Developer: Ubi Art / Publisher: Ubisoft / Price: $59.99 / Platforms: Xbox 360, Wii U / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief)
The cartoon platforming shenanigans of the venerable Rayman have enjoyed a critical renaissance since designer Michel Ancel returned to the franchise he created for the acclaimed Rayman Origins in 2011 (we gave it a 9.5). Legends builds on the formula in a wonderfully creative, if familiar vein, and absolutely packs in the content. This time around Rayman is joined by the legends of his world, a host of characters to take, at will, through the various locations crammed with environmental challenges, enemies, and those oh-so enticing bonus pick-ups.
The core intent of Rayman and his heroic friends is to rescue Teensies who are variously imprisoned in cages or tied to poles throughout the colorful, inventive courses. Some 700 of the little fellas are lost throughout the 100-plus levels, and that means a ton of content to devour, try, and retry with each painless fail. I say painless because there really is little penalty to dying as the checkpoints are fairly accommodating to dilute any potential frustration.
From a typically benign opening, where you quickly learn the simple mechanics of platform and wall jumping, attacking enemies, and picking turnips out of the ground (to then bat into enemies) the puzzle mechanics steadily develop. Environmental factors like spiked branches, collapsing platforms, and even falling buildings combine to provide varied jumping, sprinting, battering, collecting challenges across these colorful and stylized settings. Anyone who has played Origins will get the drill, but will also be impressed by some added mechanics that keep each unlocked location surprisingly fresh.
The progress format is pretty standard, but broad enough that after a couple of hours investment you really do have several paths you could follow. Unlocking levels to rescue heroes is achieved by gathering lums, which means you have to complete “regular” levels. But then through the Lucky Tickets you earn by capturing lums, you reveal the Back to Origins levels, which basically lets you play the Origins game, but with a few tweaks to the layout and format. This feature is awesome if you never played Rayman Origins. It basically embeds in Legends a complete, awesome platforming game (we mentioned already, but we gave it a 9.5.) To ensure hardcore Rayman fans who captured every target in Origins are not short-changed, these retro-origins levels are tweaked just enough with some of the new mechanics and updates to make it kinda-vaguely new. It’s a stretch.
But if you missed Rayman Origins for whatever reason, and platform gaming still elicits a semblance of excitement, then the volume of content in Legends will keep you entertained for a very long time. After unlocking the Origins levels you can then unlock Invasion levels, which are areas you’ve already completed now tweaked to provide a pseudo-fresh challenge.
That’s ultimately what I got from Rayman Legends: that it was dabbling in originality and presenting a vast array of content, but scratch the surface and it’s a lot of the same a lot of the time. I mean, embark on levels where you need to float, then you need to drop, then you need to float and drop, then you’re turned into a duck, then miniaturized, and in the midst of these you combine all the above alongside evolving environmental challenges to rescue heroes, teensies, and lums for your unlocking pleasure.
Once you experience the musically awesome number (Castle Rock) at the end of the first series, it provides motivation enough to witness what each subsequent painting (as the areas are described) will deliver for their symphonic conclusions. They don’t disappoint.
Stitching a multiplayer component into the solo experience of a platformer isn’t easy, and Rayman Legends plays a classy game of one-upmanship to at least tease you into participating. Daily challenges against friends or all-comers is easy enough, and seeing the ghost of their runs of that daily challenge is a fundamentally cool touch, even if practically seeing those other translucent bodies on the screen can be distracting as you attempt to time jumps. Weekly challenges and extreme versions of both stretch the limits of this asynchronous gameplay.
What makes Rayman Legends so playable is the fact that each course is pretty short. A pure run-through is probably a minute or two max. That means even if you suffer a few fails you’re completing each run in less than five minutes. That contributes to the “one-more-try” mentality since even when you hit a brick wall of control paralysis it’s probably just a few jumps, floats, shots to the exit.
What’s weird is how I feel I destroyed my controller, pressing so hard on the A button to try to maintain air either to collect pink lums or simply stay alive. On the race levels I pressed so hard on the trigger I was convinced it was making my hero (I liked Elysia for no reason other than she was cooler than Rayman) move quicker, react faster. It didn’t, but that’s what illustrates this game’s core compulsion: Finishing is easy, completing is what makes me a gaming god.
With so many levels, heroes to rescue, Invasion levels to complete, Back to Origins maps to command, and the main path to dominate, Rayman Legends certainly packs in the content. That’s a huge selling point, and so it should be, particularly if this format of beautifully produced and animated platforming captures any part of your gaming soul.
It’s not hard to recommend. The gameplay is expertly balanced even if it might appear familiar. The animation is exquisite for the most part, perfectly complementing the background graphics and character illustrations that imbue each frame with that certain je ne sais quoi.
No doubt Rayman Legends is not for everyone. But if you appreciate art and you’re willing to put in the hours for completion, you’ll no doubt be rewarded with a grueling and rewarding platforming experience.