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App of the Day: Rayman Jungle Run

Good, armless fun.

Rayman's never been a great character, but his games have always been pretty good. Take Rayman 2, for example. It isn't shamelessly wheeled out at the launch of every new console simply to swell Ubi's coffers - though that's a part of it, probably - but because it's a genuinely decent platformer.

Yet it's only recently that Michael Ancel's limbless wonder seems to have found his true identity. Last year's Rayman Origins might just have been his finest adventure to date, and Wii U exclusive Legends looks even better, with a real chance of upsetting Mario as the console's best launch platformer.

Happily, Jungle Run maintains Rayman's upward trajectory. Ubisoft has found a smart way of bringing the character to iOS in the form of an auto-runner. The name is bound to attract lazy - though perhaps not entirely unwanted, if you're Ubisoft's bank manager - comparisons with Temple Run. Its most accurate comparison is in fact the bonus stages of Origins - only here the pesky running business is handled automatically, with you responsible for Rayman's other actions. And instead of chasing a chest, you're following a golden trail of the firefly-like Lums.

There are 100 of the beggars on each stage and you'll need to nab them all to earn a coveted Skull Tooth. Get five teeth from the ten levels within each chapter and a bulbous-headed reaper will reward you for giving him the ability to chew. Naturally. Your reward is a door to the Land of the Dead, where you get to race against the clock - and numerous twisting, spiked vines - to the finish line. Oddly, these are the only stages that count towards the game's leaderboards. They're also by far the toughest ones to beat.

Rayman begins each level by running on the spot, waiting for you to prod him into action. Then, as he gallops forward, you jab the screen to make him jump. It sounds simple enough, and the early stages are relatively straightforward, even if getting all the Lums requires immaculate timing. Many of them follow a natural arc designed to guide your leaps, but occasionally you'll have to venture off the golden path, with later levels wilfully tucking handfuls away in hidden nooks.

Each run is a test of reaction and memory, and when it all comes together, it's like your thumbs are prompting a spectacular extended gymnastic routine. It's no different when melee attacks are introduced in the fourth set of stages, an instinctive tap on the right side of the screen biffing enemies and smashing obstructions. The third group introduces a wall-run ability that requires no further action on your part, but it's another factor to consider in the few fleeting moments you have to plan your next action.

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The only element which doesn't quite fit so well is Rayman's hover ability. Jumping and punching while running at speed is a natural twitch response, and your muscle memory picks it up quicker than the occasions where you're asked to hold your thumb down for a spell in mid-air. It's not nearly as instinctive, and that's before air currents further muddy the waters. It means earning Skull Teeth on the levels where you're forced to hover into the path of mid-air Lums is perceptibly trickier than the ones where you simply need to run, punch and leap. It's not ruinous, but you sense Jungle Run would be a better game without it.

Otherwise, there's much to love here. It's absolutely beautiful at times, enough to give you pause as you consider the advances in technology that allow us to play a game this gorgeous on a device the size of a Dime bar. And even when you're cursing that mistimed hover that caused you to finish a level with 99 Lums instead of 100, you'll see Rayman whirling his little feet impatiently, and it's impossible to resist the urge to set him off once more; to see him scampering ever onward, footloose and femur-free.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments. For daily app coverage, check out our sister site Modojo.