Rayman Origins is distressingly pretty. One look at its quaint hand-drawn worlds is enough to warm the hearts of even the most jaded, cynical and cold-hearted of gamers. Martin thinks it "looks great". Its organic worlds are created from a palette of vibrant hues, with hand-drawn environments, detailed character sprites and slick animations. Concept art that would usually find itself relegated to a collector's edition art-book is literally whacked straight into the game here. To use a somewhat horrible analogy: it's like a painting - or perhaps more appropriately, a children's story book - come to life.
This, in part, is why the game earned itself a place on our best of gamescom list.
As the title suggests, Rayman Origins is a return to the limbless wonder's two-dimensional roots; a platformer rooted in old-school sensibilities. It's very much like his very first outing back on the PSone, except with those lovely HD visuals I was banging on about earlier and four-player co-op. This, in fact, is how I experienced the game behind closed doors at gamescom - with three other players trotting along beside me. Whilst one player assumes the role of the titular hero, the other three take control of his rotund amphibian chum Globox, and two Teensies.
The game will boast 60 levels in total, equating to roughly 20 hours of gameplay. Of those 60, I've now played three, in addition to a tantalising glimpse at one of the game's ten bosses - a vicious scorpion-type thing. Each level has been designed with multiplayer in mind, with certain items and rewards that can only be collected with two or more players working together. That said, the game is still very much playable on your tod, just don't expect it to be quite as easy.
Co-op wise, it's a similar affair to New Super Mario Bros. Wii. While you're working together towards a common goal, Ubisoft gives players the opportunity to punch and kick their on-screen buddies, which - especially done at the most inappropriate of times - can be pretty damn funny. Rayman Origins is a game that encourages mucking about.
Outisde of overcoming obstacles, killing enemies and avoiding bottomless pits in between platforms, there's still a great emphasis placed on collecting things. Rayman's equivalent of stars come in the form of Electoons, which can be found in certain areas of each level, and will be freed once enough Lums (yellow fireflies) have been collected. It's these Electoons that tie into the game's plot, and are required to help cure the all-powerful deity Bubble Dreamer of his nightmares.
Other collectibles, like treasure chests and skull teeth, require a different approach, often enforcing the need for team work. Pressing up on the analogue stick at any point will prompt your character to throw his hands up in the air, creating a make-shift platform. From here, another character can use this to double the distance of his jump, which can be used to gain access to otherwise inaccessible areas.
The game can be rather tough at times, with one hit kills cropping up with alarming regularity. Death isn't a problem, however. When you pop your clogs, you'll return to the level in a floating bubble, which must be popped by another player to bring you back into the action. While death isn't too much of a bother, harder sections can be troublesome due to the frantic nature of the game. Often the camera has a hard time accommodating for four players, with slower players struggling to stay on screen. Playing the game on the show floor later on in the day, I found the experience to be far more controlled (and indeed enjoyable) with just two players.
Rayman has been forced to share the limelight with the Rabbids over the past couple of years. For a generation of younger gamer, the loopy leporids will have ousted him completely, in fact. Thankfully, Origins denies the critters an appearance entirely, leaving Rayman to soak up the attention all on his lonesome. Given the quality of what I've seen of the game so far, this is a very good thing indeed. Whilst the level design, artistic flare and sheer wackiness of the world are the games defining attributes, Rayman himself is really given an opportunity to shine here. Ubisoft's mascot is back.
Rayman Origins is due for release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii and 3DS on November 25. A PS Vita version will follow.