I’ll start this off with a disclaimer: Rayman Origins charmed the pants off of me, and I have been excited about the sequel for a while now. After finally getting my hands on it, I remembered why I liked the original so much. Rayman Legends offers a fun package that does a number of things very right, but does little to innovate on the formula Origins created two years ago. The end result is an entertaining romp that will give returning fans deja vu, although the occasional twist and rock-solid gameplay makes it all worth it.
Right off the bat it is impossible not to notice how beautiful this game is. If this is what we can expect out of the UbiArt framework, then we are in for a real treat. Vivid colors, impressive lighting effects and some of the best background art in recent memory can all be checked off the list, and the excellent character and level designs give the game a very unique identity. While a couple songs started to grate on me near the end, Rayman Legends uses sound in ways ranging from “smart” to “mind-blowing”. Some of my favorite stages are more like a mix of platformer and Guitar Hero, where the on-screen action is synced up with amusing covers of songs like “Black Betty” and “Eye of the Tiger”. These stages are found at the end of every world, and are worth the price of admission alone.
Stages like these, and all the others, work so well because of the precise gameplay. With the exception of an infrequent ranged upgrade on certain stages, your character will use the same jumps, punches and glides to make his or her way through the entire game. The complexity comes not through your actions, but through the myriad ways the game makes you use them. What starts off as a breeze through the gorgeous worlds eventually turns into nail-biting sessions that will test your platforming acumen stringently. If you want to see everything this game has to offer (something I suspect most gamers will be unable to do), get ready for a hefty time investment.
Rayman Legends boasts an impressive number of core stages, along with a number of ancillary activities to keep you busy. While they all share the same basic gameplay concept (except for a strange, but fun, soccer-like multiplayer game), there is enough variety to keep things from becoming too stale…at least for awhile. A somewhat strange creature collecting side activity exists that lets you collect a few coins, but is otherwise forgettable. If you get tired of a particular stage or world, you can usually jump to another one, try out the fun daily and weekly challanges, or dive into the Back to Origins and Invasion levels. They are both completely optional, and go a long way towards padding out the game.
Invasion levels appear periodically next to the regular levels, and involve enemies and traps from other worlds “invading” these levels and making them much tougher. These are for people searching for a significant challenge only. You’ll never be forced to do them, but the fact that they are all speed-based will preclude many from ever completing them. As tough as some of the final levels are, the Invasion levels occasionaly fail to walk the line between hard and frustrating, although they ensure that you should always have something to attempt. An entire “Back to Origins” world can be unlocked that reuses all the Rayman Origins levels with updates graphics and slight changes to the stages. I enjoyed the dose of nostalgia, even if most of the changes are barely noticeable. I enjoyed the boss fights in Origins the first time around, but I felt no desire to rehash them punch for punch again.
While the old ideas may get stale after a bit, the new elements that Legends introduces are gold. While there are a fair share of linear collect-a-thon levels, you will occasionaly run into one that blows your mind. In addition to the music-themed levels mentioned above, other standouts include a huge open-worldish maze level, an amazing dark mansion stealth stage and a number of stages that include Rayman’s companion Murphy. While an exciting idea, and occasionaly well-used, this is where Legends shows one of its cracks.
When dealing with Murphy, you can see how Rayman Legends was originally designed as a Wii U game. Unfortunately the end result leaves something to be desired no matter which console you play it on. On Wii U, another player can take control of Murphy at certain points to cut ropes, raise platforms, pull levers and otherwise help you along the levels. When two players are doing this, it can be a lot of fun, even if some sections become overly difficult, requiring fast and precise control of Murphy. It’s even worse if you are playing by yourself, as you are forced to control Murphy while an AI bumbles along as Rayman. It is common for him to miss collectibles, health and even jumps. The PS3 and 360 versions aren’t much better, as Murphy is controlled via a button press. Two players on the Wii U is probably the best method, but they are all uneven in their execution.
Don’t let this minor gripe dissaude you from one of this generations best platformers, Mario games included. I was saddened by the anti-climactic final boss fight, but the journey to get there is filled with inventive gameplay, beautiful graphics and pitch-perfect controls. Whether you are a young gamer trying to get into your first platformer, or a seasoned vet looking for a challenge, Rayman Legends shouldn’t be passed up.