Some games dazzle you with falling skyscrapers and detonating cruise ships, grabbing you by the ears and peeling your eyelids back in their eagerness to entertain. Some games ask that you work for your pleasure, clambering up and down difficulty spikes, unravelling knotty ethical pseudo-conundrums, tap-dancing across enormous gadget rosters. But Rayman Origins is just fun. Fun right from the blooming menu screen, where the options burble and snort as though possessed by Nickleodeon.
Younger gamers may not recognise Ubisoft's sometime mascot, who dates back to 1995. Doesn't matter. All you need to know is that he's an inexplicably happy man with no arms or legs who can run and jump. He has up to three friends with him at any given time - also inexplicably happy - and he lives in a world where joyful blue genies pop out of bottles to form ledges.
And there are tropical birds who scream in ecstasy when you bounce off them. And side-scrolly shooter bits aboard mosquitos with hoover attachments. And buxom faeries locked in toothy carnival cages which flee to the right. And when you punch a co-op partner into a belligerent owl, reducing him to a drifting respawn bubble (a mechanic frankly and forthrightly nicked from New Super Mario Bros Wii), everybody laughs till their sides ache. God help us all.
The world itself may smack logic in the kisser, but the riddle of Origins' charm is an easy one to solve. It's a blend of Sonic the Hedgehog's fluidity and Mario's environmental brain-teasers, chopped up into around 60 regionally-themed levels that are themselves chopped up into bite-sized, check-pointed compartments. It looks beautiful, thanks to a smooth-as-silk proprietary engine, and it sounds better, with every gesture, prop or menu action tied to a unique effect or medley.
The goal in each level is to rescue Electoons, small pink smiley faces with big yellow pony tails. There are generally between three and five packs of the bizarre, excitable things to uncover - two or three awarded for collecting enough Lums, or golden fireflies, and a further two or three boxed-up in hidden challenge rooms (listen out for a tell-tale "Help me"). Levels themselves manage to leverage famous platformer tropes without feeling shop-worn. The ubiquitous ice level, for instance, is more beachside icebox than Antarctica, littered with sliced fruit and floating cocktail umbrellas.
There's no downside, save an easily-forgiven sense of familiarity and the absence of online co-op. You can't even resort to the usual retro-gaming caveat of high difficulty - the learning curve is perfectly judged, the checkpoints agreeably spaced. This is the year's best platformer without the faintest shadow of a doubt.
Not that original, but unmissable
- Immediately fun
- Scintillating graphics
- Blooming with variety
- Not too hard
- Not a breakthrough