When Ubisoft gave the world Rayman Origins a few years back critics were shocked by how much love and care was taken to create a world that was not only beautiful to look at but also helped refine the platforming genre. It also wouldn’t be an understatement to say it remains a lauded favorite for our managing editor, so much in fact that he persists to barrage anyone who’s yet to experience it for themselves with copies for their platform-of-choice. OK, I’m exaggerating a bit with the last part (Universal: no, he’s completely correct!) but he’s not alone in his opinion and this is the kind of reputation that Rayman Legends has to live up to.
Originally developed as a Wii U exclusive and slated for the console’s launch window, Ubisoft saw fit to delay the release by nearly a year as they readied other versions for competing consoles. While the wait was indeed disappointing for those fans wanting to continue the resurrected Rayman’s adventures on their new GamePads don’t feel too sorry for them, as they had the excellent endless-runner Rayman Jungle Run to keep them busy in the interum. And just like in Origins, what’s here is a finely-tuned platformer bathed in bright colors, perfect gameplay, and more creativity in single levels than most games manage throughout their entire experience.
What you do need to know is that the story basically continues where the previous game left off as you (Rayman) and his crazed pals are awakened from their 100-year slumber as Bubble Dreamer is plagued with terrible nightmares that threaten the land. Naturally, it’s up to our limbless hero and his crew to save the teensies from certain doom yet again.
Let’s face it, the story won’t win any awards for originality but it’s the gameplay and the visuals steal the show. Fans will be immediately familiar with the same solid 2D experience that made the first game so excellent, so expect the same finely-tuned platforming staples of running, jumping, swimming, sneaking, and even dancing through unique locations and big boss battles. Rescuing teensies and collecting dancing lums is still an objective for each stage whether they’re in plain sight or hidden in inventive puzzle challenges.
Clever puzzles and huge bosses are one thing but there are a few additions and changes that keep the formula mostly fresh, especially with the generous cooperative portions. The game supports up to 4-players on the PS3 and Xbox 360 version while the Wii U adds another using the GamePad’s screen as a helper, much like with Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros U. The game was made for this and it shows, as there’s plenty of player-induced interaction sprinkled throughout every level that’s just more fun (or frustrating, if you’re that type of gamer) with another human being behind the controls.
The PS3/Xbox versions make up for this ommission by adding assistant portions that feature Murfy as a guardian angel of sorts. Whenever the situation demands your winged friend will automatically pop up and help clear out obstacles, activate mechanisms, and collect out-of-reach lums. Murfy’s interactions are controlled via button presses or toggling of the shoulder triggers; it’s not nearly as engaging but the straightforward approach makes things easier to grasp while playing.
There’s still no online multiplayer, however, which is a shame.
Without a doubt the visuals truly do bring this vibrant world to life in the previous game, and remarkably enough Ubisoft managed to make Legends even more graphically impressive, especially in how fluid and vibrant levels and objects effortlessly transition from one thing to the next. Painterly is the best term for the updated look, as the cartoony and artistic aesthetics coexist in perfect harmony, right down to the character interactions. Everything is just so lighthearted and happy that it would do good for other developers to learn a few tricks from Ubisoft’s marvelous Ubi-Art framework. These are, without question, among the most beautiful games ever created.
If Rayman Legends had anything resembling faults (and I’m stretching here) it would be that the difficulty ramps up considerably only a couple hours of gameplay. The world layout is a definite nod to Super Mario 64 where you’ll unlock the tougher stages rather quickly. This is great if you want to see how the crafty developers snuck in unforgiving challenges but not so much if you rely on checkpoints (they’re almost nonexistent in later stages). This type of viciousness is especially evident when you unlock the “invaded stages”, where you’re supposed to race through already completed levels as fast as possible. Generally the game is perfectly-paced, but don’t expect to unlock and see everything without putting in some considerable time – and skills.
In a gaming world where most sequels are nothing but financial rehashes Rayman Legends easily breaks the mold cast by its lauded predecessor. While there’s a stunning variety of creativity in the game’s overall design and gameplay mechanics it still feels more evolutionary than revolutionary this time around – not that Legends had to redefine the 2D platform genre as Rayman Origins already did that. Outstanding visuals, a symphonic soundtrack and endlessly inventive gameplay make this one of the best games in years, and should be a mandatory experience at least once if you’re a dedicated gamer.