“Things are happening! Shouldn’t you be running to the right?” is the story of Rayman Legends concisely. Well, Rayman Origins wasn’t Moby Dick or even The Hungry Caterpillar in its storytelling either. In spite of the underwhelming tale, Rayman Legends is sidescrolling, platforming perfection. Running around as a dismembered man-ish thing has never been more fun. Despite a corporate mishandling-of-sorts by Ubisoft in early 2013, the game has surfaced unscathed and simultaneously on Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, and Wii U. While this is a simultaneous release and there are changes that may affect the experience on the other consoles, consider this a Wii U review that I hope more or less translates to the other console experiences.
Plot-wise, I have already made jabs at this game, but this lacking isn’t a problem. This game revels in the fact that it is a videogame and, instead of tacking something on, the game creators have embraced the absurd. This gives Rayman Legends leeway to go from impossible setting to impossible setting with artistic abandonment, all for the pleasure of the creators and, ultimately, the player. Rayman and his eclectic friends, who range from blue blobs to ginger Vikings to teensy people, are all working together to save the world presumably, though the game isn’t explicit in saying so. What the game lacks in plot is recouped in the game’s personality, which is unlike anything else. My only complaint about the story is that when it was over, I didn’t know that it was over. There seemed to be no buildup whatsoever of a final conflict.
The characters each look like pieces from different puzzles shoved together, but instead of clashing, this combination works really well. This rag tag team travels through forests, fiestas, an underwater laboratory, and more. Each world is distinct and vividly realized. The backdrops of the levels have more detail than necessary, and while I shouldn’t have stopped to look at the artwork when chased by a hoard of enemies, I just couldn’t help myself. It is, in every sense of the word, stunning. I felt that I was playing a comic book set in a world that is somehow off, though it is difficult to place. Some enemies are bandaged, repulsive, or just plain eerie. Whereas some games are tired or bland in their design, Rayman Legends cranks the dial to full-tilt gorgeousness and detail—it is an eyeful. The game’s score is memorable too as each of Rayman’s levels is accompanied with music that matches the world themes. My personal favorite tracks were in the underwater lab, which felt like listening to a James Bond score as I snuck through the facilities.
Gameplay is better than ever in Legends. If you are new to the series, Rayman has its own distinct platforming feel. Rayman is not Mario in his control, he is lighter and can float in the air before gliding back to the surface. While this lighter character takes some getting used to, eventually it is hard to resist. Good platforming creates a world that feels right, wherein the controlled characters are predictable and the fault lies with the player’s skill when something goes awry. This is the case with Rayman, who can be propelled through levels at both casual and breakneck speed. This gives Rayman the feeling of control and reliability that Mario offers and the beat-this-level-as-fast-as-you-can pace of Sonic at his best.
Aside from the basic levels in which the player must reach the goal collecting lums and saving as many royal teensies hidden throughout the level, there are other varieties. Boss levels are less challenging than this game’s predecessor, most especially because there are respawn checkpoints throughout the stages of the battle. The pattern and method to killing these bosses is simpler, which some will see as a fault. There are levels which encourage multiplayer (on the Wii U) affectionately called Murphy levels, wherein player one uses the gamepad to shift elements of the world by touching, tapping, and tilting the Nintendo Wii U gamepad as necessary, giving the other players the ability to progress. Playing these stages with multiple players is a lot of fun, but highly recommended. Should you choose to play these stages alone, player one still needs to be Murphy and the computer-controlled player is fine, but may not scope out secrets easily. There are a lot of Murphy levels, and depending on whether or not you have friends, could be the bane of your gameplay experience. If you are looking for single-play only or are a loner, I suggest the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, which deal with this issue. Another level variation is the music levels, which are a blast, however easy they may be. The players run non-stop through a course with enemy encounters that match up to the notes in a song, which include some original hits and classics like “Eye of the Tiger,” done in a mariachi-band style. These levels are gems and will likely be played multiple times. More variety awaits the player in each world in the form of mazes, escapes, something close to stealth, time attacks, and more, which puts this game above many of its contemporaries.
Another element essential to the Rayman Legends experience is its overworld and community integration. The overworld is set up like an art gallery, perhaps as homage to Super Mario 64. A painting that leads to a level gallery represents each world. This is a cool setup and perfect for the game’s general whimsy. The game has a running total of the lums and teensies you have collected throughout the game (think of them as coins and completion tokens respectively). By collecting these, one can unlock levels and new character skins. In the challenges gallery, players can take on ever-changing daily and weekly challenges along with the rest of the Rayman Legends community. In these challenges, trophies are earned by beating another player’s completion time or distance completed in various challenge types like unending levels or levels that end upon collecting one hundred lums. This addition is the best of the Rayman Legends additions and it is fun to challenge the ghosts of your friends and perhaps bump them out of daily or weekly rankings, the trophy benchmarks of which change as more people take on the challenge and outrank one another.
And here it is, the first meta penultimate paragraph wherein I more often than not make my complains about the game and, this time, it feels like stabbing someone in the back. I am a huge fan of the recent Rayman titles because I love platforming that feels good. I also feel like Rayman is often underrated by the community at-large, since platforming has gone from the dominant game type in the 80’s and 90’s to the backburner today by the inundation of first-person shooters and casual game culture which is, for better and worse, the world we live in. For the sake of critique, however, there are a few problems I have with Legends. The first of which is the inclusion of “Back to Origins” levels which are additional levels all pulled from Rayman Origins. In this case, more is not better. While Legends is an easier, more varied experience, Origins is brutal in its boss fights (which is good) but sometimes monotonous in its design, mostly because I played the original game only two years ago. My particular beef is with the mosquito levels in Origins, of which there are many, and they are not fun in the least; even single-player Murphy levels are preferable. The inclusion of Origins levels shows what was good about Origins but is outshined and outclassed by Legends. Not only that, but lovers of the series have already played Origins, so adding these old levels feels like an unwelcome and hastily-done addendum to a polished game. The bonus levels in Legends, a reward for completing the majority of the game, are more music levels. This sounds fantastic, but only at first. These new levels are reskinned versions of the music levels throughout the game, however, the new skins are distractions. One blurs the screen, one makes the game look like it is being played in a fishbowl, and one looks like the level was thrown in a goddamned blender. I feel like a nark complaining about this, but it is, at its core, a cheap move. What players got from completing Origins was the hardest Rayman level ever conceived, but in Legends, they get levels that look like scrambled porno channels, but way less fun.
In short, Rayman Legends is a perfected formula for the new Rayman franchise, but the additions to the game are nothing short of uninspired. Thankfully, the game proper is still an improvement upon the original in that it offers new fans a handicap and old fans a new, more beautiful world to explore. The Murphy levels and internet additions give the series new life in multiplayer and online worlds. The challenges, in particular, offer renewed challenge every time the game is turned on. Play Rayman Legends because it is the best platformer of the year and offers up gameplay that is unparalleled and, frankly, scary for sometimes-run-of-the-mill Mario. Hell, it even does water levels right. It must be said though, however begrudgingly: I’m afraid that its relatively few but egregious flaws may keep it from being a touchstone of this generation.
Vinny Orsillo | @VinnyOhGames