This review was originally published for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Rayman Origins back in November 2011. The PS Vita version is a very faithful port of the home console game, with the bright colours and gorgeous animations coming to life on the handheld's screen.
Sadly the Vita game doesn't include the cooperative gameplay found in the console versions, instead offering a time-attack mode for certain levels, in which you compete against ghost characters. There's also the option to share your best times with friends using Near, letting them compete against you. Less useful, but a nice way to get a better view of the colourful graphics, is a pinch zoom system, as used in most modern smart phones.
Somewhere out there, in a leafy private estate, there's a place called The Bubsy the Bobcat Memorial Retirement Home. This is where all the mascots went at the end of the '90s. Step inside, and you'll find a crowd of familiar faces: Aero the Acro-Bat sits in the corner, muttering to himself. Croc and Bug labour over a jigsaw, though it's missing 13 pieces. Gex the gecko just stands at the window, day after day. The one-liners dried up a long time ago.
Crash Bandicoot is let out on day release, sometimes. He still looks the same, but when you look in his eyes you can tell he's not really there.
Somehow, Rayman escaped the dusty fate of his contemporaries. Over the past few years he's been reduced from leading man to a supporting role, playing second fiddle to the Rabbids and their endless mini-games. Now, however, Ubisoft has rewarded Rayman for his patience, returning him to the limelight in a 2D platform outing that immediately recalls the golden days of the genre. It's the most earnest jump-and-gather exercise since last year's Donkey Kong Country Returns, and with the emphasis on strict timing, hidden rooms, and the gathering of endless collectibles, it feels as if Nintendo's unruly ape - and his Rare outings, in particular - has been a major source of inspiration.
But before these old school values kick in - the going gets tough surprisingly quickly - it's the game's presentation that will clamour for your attention. Michel Ancel's characters are beautifully drawn and animated, with playful quirks rewarding even the simplest of player actions: duck while playing as clumpy old Globox, for example, and your body will scrunch up like a concertina, eyes hanging in the air for a fraction of a second and then racing down into place.
The game's audio design is equally stellar, with each world receiving its own musical theme. Your leaps and bounces (and miserable deaths) are accompanied by playful tunes that flirt with funk, swing, and even do-wop numbers, with layers of sound arriving and departing in response to the challenge you're currently facing. Jump through a string of collectables and each individual pick-up will trigger a separate note, adding a further melodic snippet to the mix. It's jaunty, charming stuff - although the persistent use of ukulele does begin to grate after a while.
It's clear from the look and sound of Rayman Origins that this has been a real labour of love for Ubisoft Montpelier, and thankfully a similar level of care has been afforded to the game's level design. The five primary worlds (more follow later) gradually introduce fresh mechanics and powers to toy with; initially you'll be limited to basic dashes, slides, and melee attacks, but with progress you'll gain access to wall-runs, shrinking abilities, and Rayman's almost-iconic hover, among other skills. These are all tricks that we've seen a hundred times before, but it's to the game's credit that the action feels consistently fresh. You'll regularly run into chase sequences and interludes that mimic scrolling shooters, but even within the standard platform levels there's a clear commitment to diversity.