We couldn't be more excited that Rayman Origins will be hitting store shelves later this month, but there's definitely an undercurrent of "why now" and "who cares" floating around the collective gaming consciousness. Well, dear reader, there are so many reasons why Ubisoft should be congratulated for the move. With gaming now dominated by gritty, serious and violent shooters, it's fantastic to see a publisher buck the trend and develop a recklessly imaginative title. There just aren't enough technical platformers on next-gen systems. Hell, there aren't enough games with more than shades of brown and grey in their colour palettes these days.
But as far as we're concerned, there's another equally important reason why we're excited about Rayman Origins. Rayman, the character, mascot and legend, deserves another day in the sun. After years of patiently waiting in the wings while those poxy Rabbids ran rampant over the franchise, we're delighted that the limbless wonder is back for another shot at the title. He's a videogame protagonist like no other, so over the next few hundred words, we're going to explain exactly why we love him.
Long ago, the Primordial Forest, deep and mysterious, witnessed the birth of a man... a vegetable... no, no, no: a thingamajig. Conjured from the magnificent moonbeams of the second summer solstice, woven together by us, the nymphs, destined to preserve the equilibrium of the sacred universe, the one we call: Rayman! - Betilla The Fairy
The canonical myths of Rayman's genesis are bizarre and inexplicable, but we've ultimately got the legendary designer Michel Ancel to thank. Ancel took his inspiration from Russian, Chinese and Celtic folk stories that he read as a child as well as classic films of the age; creating a fey creature who was imbued with the spirit of Indiana Jones. With George Lucas' seminal character firmly in mind, Rayman became a rebellious, "high-performance hero" who still managed to keep good humour and high spirits in the face of overwhelming odds (though admittedly he didn't have an ornery Sean Connery to contend with... or Interdimensional beings, in point of fact). No enemy was too tough, no challenge was too daunting. So long as there are people to save and evil to vanquish, you can count on Rayman getting involved with a smile on his face.
An outrageously enormous nose, lolloping gait and happy-go-lucky demeanour mean that Rayman can never take himself too seriously, and he frequently makes a fool of himself throughout the games; pratfalling, waggling his tongue at enemies and even posing in embarrassing photographs at every save point. Childish maybe, but compared to Duke Nukem's one-dimensional posturing and Sonic The Hedgehog's cloying mega radical extreme attitude, Rayman was finally a hero we could relate to. A good natured, all-action legend who wasn't afraid to look like a bit of a tit every once in a while. We found ourselves rooting for him and willing him to succeed, more than that, we genuinely started to like him as a flawed yet well-meaning person.
Rayman is also a sensitive soul. After defeating the giant mosquito Bzzit in the Anguish Lagoon, his pummelled foe breaks down and starts sobbing in pain and humiliation - and let's face it, most game heroes would have immediately reached for the flyswatter and an economy can of Raid. But not our Rayman, who cuts his well-deserved victory dance short to comfort his nemesis and patch up his wounds with no hard feelings. The two immediately become fast friends, with Bzzit turning into a series regular and an airborne chariot who helps our limbless friend across the treacherous swamps. A little compassion really helps us to warm to a character, and sticks out like a shining beacon in a world of increasingly ruthless games.
Of course, we need to mention that Rayman is also an exceptionally capable platform protagonist. His lack of limbs was down to the hardware constraints of mid-90s consoles (or some tosh about insufficient Lum power), but rather than holding him back, this allowed him to deliver powerful knockout punches at unsuspecting enemies on the other side of the screen, or contort his hovering bodily components into bizarre and effective configurations. His hair, which is a bit of a shambles, can be used much like a helicopter rotorblade to turn dangerous drops into leisurely descents. And the ability to grab onto distant objects proved to be a powerful tool that allowed Ancel and the team to construct some exceptionally technical and tricky challenges. The original Rayman games (and Origins, we have no doubt) were hard as nails - and no match for the limbless legend.
Heartbreakingly, though, Rayman ended up being shelved this generation; replaced by an idiotic gang of blithering Rabbids whose decent games were eclipsed by some absolute howlers. We'd fallen in love with Rayman himself, yet Ubisoft had fallen head over heels for their own supporting characters who, with the best will in the world, weren't anywhere near as highly regarded by anyone else (gamers and critics alike).
All we know is that, even if Origins ends up disappointing, we need to give Rayman the credit he deserves for being a unique, powerful, compassionate and unintentionally hilarious companion. That's why we love him.