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360 (Version tested) PS3, Wii, 3DS and PSVita
This preview is based on the Xbox 360 demo available on Xbox Live now.
It would usually tell of boring level design that I managed to spend my initial half hour with the Rayman Origins demo ignoring progression in favour of aimlessly scrapping with my co-operative partners. But trust me when I say it speaks only of the wonderful animation quality. Exaggerated to the point of comic hilarity; slapping each other in the face results in protruding teeth, bulging eye-balls and elastically contorted facial expressions. This slapstick humour, combined with a Ren and Stimpy meets H.R.Geiger esq approach to monstrously deranged enemy designs, lend a newfound silly charm to Ubisoft’s loveably limbless hero.
As the technical debut of Ubisoft’s Ubiart framework then, Rayman Origins is looking like a runaway success: Showcasing stunningly fluid hand drawn animations and a deluge of pastoral cartoon like detail in background and world art. As well as the most charming, this may also be the most visually vibrant videogame of the year.
But aesthetic majesty is pointless without a strong underlying mechanical structure to drape it over. Something that the Origins demo showcases in abundance throughout three accessible levels. The first being a somewhat traditional Rayman open world forest; floating Lums are in abundance and platforming is kept to a relative simplicity. This is clearly the same easy introductory stage seen back on the Original PlayStation (Just a lot more beautiful), with the same aim of freeing caged Electoons, Rayman’s equivalent of Power Stars or Golden Jiggies.
The second is a mosquito flight based level taking place in a flaming kitchen hell. Chilli’s bathe in hot soups and spit fiery seeds, whilst fat red devil chef’s burp lava and laser guided knives attempt to pin you to walls. It’s like an episode of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares.
Escaping these hellish confines segues into a boss battle with a gigantic screen filling centipede monster, defeated by shooting its outermost tail segments, which conveniently all become pink, fleshy and vulnerable until only the head remains, much like the serepede in Gears of War 3. The mosquito flight simply exemplifies the kind of scatterbrained style and humour thriving throughout Origins: Just look at the mosquito’s strained facial expression from struggling to lift Globox’s considerable heft.
Rayman and friends take an initially placid dive underwater for the third stage, which soon escalates into a chase sequence continuing the boss battle of the previous level, only this time with multiple centipede-like monstrosities. Swimming handles as deftly as land and flight based movements, making traversal around the electrified jellyfish obstacles an effortless breeze. The fluidity so abundant it its visuals and animations spill over into controls and mechanics, lending a new flow to progression through these wacky worlds. Finicky sprite based precision platforming has slightly alleviated into frantic chase sequences and smooth speedy run-throughs.
But If anything is going to foil this fluidity and stumble Rayman’s ascent toward the 2011 platforming crown (besides Mario 3DS), it is a reliance upon old-school trial and error progression. You will die quite a lot, and especially when under the demoed pressured chase scenario. It remains to be seen whether this problem will prove all to frustrating in the full game. But controlling Rayman simply cannot be faulted, instead tough level design provides the challenge, and this is simply too much of alluring visual feast for such a complaint to knock it.
The addition of 4-player co-op works in perfect harmony with these level design, and instead of disappearing when hit, friends balloon up and float about the foreground, waiting for a partner to slap the air out of them. Music is wonderfully enchanting as well, with Lums mumbling harmonic melodies atop already ear-tickling tunes. It feels so familiar, sticking to Rayman’s 10 year old formula, yet so refreshingly beautiful and sublimely smooth that it is an irresistible slice of platforming nostalgia, now enjoyable by up to four friends slapping each other silly.
So whilst Rayman might have been slightly exhausted from his recent career change into Rabbid pest control. A return to his 2D side scrolling origins is shaping up to be one of the most charmingly vibrant, visually sumptuous and gleefully silly videogame affairs of 2011.
Look out for my forthcoming review of the full version.