Given Mario's no-show in the 3DS' launch line-up, it's fallen to Ubisoft's one-time mascot to represent the platform genre instead. True, Rayman might not possess the same air of importance as the portly Italian plumber, but don't let that put you off. Rayman 2 - on which the new 3D offering is based - was showered with praise from critics when it was first released in 1999, who lauded it as a huge step forward for 3D level design. Of course the genre has seen countless innovations since then, but Ubisoft has been quick off the mark, and Rayman 3D can take pride in being the first platformer to make use of stereoscopic 3D.
The mechanics underpinning the experience might be twelve years old, but three dimensional trickery ensures the world of Rayman remains contemporary. It's certainly a better fit for the technology than many games available at launch. The bold and colourful aesthetic is part of the reason for this, but there are more fundamental reasons, too. 3D helps judge the distances between platforms, which is obviously very helpful in a game that places such an emphasis on jumping. It begs the question: why haven't we seen more platform games available at launch? The genre justifies the use of the technology more than most, after all. But I digress.
The game takes place in the once peaceful Glade of Dreams; a fantastical land now teeming with an army of robo-pirates from outer space. After splintering the "heart of the world" into a thousand pieces by the tyrannous Admiral Razorbeard, it's left to the limbless wonder to save the day. By reuniting four magical masks, Rayman hopes to awaken the world's spirit, Polokus, who will happily purge the alien invaders from the land. Little emphasis is placed on narrative, but dialogue swapped for endearing gibberish and cutesy character designs give the game an undeniably charming quality.
Where Mario has stars, Rayman has Lums; glowing fragments of the aforementioned "heart of the world". Retrieving all nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine of them is top of your to-do list, a task that can take the better part of ten hours. As your Lum collection grows, new areas of the Glade are unlocked, which can be accessed from an island-based hub. Levels are modestly sized compared to more recent platform outings (more linear, too), but this lends itself to the portable nature of the game quite nicely.
Minute to minute gameplay is mostly orchestrated from the results of the 'jump' and a 'shoot' buttons. By spinning the natural propeller blades (or are they ears?) sprouting from his head, Rayman can glide between platforms. As well as extending the reach of his jump, this trick can also be used in combination with natural air vents for 'real' flight. Rayman's half pirate, half robot adversaries make good targets for his new ability, which sees yellow orbs of energy fired from the palms of his floating hands, and further abilities unlock as you progress through the game.
Like all good platformers, Rayman 3D never relies on one mechanic for too long. One minute you're jet-skiing behind a talking water snake and the next you're riding an out-of-control rocket through a thicket of brambles. Stitching these level-specific treats together are the staples of the genre: running, jumping and puzzle solving. Enjoyment is marred by a somewhat wayward camera, which refuses to do what it's told at the most awkward of times. The d-pad can be used to tame it, but in most situations the game simply chooses to ignore these commands (a big red 'X' over a symbol of a camera makes this abundantly clear).
There's an argument that the game is a little on the easy side, too. Rayman's health bar rarely drops below three-quarters full, with the seldom boss characters being the only enemies that put up much of a fight. This was an intentional design choice, however; the new 'learning curve' being one of the few features that have been added to the game since the Dreamcast days.
Mario has pushed the genre a long way since Rayman 2, but Ubisoft's first foray into 3D platforming remains surprisingly enjoyable. I say surprising because at the ripe old age of twelve, you'd expect the mechanics to be grey and riddled with arthritis. Despite a camera that often refuses to behave itself, Rayman 3D is as robust as it is enjoyable. It's certainly not going to set the world on fire, but it's a perfectly adequate filler until the chap in the red overalls turns up.