Review: Rayman Legends – The Legend Lives On
Rayman has always been a bit of an unsung hero. While his more well-known platforming rivals like Mario, Sonic, Donkey Kong, and others have gotten more of the spotlight in the last decade, Rayman has instead been more of a quiet presence – under-appreciated, but always brimming with giddiness and inventive, colorful platforming romps.
Ubisoft took a big risk in 2011 by deciding to reboot the series; luckily, the risk paid off with the release of the absolutely beautiful and madcap platforming genius of Rayman Origins. By returning to the roots of Rayman’s platformer beginnings, Ubisoft’s follow-up to the game certainly had many shadows of doubt it had to face in its journey to release – not in the least of which were the mild commercial sales of Rayman Origins – including whether the demand for a new Rayman game would even be high enough. After its switch from originally launching as a Wii U-exclusive title in February 2013 to becoming a multi-platform title in September, Rayman Legends has traveled many miles and overcome many obstacles to end its journey.
Fortunately, the release of Rayman Legends proves that the journey was entirely worth the struggle. If Rayman Origins was a sweet song dedicated to the glory days of 2D platformers, Rayman Legends is the glorious sonnet that honors the timeless traditions of its genre, while proving itself as a masterpiece all its own.
Like Rayman Origins before it, Rayman Legends stars the limbless wonder, Rayman, and an assortment of his buddies (including froggy comical relief Globox, the magical Teensies, and the striking viking vixen, Barbara) in dozens of levels and challenges across the game’s 10+ hour main story in an epic quest to…well, basically disrupt an evil curse started by Rayman and friends snoring too loudly. After awakening (and severely angering) a group of Dark Teensie magicians that soon capture the ten princesses of the land (along with the rest of the Teensie population, to boot), Rayman sets off across a host of fairy tale-esque locations to conquer various challenges to rescue the Teensies, the Princesses, and restore order to his beloved world…and then probably end up taking a nap again afterward. Regardless of the silly and paper-thin plot, Rayman Legends is appropriately about as close as you can get to a living, breathing (and playable) cartoon, and the game is all the better for it.
Rayman Legends thrives on its ridiculousness for the sheer goofiness and willingness it displays to draw you into its zany but utterly charming worlds. From throwing you into the middle of a medieval castle stormed by dragons accompanied by heavy metal, or into the colorful glitz of a chaotic luchador wrestling ring, Rayman Legends is filled with color, life, and energy that radiates from every corner of the game’s design and make it anything but predictable. Each new world (and heck, each new level) introduces some sort of new mechanic, whether it be in the level design or in providing some variation on Rayman’s wall-jumping, gliding, running, and slapping abilities. Rayman Legends provides more variety of what you’re doing (and how you’re doing it) in a single world than most other games can even hope to accomplish in an entire campaign, and it probably has about 8x the fun and joy while doing it. Trust me: try not to crack a smile at the game’s fantastic Musical Levels or its funny and dynamic boss battles – Rayman Legends is just infectiously fun.
Of course, all of that wild abandon and kooky energy doesn’t go to waste throughout the game, thanks to an incredible gameplay foundation forged straight from the fires of 2D platforming’s past. Like Rayman Origins before it which took the series back to simple but fun platforming mixed with wildly intricate level design and paths, Rayman Legends continues the series’ legacy in outstandingly constructing its levels and worlds, and even more so by toeing the increasingly harder-to-reach line of accessibility vs. difficulty. The Rayman series has always been a bit of an odd mixture of platform gaming’s best attributes: combining the speed of Sonic, the hare-pin turns and jumps of Donkey Kong, and the increasingly varied worlds of Mario. Rayman Legends takes all of these elements and combines them into a mad-dash adventure romp that’s both easy to understand but difficult to master – it provides a fun an easygoing experience for newcomers, and a kinetic, frenzied experience for vets looking for a challenge.
By paying attention to the layout of platforms, enemies, jumps, and even at times listening to the zany soundtrack for timing and precise beats, it’s always a breeze rushing past the levels in Rayman Legends, and rarely a challenge to have to figure out what next to do or where to go. The trick comes in precision and mastering those layouts, and with rivaling the equally-fun-but-many-times-hair-wringing experience of Donkey Kong Country Returns, Rayman Legends is no slouch in asking for some dedicated players. With its challenging Invasion speed-run levels or some of its more demanding (but still ridiculously fun) boss encounters, Rayman Legends will definitely tire out your thumbs and maybe leave your head ringing, especially given the sometimes floaty/loose-feeling controls that lead to unwarranted deaths. In four-player local co-op this can sometimes cause things to escalate, as four players smacking each other around on the stage can become a bit disorienting, along with the added confusion of similar-looking character models and sprites that can sometimes throw things for a loop. But, despite some of these small inconveniences, you’ll still bounce through the game’s levels with at least some sort of big goofy grin on your face.
While the game may provide a bit of a challenge, Rayman Legends and its art is entirely too easy to get swept up in, even at just the quickest of glances. Rayman Origins and the introduction of the UbiArt Framework engine proved that 2D platformers had plenty of life left in them thanks to fantastic art direction and incredibly detailed animation, while the game itself almost entirely obliterates it in terms of quality. From top to bottom, Rayman Legends is staggeringly rich and bursting with detail; each frame and animation clearly shows love and care from the Ubisoft Montpelier team. From the tiniest details of each character’s run or jump, to the grand sweeping vistas and picturesque fantasy lands, to even the jiggle of Globox’s belly, Rayman Legends provides living and breathing worlds that only made me want to stop for a moment to admire and take in their sights.
I would have loved to have taken the time more to get to enjoy all the beauty that Rayman Legends has to offer – if only I didn’t have a giant wall of fire or a giant raging luchador wrestler chasing me, promising only a fiery and quick defeat.
By matching the sumptuous and abundant art and gameplay with an even greater amount of content, Rayman Legends is no quick rush like its frantic pace might have you believe. With already insanely-replayable levels (I dare you not to replay the game’s endlessly-enjoyable Musical Levels multiple, if not excessive, amounts of times) that hide secret caves and hidden Teensies waiting to be rescued, Rayman Legends only adds to the amount of challenges to complete and levels to explore and entice. The challenging Invasion levels thrust you through remixed (and often backwards) versions of previous levels with insane time limits to drive you through an intense speed run to save more Teensies.
Online Challenges are constantly refreshed daily and weekly to give you new speed runs to climb your way up to the leaderboards. A bevy of unlockable costumes and bonuses are available – both simple and cool or just insanely zany – to outfit Rayman, Globox, or any of your other brave adventurers. If the many speed runs, costumes, and other unlockables aren’t enough, you can also try your hand in 40+ levels brought over from Rayman Origins – a nice touch not only for their inclusion, but also for the care and attention put into remastering the art of each level in the engine (and art) of Rayman Legends, rather than just haphazardly putting them into the game.
Across the board, Rayman Legends is a labor of love – a game designed in mind with a love of classic 2D platforming, a love of artistry and game design, and most of all, a love of silly, zany adventure and fun. The game may have its challenges at points, but Rayman Legends exists solely to please. Whether it’s in seeing Rayman and Globox slap each other and bumble around while fighting on top of a dragon or galloping through a stage set to a mariachi-fueled “Eye of the Tiger,” it’s impossible not to crack a smile while playing. Filled with content to keep you busy for days or months (or hopefully years) and filled with even more eye-popping moments and laughs, the detail and polish around each aspect of the game – art, music, gameplay and level design – is incredible, and only better when you bring a friend (or three) along. Sure, Rayman may not have had some of the legendary status of his platforming peers in the past, but Rayman Legends proves that the unsung adventurer has an amazing tale worth telling.