Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, PS3, Vita and Wii U
Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Back in 2011 I scored Rayman: Origins 9.5 out of 10. As a direct sequel I feel it fitting that I should begin my review of Rayman: Legends in the same way as I began my review of Origins: He’s got no freaking limbs! Why has he got no freaking limbs!? Despite playing every single Rayman game throughout the years I still have trouble getting over that very simple fact; Rayman is a hero devoid of limbs. How the hell does that work?
Yes, the limbless hero has returned in Rayman: Legends, a game that was originally supposed to be a Wii U exclusive and that received some criticism when Ubisoft announced it was to be delayed in order for it to become a multiplatform release. The basic premise here is that Rayman and has friends are woken from their extended nap to find the Glade of Dreams once again in trouble, and the only way to save it is through platforming and madcap antics, because how else would you save a fantastical world? And that’s your lot. As a side-scrolling platformer Legends wastes no time in attempting to provide some narrative direction for you to follow, nor any time explaining why there are levels with floating cake or why Rayman got turned into a duck and must complete the level with feathers and all. And that’s okay, because Legends doesn’t need to bother with these – they’d just get in the way of the fun. Better yet it means absolutely anyone can jump in with no previous experience of the series required. The only requisite is that you can get over the fact that he has floating hands and feet. Seriously, what’s up with that?
This is a platformer in the truest sense, one where speed, precision and skill are emphasised, though never over the player’s fun thanks to a finely tuned learning curve that will quickly have you feeling like a platforming master of the ages. Though Rayman actually has a fairly limited moveset composed of running, jumping, gliding and punching, what Ubisoft manages to do with it is inspired, crafting challenging and inventive levels that will delight at every turn. Things begin simple, and the collectible lines of Lums along the level provide a subtle yet important hint as to where the level is going. Progress through the game and levels start to become trickier, requiring faster reflexes and pin-point precision to complete, and yet you’ll never notice that they are becoming more difficult because the game has been so carefully building the level of challenge the entire time. Each stage offers brilliant variety: one minute you’re sliding along chains while the next your underwater, attempting to evade the deadly searchlights while listening to some beautiful background music. If that wasn’t enough there are levels where you must glide your way downward, avoiding spiky vines, and levels where you must control your flight in an endless updraft, battling against flying foes. Each world that you visit adheres to a specific theme with its own set of mechanics or ideas that alter and change the base platforming experience, ensuring that the game always feels fresh and fun.
For the most part you’re free to take levels at your own pace. The design of each area encourages speed and a fluid rhythm, but the game doesn’t punish you for prudence, either, happily allowing you to dawdle around, taking in the sights. However, exceptions appear in the form of levels that pit you against a moving danger, one that is constantly chasing you from the side of the screen, forcing you to move or perish. These frantic levels are a joy, demanding that you exercise your fingers and pay attention to the flow of the level, or else meet your maker. It’s here where the design of the game shines and combines with the responsive controls to tickle the pleasure nodes in your brain. Sure, you can take your time with each section, but it’s when you’re sprinting, leaping and landing by the skin of your teeth that Legends transforms into something astounding. The levels are designed with speed in mind, and once you realise that you’ll likely never return to your meandering ways. It is joyous, brilliant fun, the kind of fun that I honestly haven’t had with a platformer, excluding Origins, in a very long time. Sod shooters, this is where it’s at.
Your main goal during levels is to rescue as many of the innocent Teensies as you can that are being held captive by the evil monsters inhabiting each world. Rescuing Teensies not only makes you feel a bit better about yourself but also unlocks new levels within each world for you to tackle. While the majority of Teensies are found throughout the stage, two of them are hidden away in secret areas accessed by a disguised door, just waiting for you to discover them. These areas are separate from the main level and are usually small but enjoyable little sections which make use of a variety of different mechanics, such as having to navigate a massive maze of spikes by turning the entire contraption around while you hang on to rings.
A highlight of the game, that is to say a highlight within a game that is one bloody great highlight from start to finish, is the new music levels. There’s a total of 6 of these, plus bonus 8-bit versions, for you to try out, and each one has had its own utterly brilliant song recorded for it based upon real music, such as Black Betty, but completely altered to fit the bizarre nature of the game. The idea here is that the level is laid out in such a way that every action you take, be it jumping, punching or sliding down a chain, is in time with the music, creating a beautiful synergy of sound and gameplay. Blitzing through a level accompanied by such truly brilliant music with background minions providing backing vocals is truly, truly amazing stuff, easily counting as one some of my favorite moments in gaming for some time, which is why I just had to include footage of what I view to be the best of them. Recognise the tune?
It’s not just during the music levels where the game’s audio shines, because the background music for the entire game is superb, fitting seamlessly with the graphical style. It’s cheerful, bounce and incredibly pleasing to the ar.
Death in Rayman is rarely ever the game’s fault, rather it’s yours and you’ll know it. Failing in Legends is fair, and that’s important otherwise the entire experience can quickly become a frustrating mess. Success is incredibly satisfying, and failure is almost heart-renching. However, there are the occasional problems on the game’s side rather than yours. The controls are slick and responsive, but can also sometimes be a little to sensitive with even the merest tweak being enough to send you to your doom. Meanwhile there are some very sudden traps that require clairvoyance to avoid, though a generous checkpoint system means that when you do fall foul of these you won’t lose very much progress.
Truth be told Legends has essentially just copied and pasted the gameplay straight from Origins, and that’s okay because the result is more refined with deliciously fluid level design and pacing. That’s not to say nothing has changed, though: Murfy the Fly often joins you on your adventures, and he can interact with the environment around you, so long as you tap the B button (on Xbox) to command him to do so. At his most mundane Murfy can shift things around or cut the ropes holding a spiky log, but more interesting actions soon come along, like painting lines of guacamole to keep you safe from hot-sauce or chomping through regrowing cake to provide you with a way through. A personal favorite example of mine is that Murfy can be used to tickle a minotaur enemy, giving you the chance to leap in and strike. At first remembering to tap the button to command Murfy and the timing required to add him to your repertoire is beguiling, but once you get used to having him tag along he adds a welcome, if rather tricky, extra dimension to the platforming. Having said that I did have encounter a couple of moments where Murfy didn’t move along to the next obstacle when I expected him to, leading me to my doom.
Like Origins before Legends let’s you bring some friends into the action with 4-player local co-op, although sadly online multiplayer isn’t included which feels like a wasted opportunity to expand the experience. Bringing friends into the action is absolutely brilliant fun, but it can be almost too awesome as keeping track of what’s going on and where your character is becomes rather challenging. You and your chums can also delve into the new football mini-game which doesn’t require much explanation: it’s 2v2 football on a 2d plane and it’s bloody awesome fun.
Ubisoft wisely used the delay that came from turning Legends to a multiplatform title well, packing this game with plenty of content so that you don’t feel short-changed. There’s a grand total of 6 different worlds, each of which has its own distinct visual themes and gameplay elements, as well as two princess to rescue. It’ll take you probably around 6-8 hours to get through these worlds, but the fun does not stop there. There’s a myriad of unlockable levels from Rayman: Origins to get to grip with as well, each one of them remastered for your platforming pleasure, and creatures from other worlds can invade any completed level, encouraging you to go back and play again in reverse.
We’ve all gotten used to the fact that games are continuously rewarding us with unlocks in order to try to keep us interested, but Legends takes it to the next step with nearly continuous positive reinforcement in a variety of forms. Complete a level and you’re rewarded with a screen of the cheering Teensies that you saved along the way, and a towering pile of Lums which builds up to display what level of trophy your performance earned you. Finishing a level feels like a miniature celebration of how awesome you are, and even though it’s such a simple thing it’s also so very rewarding. Gather enough Lums during a level and you’ll be given a Lucky Scratch Card to use, and beside being strangely fun to scratch away every single one wins you a prize like a new Origins level, a pile of extra Lums or a new Creature for your menagerie. You’re almost always unlocking something or being given something as a reward for just playing the game and having fun. Acquiring Lums give you access to a massive roster of different characters to play as (they’ve all got the same move set), while you can also collect your own personal zoo of awesome little creatures who also just so happen to give you bonus Lums every day! There’s even levels of Awesomeness to earn, and each time you go up a rank you’re handed even more bonus Lums.
While the game does not have online co-operative play there is daily and weekly challenges that pit you against the performances of players from around the world, clearly showing that Ubisoft want this to be a game you’ll keep coming back to. These challenges usually have simple or short levels, but competing against friends and strangers to make it as far as possible without dying or performing some other task is very enjoyable.
And if you hadn’t already noticed Legends is a truly beautiful game, boasting astounding hand-drawn aesthetics. Though it does use the same engine that powered Origins, Legends has noticably smoother animations and a higher level of detail within the worlds. It’s just so incredibly colorful and charming, managing to pack more character into a single one of its heroes than almost any massive triple-A with its absurd amount of polygons. It’s a poke at companies like Crytek, reminding them that you don’t need to be photo-realistic to be beautiful.
Today the videogame industry is dominated by companies claiming that massive amounts of money must be spent on a game, that it must be realistic, must include explosions and must be just like every other game. Rayman: Legends is a most welcome breath of fresh that defies all of those things to produce some of the most fun I’ve had in years. It’s beautiful in every way, from its graphics to its music to its design.
+ It’s just so damn fun.
+ It’s just so damn beautiful.
+ It’s just so damn awesome.
– Co-op can actually be too hectic.
– Very infrequent examples of trial and error gameplay.
The Verdict: 5/5 – Awesome
If any game ever truly deserves success it’s Rayman: Legends. It’s a deliciously fun blast of brilliance and color in a world that is otherwise filled with grey and misery.