Rayman Origins Preview (Xbox360)

If I was to describe Rayman Origins in two words, it’d be “delightful” and “buggering annoying”. Okay, so that’s technically three words, but if I could invent a word to describe how annoying the two-player co-op in the game can get I’d do so. But it doesn’t matter, because Ubisoft has done the almost impossible and make me consider buying another game in the same month as Skyrim, Modern Warfare 3, Sonic Generations and their own Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. They may be bonkers, but I didn’t see anyone leave Rayman without a smile on their face.

Behold the weirdness...
There were three levels to play, imaginatively titled ‘Jungle’, ‘Desert’ and ‘Cave’, and I tried them all. Two of them I completed co-operatively with a partner playing Globox, otherwise known as “that fat blue guy even Rayman’s creator didn’t know the name of in the Ubisoft E3 conference”, while I controlled the limbless wonder himself. Both have the same move set but were so radically different in animation and appearance it was impossible to get them confused. That may be a problem with 3-4 players, but 2 was perfect.

Regarding moves then, the game’s a little tricky at first since it expects you to know Rayman’s controls well and yet fails to explain them. This is hopefully just down to the demo being taken from later in the game as I’m assuming each of the moves will get a gentler introduction than a swarm of insta-death bats killing you if you don’t hold jump for long enough. Rayman’s controls seem to be a cross between Earthworm Jim and Mario (although not quite with Mario’s grace), with a wall-jump and a spinney helicopter double-jump thing to help him cover long distances.

If you’ve watched any videos at all of Rayman Origins you know how gorgeous the game looks. It really does appear like a flowing, well-animated cartoon, with Ubisoft’s new engine showing off just what a 2D game can achieve on HD consoles. The animation’s incredible too, with everything from Rayman and his enemies to the environment itself bursting with life. Somehow it’s never distracting either despite a player like me wanting to check out everything. All the expressions Rayman and Globox pull are up there with the best cartoon characters and make it really easy to like them. You know when you leave Sonic alone for a few seconds and he starts getting cross with you? Imagine that for every move.

It’s also utterly crazy. Flying blue things using their feet as wings with extra stretchy arms you can swing across. Dozing musical notes you can collect, and if you wake them up they sing to you. Killer old people who chuck shoes at you. Rayman’s world makes the Mushroom Kingdom look sane and well-balanced. At the end of the level instead of a flag or star you get your photo taken on a comedy tourist photo-shoot. This nuttiness keeps the whole thing fun to play even when you’re tearing your hair out trying to make a wall-jump quickly enough for the twelfth time.
I hate these guys!
Co-op play, as you might imagine, is great fun. While you can grief the other player by hitting them, it’s already vastly better than the annoying Super Mario Bros Wii through the simple fact that you can occupy the same space as another player. This eliminates so much frustration, and most importantly allows you to work together more effectively to get through troubling sections.

One particular area that caused us both grief involved a swarm of killer bat-things who hid in the darkness, and a button that created a temporary bubble of blinding light around Rayman and Globox. Together we had to quickly jump the various other obstacles and manoeuvre to the next safe area before the bubble ran out and the bats got us. It would be a lot easier in single-player as you really have to rely on your partner to get through, not to mention working well together – I’d never met the guy standing next to me before now and yet because the game is so well designed you begin thinking through puzzles the same way without exchanging a word.

That doesn’t mean there’s no competition at all. Getting those lovely singing musical notes (their Rabbid-like song is still rattling around in my head), defeating enemies, getting to the finish first, and not dying all add to your score. Dying is fortunately not a permanent thing and I didn’t see any lives (hooray). If you die but your partner survives you float around in a bubble until your partner hits you. If you both die though you get knocked back to the last checkpoint, which are pretty reasonably placed so there’s no real frustration. While the game can be tough, it’s certainly fair. Like any great platformer there are also plenty of secret areas to find so there’s a lot of replay value too.

I played the ‘Cave’ level in single-player, which turned out to be a “boss” level, at least one akin to Sonic the Hedgehog’s Labyrinth Zone (a chase rather than a beat-down). A giant fish with large pointy teeth ploughing through everything in its path. This would have been quite challenging in co-op, but through a bit of skill I managed to make it through un-eaten. Co-operative is almost like a Hard Mode for the game – I can’t even imagine trying it with four players. Bet it’ll be fun though.
A photo finish (ED: The caption department is on holiday today, it seems)

I’m looking forward to playing the game, as I always do when something relentlessly imaginative and charming is offered to me. There is literally only one problem the game has right now, and that’s the fact that it’s coming out 25th November for full console game price. It is most definitely worth it, especially with the co-op, but let’s not kid ourselves like Ubisoft are – despite the Rabbids Rayman isn’t that popular, and it’s come out right after every single other major game on every platform (it’s on 360, PS3, Wii, 3DS and Vita). Still, it might be a good present for the kids, and I’m guessing that’s what Ubisoft are banking on. Well, I’ll be in the queue for it anyway… even if everyone else is playing Skyrim or Modern Warfare 3. Screw those guys, I want a cartoony platformer.

Most Anticipated Feature: Playing through the whole game in co-op and trying not to scream at the other players for punching you into a death-trap.

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