It’s easy to see why Rayman Origins earned critical acclaim when it was released back in 2011. Colourful visual, tight controls and a host of outlandish faces made it a unique adventure that was ignored by all too many. It’s a real shame too, as Origins brought our whimsical, limbless hero into the spotlight without the Raving Rabbids in tow. Astonishingly, this year’s Rayman Legends takes what came before and improves upon it in almost every way possible.
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Platform: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 (Reviewed)
Players: Single-Player, Co-op
Release: (AU) August 29th 2013, (EU) August 30th 2013, (JP) October 17th 2013, (NA) September 3rd 2013
Folks who go for a solid story should look elsewhere, as Rayman Legends makes little effort to tell a tale. Indeed, the game seems all too aware that you’re playing for other reasons, never bogging things down with exposition or cutscenes. Characters are funny and charming; with more faces to choose from once they’ve been unlocked (or rescued) from their respective doorways. There are some neat editions to the roster, though you can expect to see variations of the same character models a dozen times over. You can now jump in and play as one of the many female designs, making blue frog Globox an option for the second player as opposed to the default.
Stages are presented as paintings in the main gallery, in one of the most obvious departures from the Origins aesthetic. You’ll need to rescue either three or ten caged teensies if you wish to progress, but how you find them and unlock the rest of the game’s material shows creativity not found in most other titles today. Doing well in a level unlocks cups and – perhaps most importantly – a lucky scratch card which provides one of four rewards; a teensy, more llums, a creature spawning daily llums or a Back to Origins painting. Including reworked versions of these older stages is a neat touch that only adds to the value of the package.
Main levels are bright, varied and just begging to be explored given the secrets they hold. You’ll soar through stormy mountains, swim through underwater junkyards and a whole lot more in your quest to rid the land of evil. The game’s graphics are simply fantastic, with more depth and creative flair than the series has seen before. Music has been upgraded considerably, and each world now features a frantic run to silly renditions of well-known tracks. Fans of the last game will be familiar with all the squeaks and yelps, but it’s now far easier to do well on a stage leading to a simple, confetti-laden dance from the participating heroes.
That’s not to say that the game is easy. Later levels will see you tugging your hair out as you attempt to land a split-second jump for the fifteenth time, but frequent checkpoints and unlimited retries alleviates some frustration – on the main story missions at least. Bonus stages can be downright cruel, pushing your thumbstick and reaction times to the limit under threat of a one-hit kill and lack of mid-level checkpoints. Timed runs demand a mix of speed, patience and memorization, though the sense of achievement upon perfecting them is undeniably great.
If there’s one issue we have with Rayman Legends it’s that the game seems far too in love with its own chase sequences. Running about as the titular hero or one of his friends is a joy given their designs and responsive handling, but the try-and-die nature of the frequent chases – which are thrilling at first – can lead to annoyance, as you slouch into your seat and huff ‘not one of these again’. The majority of stages allow you to go at your own speed however, even backtracking if you wish in search of missing teensies.
Taking on the challenge with another player will be the perfect option for some, even if it does present a few pros and cons of its own. At times you’ll fall and balloon up simply because your partner went forward and the camera shifted, or perhaps you were too slow because the screen follows the leader. On the flipside, ballooned heroes can be swiftly brought back into the action by the surviving partner, preventing a retry. Playing with the full four players is incredibly hectic and not to be taken seriously, even if it is fun to involve the whole room on occasion.
The final piece of the puzzle is Murphy, whose stages were obviously designed with the Wii U’s touchpad in mind. Things are simple enough on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, with good timing and a simple tap of the button letting him do his thing in the majority of cases. Problems can occur in multiplayer as Murphy’s actions don’t always last for more than a few seconds, and he’s quick to move to the next objective.
Rayman Legends takes the humble platformer and refines it, beauties it up and rewards you with even more challenges. By drip-feeding items and stages, the game ensures that you’ll always have something to shoot for, even as you comb your few remaining hairs after an especially frantic scramble. When the game strikes the right balance of exploration and challenge, it’s one of the greatest 2D platformers of all time, and that’s not an overstatement in the slightest. Frequently amazing, accessible yet infuriating for completionists, Rayman Legends is a fun escapade not to be missed.
9.0 – Excellent. Fun, enjoyable, engaging, and memorable but is missing that little something that will make it exceptionable. People will fondly talk about this for generations to come.