Designer Michel Ancel's newest creation is an utter surprise on many levels. Not only does Rayman Origins further prove that 2D platformers can still hold their own on the current console generation, but it is also one of the most gorgeous titles of 2011.

It's hard to imagine a game like Origins being one of the most visually stunning in recent memory, but after five seconds in any one of the bizarre worlds Ancel has conjured, all doubt disappears. I almost lost track of where my character was on the screen because of the beautiful distractions surrounding him. The textures convey a unique art style, yet they are still sharp and believable. Lush moss blankets the smooth stone of eroding caves, while the backdrop to the breathtaking foreground is just as detailed.

Character models are just as sharp. For a 2D platforming game, protagonist Rayman and his chums exhibit extremely detailed animations. Their arms reach for the sky after a particularly long jump, and their hair or clothes trail behind them while underwater. It may sound as if this excess of movement could decrease the accuracy of controls, but don't let the wide range of motion fool you; the characters respond just as they should. Jumps are precise and players can turn on a dime, provided they haven't gained too much forward momentum. The superior design is all the more evident when players unlock new abilities as they progress through the story. I'm reticent to spoil too many of the hidden maneuvers, but moves like gliding and swimming handle just as well and factor into the gameplay perfectly. They are also especially useful when searching for secret areas off the beaten path.

Progression through the story revolves around freeing Electoons. These creatures are hidden in cages scattered throughout each world, and allow travel to new locales. Additionally, players can collect Lums, small floating critters that litter every area. Collecting as many Lums as possible in each world provides more Electoons to add to the growing pool. This gathering mechanic can be great encouragement for replaying levels, as every jump and dive must be perfected to reach the Lums. That being said, it can be a bit tiresome grinding to reach the quota for the next area. This is especially true since the game becomes more about backtracking to previous worlds than continuing forward later in the story. Fortunately, three friends can jump in and join the game at any time.

What begins as an enjoyable platforming experience for the individual becomes pure, raucous, mayhem when friends join. I mean this in the best way possible. Four eccentric characters bouncing off of giant bongo drums is a sight you won't see anywhere else. Rushing to collect escaping Lums becomes much less tedious with the aid of pals like Globox or the Teensies, as players can slap their "bubbilized" allies, essentially reviving them after death. Standing on each other's hands to reach greater heights is another clever mechanic that encourages teamwork. I played through the majority of the game with three friends joining on my television, and the experience left me nothing but joy. If not just for added enjoyment, it also helped to decrease the difficulty.

Origins hearkens back to the heyday of platforming in more ways than its surface appeal. The difficulty associated with the eight and sixteen bit era also shines through on numerous occasions. Perfectionists will find themselves drooling on their controllers as they retry particularly difficult speed runs of worlds. The added bonus of Electoons is all the encouragement needed to try the tense chase scenes and sprint-oriented trials, although this also reinforces the aforementioned backtracking element. The difficulty could drive some casual players away, but completionists will love the meticulously crafted jumps and slides of the harder side of Origins.

On the surface, Rayman Origins is a platformer that evokes feelings of nostalgia. We remember how Super Mario Bros captivated us with its simple yet expertly crafted gameplay, and all of the games that mimicked it. On the current console generation, it really is a breath of fresh air to see Ubisoft put a new twist on such a classic formula. The difficulty and grinding could turn some potential fans away, but the gorgeous visuals and exceptional cooperative experience are just as likely to draw them in.