We see developers focus so much on a story that the game suffers as a result (Final Fantasy XIII), games spoiled by too many new ideas (Duke Nukem Forever), and games that are so concerned with forging an emotional bond with the characters on screen that we lose interest before the intro movie is finished (Gears of War).
Therefore I was happy to see Rayman Origins on my desk. Having tried a preview version of the game, already more fluid than any other platform title I've tried in that early phase and invoked a feeling I haven't felt in a very long time: playing a game just because it is fun.
Rayman Origins never asks for an emotional investment from the player. It may come across as something negative, but thanks to charming narration and characters you can't help but love, I never ask myself why I'm in this Glade of Dreams, nor who it is that threatens this place. Instead I concern myself with the layout of the level ahead, the beautiful visuals and the enemy I've got to get past. You will come across new shortcuts, mini games and hidden treasures every playthrough, and for the first time since Donkey Kong Country Returns I'm motivated to find and collect them all.
Ubisoft have taken their limbless mascot back to his roots. They've switched out 3D in favour of 2D and given the game a traditional structure. I couldn't be happier. Rayman's return to the world of 2D is absolutely stunning.
This is where Rayman's creator Michel Ancel comes into play. He has always been a great game designer, but he has also created some of the most beautiful worlds I've ever seen. Forget about Uncharted 3. Forget about Battlefield 3. Forget about realism.
The charming characters and design of the levels will captivate you, and it never feels as though the developer has taken a shortcut by reusing something from a previous level. How the characters react to various situations, the strong soundscape, the nostalgic references to Rayman's previous escapades, along with the clever level design are key to making this an extraordinary experience.
Ancel has also made use of Rayman's rich heritage, and works in references and old abilities (the Hairlycopter is back) without it feeling forced. There is nostalgia, but also enough innovation to keep things fresh. Much like the best Mario games, Rayman Origins offers quality entertainment that is accessible and easy to grasp yet hard to master, and even the most die hard Call of Duty player will enjoy this.
One of the reasons is the fact that you can play four players simultaneously, and you can drop in or out at any time. While the idea is for players to cooperate, it is even more fun to sabotage things, whether you punch friends in the gut or wait to revive them in order to pick up a few extra coins. We laughed out loud several times during our playthrough, and were never able to resist the lure of coins in hard-to-reach places.
Rayman Origins is a challenging game. You will die often, and if you're playing alone you should be prepare to die several times each level. When you play with a friend you can get revived on the spot, but if you're alone you will have to restart at the last save point. It's like a colourful and modified version of Demon's Souls. Challenging and rewarding at the same time.
The character design also deserves a mention. New costumes and characters are made available as you progress in The Snooring Tree, where the gang holds out. Each character can punch, jump and fly but they each have their own unique way of performing the moves. Personally, Globox became a favourite with his pathetic attempts at flying despite his rather obese nature and his always entertaining reactions.
Rayman Origins is not a revolutionary game, but it doesn't need to be. Ubisoft have returned to the core experience - taken what's entertaining and stuck with it rather than adding unnecessary stuff on top. It's just not needed when the core concept is as strong as this.
For a long time Rayman was a dormant franchise, and I thought his time had passed. I thought he was done, but I was wrong. This is not just a new Rayman game, but the best in the series since Rayman 2: The Great Escape.