Also On: Wii U, Xbox 360, PS Vita, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Players: 1-4 (local)
Rayman Origins was a love letter to old-school two dimensional side-scrolling platformers, and it seemed rather unlikely that Ubisoft would be able to easily match or top the experience. Somehow the Rayman team at Ubisoft dug deep and returned with an even more brilliant new Rayman title that could most definitely be described as "legendary".
Not that it matters much, but Rayman Legends does have a story of sorts that sets the stage for the platforming adventure. Rayman and his buddies are apparently just hanging out in the forest one day when they come across a magical tent which just so happens to be filled with old paintings. Upon closer inspection of the tent, Rayman, Globox and the Teensies become trapped within this gallery of mysterious artworks, and it's up to Rayman to find a way to set them free.
Rayman Legends started out as a timed exclusive Wii U release, which was going to seemingly take advantage of the GamePad controller in some exciting and interesting ways. When it was later revealed that the game would be delayed and that it would launch simultaneously with the PS3, Xbox 360, PC and PS Vita versions, Wii U owners were understandably angry. From a business standpoint however, Ubisoft probably made the right decision… but I digress.
In terms of gameplay, Rayman Legends hasn't changed much. Rayman (or whichever hero you choose to play as) has pretty much a full set of abilities right from the start, and that includes punching, jump kicking, dashing, charge attacks, wall jumping, hovering, and a few other simple techniques. The controls are super smooth and as responsive as you would expect from a Rayman game, and the levels are diverse and mostly well-paced (more on that later). The bosses, and especially the music rhythm-based, post-boss levels are absolutely top notch. Nearly the entire game can be played with up to four local players simultaneously (5 on the Wii U), which is certainly a nice touch. But that's not what makes the game special.
Ubisoft has expertly woven together the game's adventure with leaderboard challenges, unlockables, and fun (local) mutiplayer gameplay that keeps the game moving at a brisk pace and never gives players an opportunity to want to stop playing. The game hub of sorts is built around a gallery of paintings, and the way in which the game is structured really encourages gamers to play a variety of modes. Lums and Teensies can be collected all throughout the modes, both of which are used to unlock more levels (including remixed Origins stages), characters and gameplay experiences. After playing a few bits of the story mode, daily, weekly and extreme leaderboards challenges open up which are tied to a ranking system that will contribute to your all-important levels of awesomeness. There's a news ticker in the gallery also which constantly keeps you in the loop on the challenges and progress that friends have made in the game as well. These dynamic challenges are quick and fun and I found myself playing them pretty much every night in an attempt to earn a gold, silver or bronze cup on the leaderboards for the day. The game isn't particularly difficult though it is packed with quite a lot of content, which becomes rather apparent even after playing it for a short time.
Nearly every level, set-piece and world Ubisoft built for the game is a home run, except for a few of those which were originally designed for the Wii U GamePad. There are a few levels and sections which require the use of Murfy, a secondary character who can help out Rayman by manipulating platforms and harassing enemies with the touchscreen (or buttons on a controller). With the GamePad or another controller a second player can assist the first player by performing these functions. If playing solo, Murfy is controlled by the CPU and his actions triggered by a simple button press or two. These segments, especially further on in the game when they get more difficult, kill the pacing to an extent. In levels that feature speedy forced scrolling, trying to control both Rayman and Murfy simultaneously can require a bit of finger gymnastics and more than a few restarts. This review is based on the PS3 version, but it appears that even with the Wii U GamePad or Vita touchscreen, these bits would still slow down the pacing. Rayman Legends has several such levels, but since Rayman has unlimited lives and the game itself has generous checkpoints, they are more annoying than frustrating.
Utilizing their UbiArt framework, Rayman Origins was total eye candy for fans of 2D platformers. The gorgeous hand-drawn, high resolution environments and incredibly well animated characters looked right at home on modern Full HD displays. Rayman Legends introduces an updated rendering engine based on the UbiArt tech that somehow manages to top what they did in Origins. The style has changed slightly, but the whole game has what feels like another layer of visual polish, especially when it comes to lighting, more complex animation and special effects. There's no way that the next generation of consoles I imagine would be able to improve on what is already a near flawless presentation.
The game's soundtrack absolutely must be mentioned as well, since like the visuals, it's totally impressive in terms of both composition and quality, and syncs up with the more medieval-themed adventure perfectly.
Rayman Legends is an enjoyable and accessible experience with some fun social features wrapped up in gorgeous visuals and a lush soundtrack. If you have any love for side-scrolling platformers, 2D art or Rayman, jumping into Rayman Legends on any platform should be an absolute treat.