August 29, 2013
It’s almost impossible not to smile while playing Rayman Legends. Whether you’re leaping, floating and slapping your way through Michel Ancel’s sumptuous 2D platformer in single-player or co-op, there’s a kind of madcap, anarchic and joyful exuberance to it that’s undeniable. It’ll make you grin from ear to ear.
This was also true of Legends’ predecessor, Rayman Origins, but Legends isn’t just a rehash of old ground. It’s bursting with ideas and quirky invention; a sprightly, chirpy antidote to the game industry’s ongoing obsession with post-apocalyptic dread and dreariness. What I mean to say is it’s really bloody fun.
There’s a story here, of sorts. The Bubble Dreamer’s increasingly twisted nightmares have flooded the Glade of Dreams and imprisoned hundreds of little blue Teensies. It’s up to Rayman and his chums to free the Teensies and sort out the Bubble Dreamer once and for all. It’s all an excuse to give the developers free reign to let their imaginations run riot.
Which is exactly what they do. Spread across Legends’ six themed worlds are around 60 levels each introducing new mechanics and sporting an infectiously unhinged vision that’s as bright and varied as it is beautiful, each background and frame of animation painstakingly and intricately hand drawn using Ubisoft’s UbiArt Framework engine.
These worlds are brilliantly realised, drawing upon other games and mediums in a feverish mix of influences. So, for example, in 10,000 Lums Under the Sea, players are faced with sneaking their way through a set of dark, occasionally submerged levels that are part James Bond, part James Pond and quite a lot Splinter Cell, with a Her Majesty’s Secret Service twang to the soundtrack and enemies that emit a night vision goggled “Bweeeeeeep” as they're alerted.
It’s an approach taken throughout the game, as you journey through Mexican-themed feverscapes, up fantastical mountains, through the Land of the Living Dead and beyond. There’s a great amount of creative variety.
Within each level you’ll come across imprisoned Teensies. More than just collectible clutter, these little blighters are the key to progression. Simply charging from the beginning to the end of each level won’t get you very far at all. It’s collecting Teensies that opens up new levels, worlds and features. To get them all you’re going to have to work pretty hard.
To this end each standard level features two hidden areas each containing a further, vital Teensy, the discovery of which is heralded by an infectious chorus of “Oooooh”. Within these areas are small puzzles, asking you to employ one or more of the current worlds’ new mechanics - in order to reach your goal. They’re brilliant little contained diversions.
Chuck in the boss battles and the brilliantly executed music levels - which see you charging through fantastically choreographed areas to slightly bonkers cover versions of well known tunes - and Rayman Legends never gives you the opportunity to get bored, throwing idea after idea after idea at you. It’s hugely refreshing.
One of Rayman Legends’ few shortcomings is the execution of some of the Murfy levels, which see the friendly frog assist you in manipulating the environment to cut ropes and move platforms and such, allowing you to progress. You get Murphy to do his thing by pressing B when he’s in position, something you’ll often have to do while mid-jump with timing being key. When it works it works well, demanding a pleasing amount of dexterity, but as the levels get more demanding it gets a touch fiddly, tying your fingers in knots. It’s a minor complaint.
Even what could have easily been a throwaway multiplayer mini-game is great fun. It’s an utterly chaotic take on football that sees you slapping and kicking a ball into a goal within a small, single-screen arena. It had Dan and I screaming at the TV and fighting it out in some brilliantly fun couch co-op sessions. God knows how nuts it is when you play with the maximum 2 versus 2.
The achievements are mostly designed to reward progression and act as a breadcrumb trail to ensure you engage with all the game’s various modes and extras. It may not be the most creative list, but with so much going on - including online Challenges, Cup ranking rewards, Teensie rescues, creature unlocks, the ability to play through 40 Rayman Origins levels, scratch cards and all the other stuff we’ve discussed, it’s welcome.
Indeed Rayman Legends itself is hugely welcome, a recommended addition to your game collection. One of the greatest platformers of the generation, it’s proof that even 30 years after the conception of the genre and 20 years since the formula was arguably perfected, there’s still room for new ideas and new approaches. And it’s just so joyful. Like we said in the intro, it’s impossible to play Rayman Legends without a huge smile on your face.
Rayman Legends draws on a wealth of popular references to create a set of audio effects and a soundtrack that remains very much its own, exuding the same sense of fun and playfulness you’ll find in the gameplay. Fantastic.
Hand-drawn, insanely colourful, beautifully animated and gorgeously detailed, 2D art simply doesn’t get any better than this. And although I’m not convinced by some of the character designs, it’s a sumptuous game.
Despite existing within a genre that was defined and arguably perfected 20 years ago, Rayman still feels like no other platformer. Legends arrives with a ton of inventive ideas and rarely feels anything but joyful.
With around 60 levels spread across six worlds, loads of secret areas, co-op, a great little local multiplayer game, challenges and tons of stuff unlock - including a large portion of Rayman Origins - Legends offers a great package.
It’s a decent list, designed to steer you through and master the game’s huge variety of modes, level types, challenges and unlocks. With space for a couple of creative additions which will have you engaging with levels in new ways, it’s solid.
A gorgeous, joy-filled, characterful platformer. Aside from a few minor niggles, Rayman Legends deserves a place alongside the very best examples of the genre. Highly recommended.