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When I was a kid, video games didn't have "features," at least not in the way we know them today. There was no online multiplayer, no leaderboards, no persistent character progression. There were no detailed stat tracking services (with social integration, of course). If anything, a game might have had local multiplayer which, in those days, we simply called "two-player."

Like the games of my youth, Rayman Origins has almost no modern features. What it does have is an overwhelming sense of joy that I haven't felt for a very long time.
Rayman Origins embodies the kind of creativity and craftsmanship that have been largely missing in 2D platfomers since their heyday in the 16-bit era. It harkens back to the likes of Earthworm Jim, bestowing every moment with whimsy, but still tossing in many of the tricks found in current gems like Super Meat Boy and 'Splosion Man.

The basic formula of Origins actually remains unchanged from Rayman's 1995 debut. As Rayman (or one of his plucky cohorts), players make their way through meticulously designed levels, collecting Lums and searching for the cages of kidnapped Electoons. To be clear, I don't know what an Electoon is, and I don't really care. All I know is you have to collect enough of them so they can grow a hair bridge to the next world. Yes, a hair bridge.

It sounds stupid, but ideas like that are pivotal to the entire experience. The love put into every piece of Rayman's universe is so apparent that it's infectious. Consider a desert landscape covered with giant didgeridoos, or a land of ice where humongous watermelons float in lakes of what I can only assume is fruit punch. Or how about a fiery world of devils and piñatas, where smiling pinto beans leap out of enormous pots of chili?

Many of the environments, particularly the underwater levels, are at once bizarre, absurd and staggeringly beautiful -- the sort of juxtaposition that Rayman Origins pulls off with such regularity that you'd think it was just a part of everyday life.

But the really fun part, naturally, is getting through the environments, a feat Origins manages with aplomb. In the beginning, Rayman is limited to simply running and jumping. By journey's end, he acquires a litany of special abilities, from his patented helicopter hair to my personal favorite, running on walls. All exquisitely animated, these abilities seamlessly flow into one another in the game's later levels, making for some incredible choreographed sequences.

Every nuance is positively dripping with goofy, heart-swelling joy.

Best among these are the Tricky Treasure challenge levels, which could probably stand alone as an entire game by themselves. In these sequences, Rayman must run down a living treasure chest which, understandably, isn't too keen on being smashed open and having its insides pilfered. Coupled with delightfully appropriate banjo music, the treasure chases bring together all of Rayman's abilities, seeing him leap across huge chasms, smash through obstacles, dash up walls and slide under crumbling rocks in the nick of time. The desperation and momentum are truly thrilling.

Surprisingly, local four-player cooperative play, one of Origins' only concessions to modernity, is probably one of its least interesting features. Played solo or with friends, levels remain identical, and there are no areas that require additional players. Some parts can be made easier, notably boss fights and flying segments but, apart from general camaraderie, the benefit of extra players in most areas seems negligible.

Make no mistake, while Rayman Origins is certainly family friendly (with the possible exception of some rather voluptuous faeries), it is by no means easy. In later levels, particularly the final treasure chases, some players will inevitably be left behind as one player (hopefully) manages to negotiate some very tricky platforming challenges. In fact, an extra player can even be distracting in more intense moments. It's all doable, sure, just keep in mind that coordinating to find secrets and collect Lums will definitely take patience.

Regardless of how you choose to play Rayman Origins, the important thing is that it should be played. Characters speak in Pig Latin. Upon discovering each secret area, an unseen audience expresses my unspoken thoughts, collectively cooing, "oooh!" The underwater sections have appropriately burbly background vocals. I couldn't possibly enumerate them all, but every detail, every nuance is positively dripping with goofy, heart-swelling joy.

I don't know about you, but I could always use more of that.


This review is based on review code of the Xbox 360 version of Rayman Origins, provided by Ubisoft.

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