It feels quite forgiving, and not focused on pure trial and error, except for some of the bonus levels.
In every level you find yourself constantly in pursuit of yellow lums, returning from their appearance in Rayman 2: The Great Escape. You can collect them one by one, or find great gobs of them hiding in bubbles or even golden medallions. Hitting special larger lums will add a 2x multiplier bonus to any lums you collect over a short period of time, and it's in your best interest to get as many as possible. At the end of every level, your lums are all squished up in a test tube, World of Goo style, and depending on how many you've collected you'll unlock bonus electoons or trophies for your efforts.
Fighting enemies feels different to past entries, as they inflate like a balloon the moment you defeat them. You can either pop them to finish them off, or leave them be to explode on their own. In multiplayer, the same happens to you if you're hit, requiring a friend to deflate you and get you back in the action, although bereft of friends in single player, you'll simply burst instantly and return to the last checkpoint. You can acquire one extra heart that floats around behind you and allows you to take one more hit, but even if that's not enough, you get unlimited lives.
To add even more variety to the game, there are secret 'chase' levels that are unlocked as you collect enough electoons. These see Rayman chasing after a treasure chest on legs in a test of your platforming skills as you sprint, wall jump and hover your way through a usually-shifting landscape of obstacles as you race to pry the hidden gem from the jaws of the sapient-pearwood. All of these collectibles also unlock extra costumes for the characters. In addition to these, there are also the mosquito shooter levels at the end of every world, that sees Rayman hop onto the back of a giant mossie and let loose in a horizontal shooter.
Our time with Rayman Origins has proved it's not only a fun multiplayer experience, but a solid single player platform game as well. There's a fun integration of elements from the series' 90's entries, but the game has its own wacky identity that's more Looney Tunes than Lemmings. With plenty of slapping, shooting, slipping, sliding and um, walking, Rayman Origins is just a fluid and fun experience that is going to be at the top of our Christmas list, come its launch at the end of November.