It's been a long time since you could legitimately consider a Rayman game to be amongst the best of the year. You'd probably have to go back 16 years to the release of the first game actually. A couple of fairly mediocre 3D sequels followed, before Ubisoft gave up the franchise in favour of releasing an endless stream of Raving Rabbids sequels instead. Which was a shame, because the original Rayman was a bit of a last hurrah for 2D platformers at the time, coming out shortly before Mario 64 arrived to change the genre forever. But thanks in part to Nintendo, 2D platformers have enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years; and Rayman Origins is its masterpiece.
The first thing to consider is just how incredible it looks. Origins harks back to the original's style and character, but gives it the spit and polish it deserved. The term "playable cartoon" hasn't felt so applicable since The Wind Waker, and the variety between the levels is stunning. Not one to fall into the old cliches of your typical fire/ice/desert worlds, here you'll visit lush green forests, dark caverns, and beautiful underwater caves all begging to be explored. But not content with simply being a pleasure to look at, it's an incredibly fun and rewarding game to play. Exploration never feels like a chore, and there's usually something surprising just around the corner. It harks back to the original in terms of its challenge, which can sometimes take you off guard. Levels never feel unfair though: more often than not, with a bit of practice you'll overcome most obstacles.
Oh but I've yet to mention the multiplayer. Co-op inevitably descends into chaos, madness, pure hilarity; and it's what makes the game so brilliant. A lack of internet connectivity means you'll be playing with people sat right next to you, and it's all the better for it. This sort of thing is traditionally Nintendo's territory, seen most recently in New Super Mario Brothers, but for my money this has it beat. It just feels more original, more fun. The wicked sense of humour and delightful visuals help, naturally.
It's funny, in the last couple of years we've had many fantastic 2D platformers, like NSMB, Limbo, Sonic Generations and Kirby's Epic Yarn, but this is easily the best of the lot. It's a genre I'm so happy to see making a comeback, and with such strength too. Playing Rayman Origins reminded me of why I love videogames in the first place. You can tell Michel Ancel and his team had a lot of fun making it, and that's reflected in just how much fun it is to play. With Sonic and Kirby also flying the 2D flag this year, I'm looking forward to seeing where the genre goes from here.