"You don't want to play as Rayman?" the Ubisoft demonstrator asked. "Most people go right for him." I explained that I identified more with his shambling, big-mouthed galoot of a partner, Globox.
Off we went through the Glade in Rayman Origins, a game that began as a downloadable title, hit a delay in late 2010, and emerged at E3 as a full retail game, and justifiably so. The 2D side-scrolling platformer will offer 60 richly illustrated levels when it releases during the holidays, instead of the original plan to parcel them out as episodic content.
Rayman Origins is sometimes compared to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which is apt if you're focusing on the platforming gameplay and the quasi-reboot of the franchise's story. The major difference is in the art direction. Rayman Origins uses an open-source engine caled UBIart Framework that, to oversimplify it a bit, allows the developers to take anything hand-drawn and pop it into the game. The result is a playable cartoon, something as distinctive and appealing in 2D as it would be as a 3D-animated platformer, if not moreso.
In gameplay, it performs rather conventionally though levels have their own quirks and conditions for survival. For instance, deep in a cavern, Rayman and Globox were set upon by swarms of bats. One touch meant death. To push through, the characters had to ring gongs (by slapping them), which delivered a protective force field that slowly wore off.
Multiplayer death in Rayman Origins is handled a little like New Super Mario Bros., in that a character will be suspended in a bubble, floating about the screen until his active teammate pops the bubble (with a hard slap, the game's melee attack) and frees him. If both players are bubbled (or more, multiplayer supports up to four) the level restarts.
Through it all, the eager Rayman and the dopey Globox press on, heedlessly cheerful in the face of danger. They can work cooperatively in other ways, too; by pressing and holding up, your character will hold his arms up as a platform for your teammate, allowing him to reach higher locations on the screen.
You can also work against one another, slapping each other silly and stealing collectibles and powerups. Slapping doesn't do anything other than make a hilarious noise, though you can push someone to his death. It doesn't take long for things to devolve into a series of accidental deaths and slapstick reprisals, which is entertaining in its own way.
Rayman Origins' singular appeal is in the visuals. On high-definition consoles, a 2D style is more commonly associated with downloadable games. It's a bold choice to step out there as a full retail release, but what I saw explores and makes use of the visual space offered by the PS3 and Xbox 360.