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Eurogamer Expo 2011: Rayman Origins hands-on

Eurogamer Expo 2011

Just where are Rayman’s fans hiding? Mario, Luigi, Jak, Ratchet, Kirby, Crash, Donkey Kong, hell even Sonic still has a solid fanbase, but Rayman? The dude’s rarely mentioned in magazines or online, and his games have been all but forgotten. The original Rayman was a lengthy platformer with tonnes of great ideas and some wacky level design, eventually becoming the best selling PS1 title in the UK. The 2D visuals were brilliant, too. Rayman 2: The Great Escape saw the jump to 3D and is oft-regarded as one of the best platformers of all time – a criminally underrated gem. The third title, Hoodlum Havoc, was also extremely solid. Rayman Origins sees the cartoon caper return to the 2D plains he first ventured upon, this time with the addition of four player co-op play.

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From the moment you start playing, you are in awe. Visuals often define a game, and in Origins, it’s like nothing you’ve seen before. Like a picture book animating before your eyes, every last entity appears drawn with the utmost care and attention to detail, all in picture-perfect HD. It’s the first title to use the UbiArt Framework, which aims to let artists and designers focus entirely on the art, without having to worry about the technical nuances that can plague development. If this is a sign of things to come regarding videogame art, then we’ve got a lot to look forward to.

Three locales were playable, and each one brought with it a memorable colour palette, and a unique gameplay mechanic. A forest level saw you searching out secret areas and saving little electoons, complete with rushing water slides and bouncing flower pads. A level set in an underground cave had you running away from a stunningly grotesque red monster, with obstacles and floating platforms littered across your path of escape. The final level took place in the desert. Thousands of dangerous bats blocked your path, and you needed to smash gongs dotted around the map to create balls of light that would temporarily guard you from the rabid mammals.

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Each level felt fresh and exciting. They could be completed in single-player, but it felt like they were designed with co-op in mind. After getting over the hilarity of punching each other, the amount of platforming expected of both players is wholly refreshing. Goodies are strewn across different sections of the levels, affording friendly – or not so friendly – competition amongst players. Nothing beats punching your friend off a cliff to steal their share of the spoils in a secret area.

The action can move at a blisteringly fast pace as you leap, vault and glide across multiple gaps and platforms. In the cave level especially, the theoretical timer enforced by the presence of a chasing boss monster meant a frantic dash for survival. The most fun would come when a player would die, resulting in the live player risking life and limb to resurrect their friend from the dead.

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Michel Ancel is at the helm of this project, and his influence and experience shines through. Each level thrives with humour and vibrancy, and just like in the original Rayman, there are little quirks that you remember for a long time – such as the photo opportunities at the end of each level, or even an Angry Birds-esque secret area. Famed French composer Christophe Héral is in charge of the music, and if his work on Beyond Good and Evil is anything to go by, expect extravagant, sweeping scores that excite and stir emotion in equal measure.

Ubisoft are no doubt taking an honourable risk releasing Rayman Origins seeing as platformers are unfortunately not nearly as popular as they once were, but hopefully all their hard work will pay off. From this brief demo with the game, it’s clear the title is destined to stun gamers all over the world with its truly jaw dropping visual engine, and have them laugh a fair bit, too.

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @_Frey.

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