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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Rayman Origins

Hands free.

Rayman Origins doesn’t take an old school approach to game design merely because it’s a 2D sidescroller based around an aging Ubisoft mascot. It’s old school because it’s hard. Not Demon’s Souls hard, perhaps, but it would still rather send you to your doom than provide you with a glowing breadcrumb trail or one of those last-minute rewind getaways beloved of The Prince of Persia. You’ll die in Rayman Origins, and you’ll die quite a lot. You’ll get over all that, though, because the game is so precise, and because it’s so joyfully intricate.

Leaving the Rabbids behind him, Rayman’s back on pure platforming territory, assisted by drop-in co-op buddies in a hand-drawn adventure that’s delivered via Ubisoft’s new UbiArt framework. That’s a suite of tools that apparently lets the publisher’s designers put games together without half the fuss that’s normally associated with that sort of thing, and what the publisher’s designers – Ubisoft Montpelier, in fact – have put together on this occasion is a grinning cavalcade of dribbling freaks.

Rayman Origins’ art is beautiful, but its subject matter is very rarely beauty itself. Instead, this is a world built of gorse bush thorns and slack-jawed bullies. It's a place where horrible gummy monsters lurk in the bottom of gooey pits, and where plants come with glittering fangs and huge, bulbous noses. It looks like European political cartooning at its meanest – which is saying something – and when it moves, when it bounces and oozes and squelches before the unblinking gaze of your HD television, it recalls the boils and gristles and Band-Aid love of early Ren & Stimpy.

The story shouldn’t bother you for too long. The Glade of Dreams has been over-run and the Fairy Council needs a limbless hero to sort things out. Sounds kind of implausible to me, Rayman, but luckily it’s all just a simple excuse to chuck you into some wonderfully detailed environments, with sixty levels of sticky mayhem awaiting you across 12 different backdrops.

And the scenery isn’t the only thing that Ubisoft swaps in and out. Like a 2D Mario Galaxy, this promises to be one of those games that’s brimming with ideas, and where a jungle level sees you swinging from cartoon hand to cartoon hand at one moment while you navigate rushing gorges, and slide down waterfalls the next, zipping through tinkling arrangements of collectables. A boss fight turns out to be an opportunity to be chased from a deep hole in the ground by a huge many-toothed mouth. Later, a trip into a cavern sees you wall-springing between the spars of a collapsing shrine and ducking falling spikes before riding Tetronimo-shaped icicles across a lava floe.