Great platformers are like great driving games: nail the 'vehicle' and all the parts fall into place. If a car is great at cornering, every corner is sweet. And if a plumber is great at jumping, every gap is a joy. Rayman has never been great at jumping.
Continuing the motoring metaphor, he lacks nature's shock absorbers: ankles. Where we feel the crunch of impact in Mario's sprite frame, Rayman is a horribly vague presence - a strange eggplant thing held aloft by the waftiest physics this side of Wind Blown Shopping Bag Simulator.
Stick your eyes on our best party games list for Christmas 2011.
Origins' cleverest move is playing up to this ambiguity. Ubisoft stare into the void between Rayman's torso and extremities and, resisting the urge to throw up, discover a world of loose and limber (unlimber?) acrobatics. With no knees to hold him down (suck on that Pinocchio) he can outrun one of Donkey Kong Country's mine carts.
And the lack of elbows? All the better for yanking him around crumbling platforms and dizzying wall jumps. With just a few tweaks, this shapeless platform hero becomes an ode to the freedom of limblessness.
This revamped Rayman is a robust hero, a halfway house between Mario's acrobatic skill and the relentless forward charge of Donkey Kong Country Returns. Levels encourage speed, whether by narrative necessity - outrunning piratical cannon fire or flesh-eating bugs - or through networks of water chutes and air cannons. As in DKCR, enemies are woven into the natural rhythm of the level, encouraging us to chain platform hops and head bops into long, graceful manoeuvres.
Bonus level objectives help tease out amazing runs from even the densest thumbs. Rayman grabs 'Lums' to satisfy an end-of-stage score criteria, with vital multipliers offered for collecting chains of singing Lums in a tight time limit. Lum formations cleverly mark out racing lines around the various obstacles - useful visual clues when the time comes to attempt later time trial runs.
Those scarred by DK's frustrate-o-sprints will find Rayman's timed dashes more to their liking. Build up a head of steam and Origins becomes as fluid as platforming gets. Dash, jump, dash, hover, jump, wall-jump, punch, wall-jump, dash. Yep: platforming sucks in the written word. Recalling any stretch of run-and-jump comes across more Rainman than Rayman: a chain of verbs hammered into the brain through repetition and rote.
Feed the words through human thumbs, however, and they become like musical notation for performing genuine platforming miracles. Watching others play, you can't believe you did the same bits yourself.
The standouts are chase sequences which put Rayman on the tail of a chest reluctant to give up its treasure. Tearing across collapsing cliffs and exploding piers is as slick as platforming gets. Death comes instantly - and often - but it never feels unfair. It sits just the right side of pixel perfect jumping, with a margin of human error reminding you you're in full control. Compare this approach to Bit.Trip Runner or Donkey Kong's mine carts - where long stretches have to be nailed with a joyless rigidity - and Origins is the superior bounder.
Played by a pro, levels scream by in a blur of breathless Looney Tunes' energy. Probably for the best, considering Michael Ancel's wacky world vision. He lays the zany on thick in an attempt to disguise traditional ideas. Call them popcorn and beards if you want, we know falling platforms and rope swings when we see them.