I quite liked Rayman Origins but, to be honest, not enough to keep me playing to see it through until the end.
This was at least partly due to the fact that I quite liked Rayman Origins more for the way it looked than the way it played. I mean, sure, it was a perfectly competent -- even decent -- platformer, but I've found in the last few years that that style of game isn't enough to hold my attention any more, regardless of how lovely it looks. I also struggled to convince people to play it with me, and when I did, we found that the co-op mode was more chaotic than helpful, much as it is in the Wii's New Super Mario Bros. titles.
Even though I was a little disappointed with Rayman Origins as a whole -- much as Jeremy was disappointed with its follow-up Rayman Legends -- I could sense the potential in the UbiArt Framework engine that powered its glorious high-definition 2D visuals, and I sincerely hoped that the Rayman series wouldn't be the only time we'd see it used.
Fortunately, as it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Take a look at this.
This game is called Valiant Hearts: The Great War, and it follows the lives of five people caught up in the events of World War I, inspired by real letters sent and received during The Great War itself. The narrative follows how four strangers help a German solider find his love amid the chaos of trench warfare.
The trailer doesn't give much of an indication of how the game will actually play, but it has a very distinctive art style that would simply make a good animated movie in its own right. If the presentation of the game is on par with the trailer -- and with UbiArt powering the game, that's a distinct possibility -- then it looks like we're in for a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. Ten bucks says the dog dies.
Valiant Hearts is set for release in 2014 for Xbox One, PS4 and PC. It looks like it will be a digital-only release.
But wait! There's more.
This one is called Child of Light. Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, it's a role-playing game based on fairy tales -- not a specific one, but more the general feeling and atmosphere of this type of story. You'll take on the role of a young girl called Aurora who was stolen from her home, and is tasked with bringing back the sun, moon and stars that are held captive by the Queen of the Night.
The game features turn-based combat inspired by Japanese role-playing games, and exploration from a side-on perspective. The art style is again both distinctive in its own right, and clearly distinguished from that seen in both the Rayman series and Valiant Hearts. The animation on Aurora looks particularly lovely, and there's a very nice parallax layering effect on the scenery that allows the camera to zoom in and out for the illusion of 3D.
Child of Light is set for release in 2014 on "current- and next-generation platforms as well as PC" -- though the trailer only specifically mentions Xbox One, PS4, Wii U and PC, unless Ubi is counting Wii U as "current-generation."
These two titles -- and the Rayman series, for that matter -- demonstrate something interesting about Ubisoft. Despite being a huge publisher usually regarded as on the same level as the other giants of the industry Activision and EA, Ubisoft is an outfit that seems altogether far more willing to explore commercially risky territory with its titles. Of course, at least part of this is probably due to the money-printing machine that is the Assassin's Creed series, but it would be very easy for Ubi to rest on its laurels and not greenlight more creative projects such as the two you see above.
"Ubisoft's strengths include its diversity and the freedom it gives its creative teams," said Patrick Plourde, creative director at the publisher. And he's right -- for all the criticisms you can level at the publisher for churning out annualized franchises, it's hard to deny that its willingness to step onto potentially unsteady commercial ground on a fairly regular basis is a big strength that sets it significantly apart from its rivals.