Rayman: Origins is kind of the best thing.
Okay, so that's an incredibly inarticulate way to state outright how much I dig a game, but when thinking back on my experience playing Rayman: Origins, articulation tends to give way to a thick, intoxicating brew of rainbows, funny sound effects, catchy music, and the infectious laughter of children. As psychotic as that might sound, I assure you, there were actual children around when I played the game. And they were laughing quite a bit.
Ubisoft recently debuted the newly retail-bound version of Rayman: Origins (it was once meant to be episodically released via digital platforms) at its bonkers-as-hell E3 press conference, with series creator Michel Ancel demonstrating both the game's incredibly fetching art style and clever cooperative mechanics. I sadly missed the chance to go hands-on with the game at E3, but Ubisoft's recent press event in New York City thankfully helped me rectify that terrible oversight.
Right off the bat, Rayman: Origins grabs your eyeballs and screams, "LOOK AT ME." The visuals are an arresting combination of an incredibly sharp and colorful 2D art style with a fantastic animation system. The result is a game that looks like a fully interactive cartoon, and one with a thoroughly eclectic aesthetic. Evidently, four different art directors at Ubisoft contributed to elements of the game's overall art style. It shows as you play, with characters, environments, and bosses that all seem just a bit different from one another, but somehow still gel together seamlessly.
Much of that detail I admittedly only took in when watching others play the game, as the gameplay itself is far too engrossing to allow you to just sit there and stare at all the pretty little visual fluff. At its core, Rayman: Origins is a fairly standard 2D platformer, complete with all the usual traps, platforms, and enemies that description typically entails. However, when you get a couple of friends together for cooperative play (it supports up to four total), the experience morphs into something a great deal more exciting.
Cooperative platforming has been done before, but Rayman's take on it is so exquisitely paced and creatively designed that it somehow blends together into this feverish rush of jumping, stomping, punching and flinging that keeps you glued to the screen. It helps that the controls have a tight feel to them, ensuring you won't find yourself constantly missing jumps and ledges that you clearly shouldn't be. More importantly, the cooperative mode allows for plenty of challenging, yet exceptionally fun scenarios.
One key example was the brief "desert" level section I got to play. In this level, a huge horde of nasty bug/bat/things swarms around the periphery of the screen. In some sections, they'll dive in and kill you en masse, but not if you manage to ring a giant gong, of sorts, that releases a protective shield for a limited time. That shield can also extend to your character for a short period, allowing you to traverse beyond the gong's spot in the level and get to the next safe zone. The timing is, however, crackerjack, requiring your team to move quickly and avoid pitfalls with expert timing. It's challenging stuff, but not so much so that you'll feel too terribly frustrated. The game's checkpoint system seems fully capable of ensuring you don't repeat too much of the same stuff again and again, and if one or two of your teammates do die, they'll simply begin floating around the level in "bubble" form, waiting for you to run up and punch them to revive them.
Punching your teammates is a rather frequent occurrence. There's no particularly good reason for any of it, but if so inclined, you can screw with your friends as much as you please. Granted, you'll have to do it in the same room, as Rayman: Origins only supports local cooperative play. Still, this seems like a game well-suited to four people sitting in the same room, laughing, chiding, and congratulating one another.
I certainly did quite a bit of the above during my time with the game. While it remains to be seen how well the different worlds flow together, and exactly how much content the game will offer, Rayman is already impressive right from the first moment you get your hands on a controller. To say that Rayman: Origins should be on the radar of anyone looking for a silly, clever, and downright beautiful multiplayer experience this holiday season would be an understatement. It needs to be on your radar.