The story of Rayman Legends is a well-known one. Originally slated to be a Wii U exclusive, Ubisoft reviewed the sales figures for another one of their Wii U-only titles – ZombiiU – and decided to delay the game and make it multiplatform.
Thank heavens that they did.
You see, Rayman Legends is something of a revolution. Yes, it gives you the high-quality platforming action that we’ve more or less come to expect from the series, with HD graphics and that beautiful art style that makes it seem that your screen is made from the finest canvas. Yes, there are doses of comedy in there that will make you laugh out loud. Yes, the controls are tight and responsive. And yes, some of the levels will test you to the edge of your abilities. But this new package contains so much more than you’d expect to find.
Take the game’s main story levels as a starting point. Six worlds made up of multiple individual levels are on offer. In other platformers, you’d venture into each successive world, expecting more of the same gameplay that you’d just gone through in the previous area, albeit with a slightly different backdrop. Not so with Rayman Legends, which provides surprise after surprise. Every world seems to introduce a new mechanic that changes things up and makes the levels contained within seem more fun and more involving than would have been the case if you were just running into another batch of straight platforming. Each world does have that platform base underneath the decoration of course, it’s just that there are slight changes each time that mix things up. “20,000 Lums Under the Sea” for example, introduces brief stealth elements as you swim around, trying to avoid lights on laser turrets. Lights that actually work as lights should, in that if something floats in front of them, they can't shine on you and you're hidden. It seems like a small thing, but it makes for some awfully rewarding gameplay. Another world brings in the ability for Rayman to change sizes, so he can squeeze through small gaps and dig into scenery that otherwise would have just been decorative. Then you've got platforms and blocks made of cake that have to be eaten by either an enemy or your sidekick - Murphy - if you want to proceed.
Murphy pops his head up multiple times. On the Wii U and PS Vita editions, if you want him to interact with the environment, you need to touch the screen to point him in the right direction. We were concerned about how this would play out on the Xbox 360 controller, but thankfully, it works wonderfully well. Murphy is activated by pointing Rayman toward where you want the little green guy to be, and pressing the B button when he gets there. Whether you need him to spread guacamole across a section to prevent fire from burning your backside, or need him to cut the rope in order to make a cage of Teensies fall so you can save them, he is ALWAYS in the right place. That’s to the developer’s credit, as there are some fast-paced sections where multiple action points exist, and accuracy is key. We didn’t once find that Murphy was in the wrong place, or had caused us to fail a level by not getting somewhere quick enough. In fact, the control is so tight here, that we can’t see how touchscreen controls would be any quicker or more accurate. That's saying something. The fact that Murphy adds a genuine extra dimension to proceedings is nothing but a boon, when it could have gone so badly wrong.
Outside of the main worlds, Rayman Legends packs an awful lot of punch. Forty or so remastered Rayman Origins levels can be unlocked and played through again – all in glorious HD, for example. On top of that, completing levels in the main worlds will unlock “Invasion" versions of those levels, which are timed challenges that are entirely different to the level that you completed. And these are deliciously moreish, too. Completing an invaded level within 40 seconds will reward you with three Teensies - who are the little blue folks that you’re looking to save - but take longer and the Teensies are gradually shot into the sky on the back of a rocket. To say that you’ll try to beat these levels again and again in order to get all three of the little blue fellows is probably the understatement of the year. Once you've done that, you'll probably try and beat the best times from around the world, given that every invasion level has its own leaderboard. The completists will probably find that Rayman Legends takes them weeks or even months to complete. There are 700 Teensies dotted around the 123 levels, daily and weekly challenges to be had - which can be "endless runner" type levels, collection games, or timed events (as well as "extreme" versions of these) - trophies to be won based on the number of Lums you collect in a level, and “Awesomeness” cups to be collected. There are also 60 creatures to find for your trophy cabinet. You can also play "Kung Foot" - a simple, single-screen multiplayer soccer game. If that wasn’t enough, you can also rescue some 25 “Heroes” – all of whom can be used to play the main game. Don’t like Rayman? Switch him out for the Pixar-esque Barbara. Fancy playing as a Teensie? Go for it. This in itself is a wonderfully attractive feature, as each character has their own distinct animations and attacks, so much so that at times playing through a level a second time with a different hero can feel like a whole new experience.
There's even a slight danger of it feeling like it’s all too much. As if there’s just way too much stuff available to do. A rare complaint, yes, but sometimes you won’t know where to start, or what to do next. Do you scratch the scratchcard you just won and see if it awards you a new set of Rayman Origins levels, or do you go and check out the creatures to see your new finds? Do you take part in a daily challenge, or do you go and finish that level that you were stuck on earlier? Have you got enough Lums to unlock a new hero, or enough Teensies to unlock that level in the last world that you couldn’t play before? You can approach things however you want to (within reason), but some will find the sheer number of choices to be a little overwhelming from time to time. Whether or not this is a negative entirely depends on the player.
We can’t let the review pass without mentioning those musical finale levels. The “Black Betty” level is breathtaking on the first run through, as many will have seen from playing the demo. That’s the finale at the end of the first world, and it only gets better from there. Some are stronger than others of course, but all of the musical levels are a great laugh and superbly scripted and scored. When you think about it, platform action set to music is such a simple idea. The best ideas often are.
Without a doubt though, the highlight of Rayman Legends is the challenge. The earlier levels are simplicity itself. Fun, but rarely enough to cause you an issue. Later on, you’ll be cursing at the screen as you hit the jump button just a little too late and get stuck as a chasing wall of fire is about to engulf the little guy. Fortunately, lives aren’t counted. If you die, you go back to the last invisible checkpoint and have another go. This can sometimes throw a veil over the reality of the challenge, and make you feel as if you’re making easy progress as you get to attempt the same section four, five, or a hundred times in a row. But when you “complete” a level and find that you’ve only saved one or two of the Teensies, get to the end and only get a bronze cup when all the Lums are counted up, or stumble across a particularly tricky secret puzzle room, you realise exactly how tough this game can be.
Tough? Yes. Infuriating? Never. Just like the best games ever created, the blame is never with the controls or with unfair AI. It’s always with the player, and that creates that beautiful almost-infinite loop that causes you to put the controller down, pick it up again for just “one more go”, and then find that you’ve played for yet another hour.
In a world where platform games are seemingly easier to make than ever, they appear to grow more and more stagnant as format holders and publishers feel comfortable in creating the same games that they were making a decade ago. Rayman Legends represents a real evolution for the genre. The game is varied, expansive, challenging, entertaining, funny, beautiful to look at, and is as close to platforming perfection as we’ve seen in a very, very long time. After many attempts and a multitude of below average spinoff titles on every format known to man, the series has finally fulfilled the promise that we saw in the first game way back on the original PlayStation.
Rayman has made it to the same level as Mario and the rest of the elite. With Rayman Legends, it sometimes feels like he's building a new platform above them, so he can stand alone as the one true king.