Outside of the venerable Mario Bros. franchise, great platforming is tough to find these days. Granted, a lot of it surely has to do with the industry having switched its main focus to realistic-looking games and shooters. Still, although the amount of fantastic sidescrolling jumpers has dwindled over the last decade or more, some companies have stepped up to the plate, with Ubisoft being a prime example. We fanatics certainly have them to thank for two of the best genre efforts in a long time: 2011′s Rayman Origins, and now its soon-to-be-released sequel, Rayman Legends.
Originally announced as a Wii U exclusive, the limbless wonder’s latest outing has since made the jump to almost every other major platform out there. For the purpose of this review, though, we’ll stick with that original, GamePad-intensive version.
Focusing on the negative side of dreams, Rayman Legends tasks its heroes with saving their world’s Teensie inhabitants from nightmare elements and related creatures. It’s a rather simplistic plot line, but that’s normal when it comes to this genre. As such, what’s there simply serves as an explanation for all of the running, jumping, swinging, swimming and sliding that the game requires, rather than presenting something that pushes a dialogue-intensive design.
Now, let’s switch gears to the meat of the experience, which is, of course, its gameplay.
Evidently, creator Michel Ancel and his team were full of ideas when they began to brainstorm for Rayman Legends, because it’s a beast of a platformer. In fact, in addition to its core campaign, the game boasts forty unlockable Back to Origins stages, daily/weekly challenges and a competitive soccer minigame that can be played by up to four friends. The latter listed mode is one that we’ll abstain from focusing on, though, because it’s simply basic and mediocre. Thankfully, that isn’t true of the rest of the content, as what’s on offer can be summed by up using terms like “magical,” “fantastic,” “vivid” and “memorable.”
One could easily spend anywhere from twelve to twenty hours playing through all of the aforementioned content, though a lot of that playtime would be spent unlocking secondary stages via repeat runs through Legends‘ five themed story worlds. That’s because, although progression is king when it comes to beating the campaign, collecting as many Lums and Teensies as you can during each attempt is the key to unlocking new heroes, secret levels and the noted Back to Origins paintings.
Within this structure, each one of the game’s incredibly creative, extremely colourful and occasionally difficult stages is scored via bronze, silver and gold means. Getting the best trophy requires a ton of Lum collecting, but there’s something that you should worry about more than getting every gold award. That would be lucky tickets, which fall in-between silver and gold on the scale. Covered in clovers and employing a match three mentality, the scratch tickets are the game’s gate to extra stages and collectibles. If you match three purple beings, you’ll unlock one of sixty different creatures, all of which lay Lums on what sees like a daily basis. Conversely, finding three paintings will unlock one of forty levels from Rayman Origins, all of which have been visually remastered using the sequel’s new art style.
The inclusion of Rayman Origins‘ stages essentially gives gamers two games for one, sixty-dollar admission price. It’s a welcomed bonus and a treat for those who never got around to picking up the great reboot. However, it’s important to not overlook the quality of the levels found within each of Legends‘ five worlds. They take what was established two years ago and amp things up to eleven, offering frenzied trips through a forest, a water world, a land made of food, a dangerous volcano and a take on Mythical Greece.
In total, there are several different types of stages to be found within each world. First up are the standard ones, which task players with getting from point A to point B, while giving them a chance to collect ten different Teensies along the way. Then, there are shorter variations, which often employ more creative mechanics over their limited run times. Finally, they’re rounded out by invasion stages and musical experiences, which happen to be the best parts of the game. Not only that, but the invasion stages intelligently increase the campaign’s length by changing levels around and forcing players to race through them without being hit.
Now, you’re surely wondering what the term “musical experiences” means in relation to platforming gameplay. Well, you’ll be happy to hear that it pertains to each world’s conclusion. Therein, players get to run through environments that are timed to music. They’re incredibly entertaining scenarios, and are certainly memorable, because of the love and care that was put into their creation. In fact, racing through a castle landscape that happened to be perfectly timed to Black Betty was the highlight of my time spent with this game. In second place? A segment synced to a Mariachi band version of Eye of the Tiger.
For the most part, Rayman Legends is a top notch platformer. It’s fast, frenzied, and very well made. There is one complaint that I must levy against it, though: Its over-use of the GamePad. Though it may not bother many others, I found that too many levels eschewed standard controls and traditional platforming in favour of touch and gyroscope-based gameplay. In those, control would switch from Rayman (or whichever hero I was using) to Globox and his flying pal, Murfy. The former, rotund character, would then become computer controlled, putting players in charge of Murfy, who would have to cut ropes, move platforms, turn contraptions and block streams of lava.
The truth is that I originally loved the Murfy and Globox stages. However, they kept appearing over and over again, which caused me to become a bit annoyed. Maybe it was because I was playing solo, and didn’t have someone else controlling Murfy, but even then, the design slowed things down and kept me from doing what I wanted to. Granted, they’re not bad or poorly designed – just repetitive and a bit slow. They’re also a bit on the difficult side at times, mainly because of inconsistent artificial intelligence.
Like its predecessor, Rayman Legends is a beautiful-looking game. In fact, it’s one of the best-looking titles I’ve ever laid eyes on. The new painted slash hand drawn art style that Ubisoft went with allowed for the creation of some truly staggering stages, and also enhanced the forty Back to Origins levels impressively. In truth, the last game was tough to complain about visually, but this one takes things to a new level and includes beautiful animation work that truly exemplifies video games as art.
On the other hand, Michel Ancel’s latest project is also a musical home run. It’s fun-loving, boisterous and thoroughly pleasurable to listen to, thanks to an incredibly creative score and some great takes on licensed music. Listening to the game’s unique take on Black Betty is still a treat, even though I’ve played through the level upwards of three or four times over the last few days. It’s truly impossible to fault its score, sound effects and general presentation qualities, because they’re basically second to none.
Unless you dislike platforming games for some reason, there’s really no excuse for overlooking Rayman Legends. That is, other than a lack of money or time. It’s a fantastic game that exudes character, and is one that will easily contend for Game of the Year honours come December.
This review is based on the Wii U version of the game, which we were provided with.