Review: Rayman Legends

RaymanLegends

Already a fine example of 2D platforming of the highest order, Rayman Origins has been completely upstaged and outclassed by its successor, Rayman Legends, which is available today on console, handheld and Windows gaming platforms. (That’s PC, PS3, Vita, Wii U and Xbox 360 if you want specifics.)

After napping for a century, Rayman and his pals awake to find The Glade of Dreams under siege yet again. Once more the loveable, limbless platforming hero must brave the dangers of five fantastical worlds in order to save the good Teensies from the nightmarish captivity of the Dark Teensies. For his trouble he’ll collect Lums, the standard gold coin collectible of the Rayman universe, by the thousands along the way.

Anyone who has played Origins will be right at home behind the controller of Legends, but not before noticing a few minor core design tweaks—some inconsequential, almost all for the better. Enemies no longer “bubblize” when jumped on for one thing, which is somewhat of a bummer since it was fun to watch enemies balloon up before suffering death by pop, but ultimately has no impact on the game. Level design has been further refined as well, with stages that flow more seamlessly rather than being broken up into a lot of smaller areas divided by doors. Because of this, the pacing feels a lot tighter. Stages just seem to fly by more quickly without ever bogging down. It’s also nice that all of the special abilities Rayman learned in Origins (wall running, shrinking, swimming, gliding, etc) are ready to use from the beginning.

If you haven’t played Origins before, just know that Legends is a 2D platforming tour de force, not to mention a showpiece for video games as a true art form, its hand-drawn cartoon graphics, super-saturated color palette and intricate layers of detail never ceasing to light up the screen with eye candy that may just be sweet enough to cause diabetes. Poor Sonic the Hedgehog could learn a thing or two from Rayman these days as he whimsically sprints through stage after stage with the perfect balance of speed, leaping precision and forward momentum that recent games starring the blue dude with ‘tude have been sorely lacking. Here, Rayman controls with such graceful ease, such pinpoint response. If you mess up and fall, it’s due to user error and not a faulty or unresponsive mechanic, which lessens any potential frustrations that may occur. (Which probably won’t because this game isn’t particularly difficult. More on that in a bit.)

If anyone’s handing out awards for level design at the end of the year, Rayman Legends deserves to be a top contender. No two levels ever feel the same, there’s that much variety — both in appearance and gameplay. In one stage, a Dark Teensy spell will transform Rayman into a duck and he’ll have to quack and flap his way to the end. In the next he’ll shrink down to a small enough size to explore tunnels worms have eaten out of pieces of hanging fruit. And who knows, after that he may be frantically wall running and jumping through a crumbling tower lined with thorny vines, speed-swimming for dear life as a giant sea serpent gives chase, navigating the trap-filled challenge rooms of a ninja dojo, sprinting through a dream world made of cake, or diving under the sea on aquatic stealth excursions in which he must manipulate switches to avoid the spotlights of security bots.

Only adding to the fun, the green fairy dude they call Murfy is back as an assist character who will occasionally tag along as a guide to clear obstacles or open pathways for Rayman. When Murfy joins a level, he’ll fly a short ways ahead of Rayman and at the press of a button gobble through barriers of cake, lift/lower platforms, poke enemies in the eye to generate steam breath or retract spiked tentacles, cut ropes holding swinging spikes aloft, spread thick, gloppy layers of guacamole to create platforms or defensive barriers against hazardous liquids, or even tickle brutish enemies so they lower their guard for Rayman to land a fatal jab. I imagine this mechanic was first designed with the Gamepad in mind when the game was going to be exclusive to Wii U, but rest assured it works just fine on a regular controller. Murfy never gets mixed up over which object you want him to interact with, and having him around introduces a new dynamic of button timing while maintaining an even keener awareness of what lies ahead.

Collectible junkies will be pleased to know that this game has tons of bobbles and trinkets to compulsively hunt for. In addition to two caged Teensies hidden in secret puzzle/mini-game rooms similar to Origins, each stage has eight additional Teensies to rescue within the normal flow of gameplay. Once the stage is over, you receive a Teensy face icon for each one rescued (there are 700 in all) along with bronze, silver, and gold medals/trophies based on finding all the Teensies and reaching set tiers of collected Lums. Higher trophy rankings increase the amount of points you gain toward your global player progression on a scale of Awesomeness. I have currently ascended to the 8th level of Awesomeness, but I’m not sure what the maximum is.

Included among these bonuses are the new Lucky Tickets, scratch-off lottery tickets that will unlock other random rewards like remade bonus levels from Rayman Origins (yes, 40 stages from Origins have been carried over with minor layout modifications), additional Lums and Teensies, and even pet monsters that go off into a special room where each one you’ve collected generates a daily Lum collectible. It’s sort of like a Plants vs. Zombies Zen Garden for Rayman critters. Ubisoft apparently thought of everything, even going so far as to add a speed-up option to fast forward through the Lum and trophy tally at the end of each stage. Origins didn’t have this option, which caused the repetitive level end results screen to become real annoying real fast.

As you make it further into the game, previously completed worlds will be “invaded” by new, more challenging time trial levels. In addition to the return of optional 2 to 4 player couch co-op (no online co-op here), Legends introduces a dose of ghost race leaderboard competition with Daily and Weekly challenges. In these challenges, you will have 24 to 168 hours to play a required level and post your best performance on the given objective, ranging from collecting as many Lums as possible within a time limit to making it as far into a level as you can without dying to set a distance marker in the style of an endless runner. You can replay these challenges as many times as you wish to improve leaderboard position within the duration, after which you will receive a reward of Lums and either a bronze, silver, or gold medal to contribute toward your level of Awesomeness. The opportunity to replay never seems to end, which is good because you won’t want it to.

I guess my only minor gripe with Legends is its somewhat lax level of difficulty. The game is by no means a push over, but its initial low learning curve barely gets any steeper by the end of the game. Again, I don’t know if it’s because of the original intention to make the game only for Wii U and a resulting re-balance towards a younger, more family-friendly Nintendo audience, but to me the game never became as challenging as Origins did in its latter stages. Those diabolical treasure chest chase levels in Origins have been replaced by new music levels which have Rayman’s movements synced to the beat of licensed tunes. These are awesome fun but not nearly as demanding or satisfying to overcome as the previous treasure chest chases. When you unlock the sixth and final bonus world which consists of 8-bit renditions of all the music levels, the difficulty increases somewhat as filter effects pixelate or blur the screen, suddenly flip your view of the world upside down, or cause the screen to split into a dozen or more picture-in-picture windows. But even the hardest of these levels only required maybe a handful of attempts. I just didn’t feel any great sense of accomplishment for completing them.

What the music levels lack in overall challenge, they more than make up for in aural enjoyment. Any game that puts a mariachi spin on “Eye of the Tiger” or a medieval rock twist on “Black Betty” is definitely doing something right. In fact, the music for the entire game is just marvelous. The soundtrack somehow manages to set a tone comparable to an epic animated film while at the same time mixes in a touch of whimsy to complement the zany, slapstick spirit of the Rayman universe. Everything sounds so chirpy and upbeat. All the squeaks and hums and chimes are obnoxious, yet in a way that is weirdly delightful to listen to.

Everything about this game is a delight for that matter. I didn’t see it coming, but Rayman Legends takes a bubblized leap over Origins and pretty much any other platformer you may want to stack up against it. I know it sounds overly hyperbolic, but I truthfully don’t believe 2D platforming design has ever been executed better than this. It’s just that damn good.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Exquisite 2D platforming balance of reflex timing, speed and momentum
+ Diverse, tightly paced level design
+ Tons of collectibles offer continuous reward and replay incentive
+ Daily/Weekly challenges inspire endless leaderboard competition
+ A masterpiece of artistic design and animation
+ Zany soundtrack is an obnoxious delight

Cons:
– Late stage and end game difficulty isn’t as tough as Origins
– I miss watching enemies bubblize!

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available on Wii U, Xbox 360, PC and Vita
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Release Date: 9/3/2013
Genre: 2D Platformer
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4 (local co-op only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

[nggallery id=3045]

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!