Sometimes, frustrating moments in a game can be good thing, particularly when it comes to platformers. Those moments of elation when you collect the last star in Mario Galaxy or leap past the last set of deadly blades in Super Meat Boy wouldn't be as sweet if things were too easy. Such challenges are part and parcel of Rayman Origins, which--in addition to a vibrant hand-drawn art style and four-player co-op--features hardcore platforming levels called Chest Maps. It also features the ability to play the more challenging "dark side" of a level once you've completed the game.
There are several worlds to play through before you get to experience the dark side of the game, though, with each level unlocking a new ability. These include Jibberish Jungle, where you unlock the ability to punch; the Desert of Didgeridoos, where you gain the ability to float; the Gourmand Lands, where you can shrink yourself down to access hidden areas; the Sea of Serendipity, where you learn to swim; and Mystic Peak, where you gain the ability to run up walls. Each ability is used in unique ways, sometimes to solve simple puzzles or to perform daring feats of platforming agility.
For example, in a level we played called Frosty Delights, we had to chase a cage containing a trapped fairy. After leaping across snow-covered peaks and sliding down frosted slopes, the caged fairy gave us the ability shrink. This allowed us to sneak through tight spaces and get blasted through the air via small floating trumpets. As we reached the end of the level, the cage containing the fairy became trapped in a room, where we had to work together with other players to trap the cage in a corner of the room where we could stomp on it and free the fairy.
A trickier level was called Gone With the Wind, where we spent most of our time floating. Gusts of wind and fans shaped like flowers blew us up into the air, allowing us to reach higher platforms and make otherwise impossible leaps across deadly chasms. Using Rayman's helicopter floating ability, we could guide him in the air, which gave us extra time to safely land on precariously placed platforms. Trickier still was a level called Don't Burn Dinner, which was set within the Gourmand Lands, featuring deadly knife-throwing chefs and an abundance of cocktail wieners.
One section of the level required some incredibly deft platforming skills. At the bottom of the screen was a fiery pit, which caused instant death. The only way across was to jump across a set of constantly moving kidney beans, cocktail wieners, and cutlery, all while avoiding a barrage of knives being thrown at as. With four players on the screen, the section quickly turned into chaos, with characters constantly dying and turning into floating balloons. Fortunately, our fellow players were quick to pop us and return us to the level, though this often resulted in death for them.
Once you've made your way through the standard levels, you can go back and play them again, but this time, they are much darker versions. With all the abilities unlocked, these darker levels are more challenging and have a new look that's heavy on shadow use of black, which is a stark contrast to the bright, vibrant counterparts. In addition, Rayman's old nemesis Mosquito returns, but this time, you can ride on his back to play through side-scrolling shoot-'em-up levels, which aim to break up the constant stream of platforming.
There's yet more content on offer with Chest Maps, which are secret levels that are aimed at the most hardcore of players to test their platforming skills to the limit. We played a level called Catch Me If You Can, in which we had to chase after a chest while the level beneath us fell down and the screen was automatically scrolling to the right. There were various pillars, wooden fences, and wall jumps to complete, all of which required precise timing.
Later, a group of spiked balls blocked a section of the level with only a small gap between them allowing us to pass. This section alone set us back several attempts, with a precise leap of faith from a falling pillar our only way through the level. Despite being extremely difficult, the level was a lot of fun. This was thanks in part to the other players, whose cheering and jeering during difficult jumps made the experience much more exciting. Working together as team and giving each other tips helped a lot, and though only one of us made it to the end of the level intact, it felt like a real team effort and a success for all.
While most of our time was spent playing the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game, we did get a brief hands-on with the recently announced PlayStation Vita version. Sporting the same luscious hand-drawn artwork, the Vita version looked impressive and played almost identically to its console counterparts. It also made use of the Vita's multitouch screen, allowing us to use a pinching motion to zoom in and out, as well as giving us a better view for larger jumps and tricky sections.
Rayman Origins is due for release on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and Xbox 360 later this year. Look out for coverage on GameSpot soon.