Always well made and occasionally brilliant, Ubisoft’s Rayman series has always been oddly lacking in legitimate charm, but you’ll never suspect as much if Origins is your first brush with the limb-less Frenchman. This is because it’s quite absurdly endearing; one part New Super Mario Bros, one part Rayman 2 and two parts Locoroco. Its “plot” is irreverent to the power of ten, it’s about as bereft of menu screens and visual clutter as a multiplayer platformer possibly could be and it’s both visually and aurally magnificent. And (importantly) it’s a very astute step away from Rayman’s more recent (and much sketchier) 3D output, and the constantly thoughtful level design means that it works perfectly whether you’re playing alone or with three friends in tow.

And despite being “just” a 2D side-scroller, it is quite astonishingly good looking. Although it was rumoured to have been initially planned as a downloadable title, deciding to plump for the extra space offered by a game disc was a bright move artistically as well as financially. Origins’ world is a varied and bewitching hand-drawn marvel of a place that in high definition, in its own beguiling way, is every bit as likely to turn heads as something like Rage. These lovely aesthetics are complemented by one of the catchiest and most proudly cuckoo soundtracks since the one heard in the aforementioned Locoroco, and if anyone is worried about shelf-life, don’t be; this isn’t just a small game that’s been unnecessarily bolstered onto a disc, but a lengthy and replay-friendly “proper” game.

It also picks up and then discards smart ideas so briskly that it bears a comparison to some of the almighty Nintendo’s finest work. Despite its resemblance to New Super Mario Bros though, the pace of the gameplay is much more akin to classic Sonic; with relentless speed encouraged but never enforced. Fully completing the game will involve you having to treat every single level like a time trial, but (as depicted in the trailer that’s embedded below) there are actually no less than ten different ways to complete the game. Obviously each gameplay route leads to the same finish line, but this is a shrewd and very helpful way for anyone to enjoy a single aspect of the game if they so wish. Completing the game multiple times is going to be a must for the hardcore, but the multitude of things to do will be a terrific boon for day tripping family members who (for example) just want to spend their time searching for the hidden Skull coins.

And that’s Origins’ greatest success – it’s gripping regardless of whether you play no videogames at all, or annually attempt to play everything. It’s admittedly a bit of a shame that the hilarious four player co-op mode is offline only, but like New Super Mario Bros this almost feels like a deliberate throwback to the days when offline gaming was your only option; and playing through the campaign with four players beside you quickly turns it into a bona fide, old school laugh riot. It’s probably the easiest game this year to just pick up and play, and the hassle free, drop-in/drop-out co-op will probably create more than its fair share of new converts to both Rayman and gaming in general. Stir in the slick controls, some gracious checkpointing and a perfectly pitched difficulty tier… and you’ve got a no holds barred winner.

Rayman Origins is available now for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii. Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita versions are currently due for release some time in 2012.

Watch the Rayman Origins ’10 Ways to Beat the Game’ trailer below:

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