Rayman Origins was an undeniable treasure when it was released in 2011. A masterclass in platform game design, wrapped in a beautiful artistic style and incredible soundtrack, Origins was proof that the mascot platformer can not only still work, but can boast all the showmanship of a big-budget, Hollywood-flavored, graphically intensive shooter. That, and it was simply adorable.
Rayman Legends, originally a Wii U exclusive, has suffered a slight dent in its reputation thanks to Ubisoft's decision to delay the game in the name of a multiplatform release. Even so, the pedigree of its predecessor and a brilliant demo has been enough to assure all but the most insecure that Legends is serious business.
And rest assured, my friends, for Legends is absolutely that.
Rayman Legends (PC, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360 [reviewed], Wii U)
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Released: September 3, 2013 (NA) / August 30, 2013 (EU)
Rayman Legends has a slight story hinged around its rambunctious world, but it's disposable at best. This time around, the Teensies are held captive thanks to the machinations of five nefarious traitors, the Dark Teensies. The world is being swallowed by nightmares, and it's up to Rayman -- along with Globox and a growing army of playable allies -- to save the day.
The platforming action remains largely unchanged from Origins, with up to four players able to jump, punch, glide and stomp their way through intricately designed levels. Perhaps moreso than last time, precision is everything, as just one ill-timed jump can cause players to miss a secret or meet an untimely end. When you hit the zone and make a perfect run through a level, the results are exhilarating and the visuals take on something akin to poetry. When you screw up, you feel terrible. Once again, each stage is littered with Lums to collect, Teensies to rescue, and secret doors to uncover with a sharp eye and well-timed jumps.
At times, the need for precision can lead to awkwardness, as even the slightest undesired nudge of the analog stick can make the difference between a character sprinting up a wall gracefully and running dumbfounded on the spot. There are also several times where either clairvoyance or trial-and-error are needed to predict a sudden trap -- and you can always spot these moments because a checkpoint has been cheekily placed before each one. These occurrences can be a little frustrating, especially because when it works, it works so well, and failure to achieve that elegance in platforming is most unfulfilling.
Still, it works perfectly most of the time, and it's a satisfying experience that fails to ever get old. A new highlight are the musical stages, rhythmic levels unlocked once a world has been beaten. Players are encouraged to rush headlong, timing their jumps and attacks to the tune of a song -- usually a recognizable pop tune given a cute reworking. Charging through a stage while "Black Betty" plays -- complete with enemies singing backup vocals -- is simply inspired stuff.
The musical levels are but one example of the variety to be found in Legends. Not content to simply provide endless platforming levels, Legends will provide quasi-stealth sections, with players having to avoid searchlights in underwater bases, toss in some shooting gameplay with magically-powered fist projectiles, or have players manipulating the environment with the help of Murfy the Fairy.
In what was clearly included for the Wii U's sake, various stages involve using Murfy to pull platforms, cut ropes, or tilt entire rooms. A Wii U copy of the game was not provided for review, but Murfy's actions will be controlled on the GamePad screen using touch controls. As with everything, timing is essential, as players will be required to pull, push, and snip things at just the right moment -- and sometimes judge when not to interact with an object at all, lest it be a nasty trick to box you in.
On the provided Xbox 360 copy, this gameplay is rendered down to its basest functions -- press a button when near an interactive object, and Murfy will automatically do what you need to him to do. It's a simplistic system that feels somewhat pointless on any other machine than the Wii U, but given my feeling that Murfy's entire inclusion was little more than a meaningless tech demo anyway, I'm not exactly distraught by the reduced emphasis -- not least for the fact that some levels can move so fast, I'd rather be pressing a single button than messing about with touchscreens.
There are also boss stages, replacing the mosquito-mounted flying levels from Origins. This change was, I feel, slightly for the worse, as the mosquito levels were amazing fun and the bosses are all comparatively mundane and formulaic. They still have their fun moments, and are hilariously designed, but I can't say I found them particularly exciting.
The meat of Legends is contained in five distinct worlds, each brimming with personality and packing memorable levels and the occasional stunning setpiece. It really says a lot that a humble 2D game, through the power of pacing and engaging art direction, can be just as jawdropping as any CryEngine-powered visual overdose. Moments in Legends are built on thrills that can go toe-to-toe with far less humble, immeasurably more extravagant titles.
It'll take you maybe around six hours to complete the five main worlds, but there's plenty of content beyond simply that. As well as the need to replay stages to collect Teensies and unlock more playable characters, a whole host of rebuilt levels from Rayman Origins are included, as well as special challenge stages that change each day, and record scores online to crown a single winner. Beaten stages can be "invaded" with new monsters and subsequent rewards, and there's also a fun 2D football game for multiple players.
As rewards for beating stages with enough Lums, players can unlock Lucky Cards which, when scratched, either award a free Teensie, more Lums, an Origin level, or a Creature. Creatures are displayed in their own little gallery, and give out Lums on a daily basis. Collecting Lums is required to unlock all the playable characters, so it's well worth building up one's menagerie -- as if the silly designs of the Creatures themselves weren't encouragement enough. Lucky Cards must be scratched to reveal winning panels -- another Wii U contrivance, haphazardly performed using twin analog sticks on other consoles.
It goes without saying that the visual design of Rayman Legends is absolutely beautiful. The cartoon style of Origins has been given a facelift, with extra detail, shading, and subtle 3D elements. The added touches make for a handpainted quality, animated with fluid flawlessness, and exuding the kind of rich color scheme that truly pops on an HDTV. Things are more detailed, but avoid the visual clutter that could have been had as a result.
Similarly, the audio is top notch, with amusing sound effects and an impeccable soundtrack. The music is as energetic as ever, and the aforementioned musical stages are a delight for the ears. If anything can be said of Rayman Legends, it's that nobody was asleep at the wheel when it came to the presentation of the whole package.
Rayman Legends is occasionally flustering, and sometimes seems to demand more than a conventional controller is capable of. The surprisingly slapdash jury-rigging of Wii U features on other systems is glaring in its inelegance, too. However, we're still left with an impressively designed platformer that proves itself a worthy followup to Rayman Origins, making a few notable omissions, but adding some excellent new ideas of its own.
Charming, funny, and only sometimes exasperating, Rayman Legends is the kind of game that makes this industry a better place for its existence.
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