We learnt of this hero’s floating limbed origins two years ago when Ubisoft unleashed upon the world its tour de force of 2D platforming, a majestic pinnacle of twitch timing gameplay infused with beautiful production values and a musical score that won awards the world over. Rightly it rose to the heady ranks of Game of the Year on many critics’ lists and, at least for me personally, reminded us why we play games in the first place. Pure unadulterated fun.
It is perhaps no surprise then that this sequel was swiftly commissioned by the giant production house Ubisoft and perhaps even less surprising that the magical formula delivered by its predecessor has been largely untouched. Rayman Legends plays wonderfully, looks beautiful and sounds fantastic. It thankfully lives up to its promise of providing more sheer fun and follows it up with a colossal mound of extra content that keeps on giving. It is more of the same, yes, but that is exactly what anyone really could have hoped for.
Everything the fan expects remains: fluid movement, instant response times and a healthy dose of madness. New players, while they may not be particularly helpfully guided by the handful of tips that appear on the screen, will still quickly grasp the concept and be running, jumping, collecting lums (the ‘coins’ of the Rayman world) and smashing through mindless foes in a matter of moments. Then they begin to climb that expertly crafted difficulty curve that sees players go from meandering fools to professional freerunners performing freakishly intense feats by the end of the game.
The thoroughly entertaining multiplayer has thankfully been left untouched. Up to 4 players can locally drop in and out and run through any level they choose, helping (or sometimes hindering) their friends. Playing with allies, while leaving the structure intact, changes the atmosphere of any level since they can interact to get to places difficult to reach while solo and death no longer casts you back to the last (thankfully close together) checkpoints. Instead your character inflates like a balloon leaving you to hover around the screen waiting for a friend to heal you. The result of this neat design is a game that is family-friendly, allowing advanced players to help those that struggle, or, since players can even hit their friends, simply get into an entertaining brawl.
In an acknowledgement that the plot (or indeed any context at all) is usually far from the mind of a 2D platforming player, the developers have eschewed the reasonably linear progression of the previous game in favour of a more open approach. The result is the Gallery, a massive plethora of themed rooms adorned with paintings, each acting as a gateway to a level. Essentially a unique playable user interface, gamers can stroll through these hallways jumping into any painting they wish, assuming it has been unlocked. Bored of the level, or the world you are currently sprinting through? Why not just move onto another world, try something new? Bored of that? Why not attempt some of the daily challenges that see you face the whole world in extreme time challenges, try your hand at lady luck by scratching cards, visit your creature den, play a swift game of crazy multiplayer ‘Kung Foot’, or even play reincarnated levels from Origins?
The level of extra content is astounding, some of it which needs further explanation, and yet more that should be discovered by the player. For example the scratchcards, gained through completing levels with a healthy dose of lums collected, are peeled apart with a neat, though rather unnecessary mini-game, awarding players with extra lums, teensies (little critters that unlock the later levels), extra levels or collectable monsters. In turn these monsters are stored in your den and, if visited daily, reward you with extra lums which unlock costume changes and other playable characters... it is collectable overload and does at times feels slightly gimmicky. Yet the rewards are so overtly thrown at you with such constant pace that it never becomes a grind, instead feeling like a gleeful mockery of the current trend of social games crammed with such collectables. In fact it works to act as a pleasant distraction before returning to the hectic pace of the main levels.
One particular addition to the game deserves a special mention for on its first appearance it caused everyone in the room to stare with wide-eyed astonishment and amusement at its barking mad insanity. Each world in the game finishes with a musical level which, given that music is cleverly instilled in every level, at first seems like a rather unnecessary addition. Yet, nothing can prepare the player for the events that follow, as Rayman leaps around the screen to the rhythm of classic rock music, enemies dancing in sync, and the scenery collapsing to the beat of a drum. What could have a been a tribute to the growing trend of rhythm-based skill games instead becomes something so absurd, so ingenious and so incredibly entertaining that it is impossible not to fall back and smile in wonder when the experience is over.
Veterans of the previous game may notice some minor differences as they progress through Legends, some interesting and refreshing, others slightly more niggling. Perhaps the most controversial and sure to split opinions, is the reoccurrence of Murfy the fairy whom originally appeared in Rayman 2: The Great Escape. Murfy is summoned (with a frustratingly long unskippable introduction scene) on certain levels to aid Rayman and friends by hitting out-of-reach levers, moving platforms, or distracting enemies. All of this is done with a touch of a button and can add an extra element of skill and strategy, however far too often the results are frustrating, unpredictable and at their very worse slightly broken. It is a design concept that does not quite live up to the stratospheric heights of the rest of the game. It certainly does not ruin these levels, but often it places a foul stench around those in which the fairy chooses to appear.
But that may be about the only criticism that can be aimed at Rayman Legends, and even that is debatable. The developers have taken the solid groundwork of Origins and grown a magnificent beast of a game, crammed with content, exuding beautiful production and expanding on the wonderful musical score (including those insane musical levels). It is about as close to a perfect 2D platformer as any game has ever managed, every second filled with satisfaction and equally deserved frustration as you try to overcome the wicked later levels or thrash a friend on the challenges. For gamers young, old, and every type in between Rayman Legends is heartily recommended.