My god, it’s full of Lums
Rayman Legends is a sequel to the spectacular 2D Platformer Rayman Origins. While the Rayman series has always been solid, Origins brought back 2D platforming in a way few of us expected. With absolutely gorgeous graphics that gave every screenshot the impression of a hand-drawn work of art and innovative level design Origins showed there was definitely a place for 2D gaming in the current generation. Legends shows us that there’s going to be a place for 2D gaming in every generation.
Originally designed as a Wii-U title, Ubisoft decided close to the launch date that they were going to pull the game in order to port it over to other platforms. At the time there was outrage, Rayman Legends was going to be one of the first must-have games for the Wii U, it was finished and it was ready to go at a time when the Wii-U was sorely lacking in games. Months down the line the Wii U is still sorely lacking in games, but Legends is finally here with more content and multiplatform releases. We’ve played through on the PC version to ensure we can play at the highest resolution and framerate but after seeing different versions we can assure you every platform treats this game well, the only significant differences between platforms are the controllers and the mechanics that are particular to the Wii-U gamepad.
In the main campaign there’s groups of levels separated into worlds, each with its own unique theme. At the end of each world there’s a boss level and then a music level to finish it off. The music levels are the incentives, they’re fast paced blasts through thematically changed renditions of popular songs, where you need to keep moving and take actions on the notes or beats, such as jumping or punching out enemies. They’re incredibly fun and one comes with the demo that’s available to download, a castle-based romp to the tune of ‘Black Betty’. While the music levels are certainly a nice treat after you’ve beaten a boss, there’s really no need for any incentive as every single level is an immense amount of fun.
The levels have a huge amount of variety from timed races to save teensies to vast forests with tangled roots to underwater catacombs to ploughing through fruit as a shrunken version of yourself. Ocassionally you get turned into a chicken! None of the levels feel like filler and they’re paced well enough to avoid ever becoming tedious. Each one takes around five to ten minutes if you want to find everything, and can be done a lot quicker if you just want to sprint through.When we started the game I compulsively made sure I got every single award for every level, gathering all the lums and hunting out every teensie before I progressed. I spent hours this way. and the slow pace of trying to find hidden secrets really allows you to take in the beautiful art work and detailed environments. Everything bursts with colour and life and there’s uncountable little features that you could easily miss if you sprinted through. But when I was in the mood to try and plough through a couple of worlds I could, missing lots of secrets but discovering a whole new way to play as each level becomes a kind of rhythm game, with certain paths laid out by the developers allowing you to make your way through at a full sprint while still collecting nearly everything as long as you have the reflexes and timing to pull it off. Despite being cartoony the game certainly isn’t easy and after the first few worlds just getting to the end can be a challenge, let alone doing it quickly or attempting to grab everything.
The music in the game is outstanding and puts many ‘immersive’ games to shame. Tunes are catchy and emotive, which is excellent for a game with a clear (but basic story) told with almost no dialogue. Your feelings are controlled expertly by the sounds of the game as you can instinctively recognise the tempo or the start of a chase or the danger that’s going to be up ahead. This is one of the richest games we’ve ever played in terms of art and it’s hard to imagine how they could possibly top it. Aesthetically it’s essentially perfect, with every single asset polished to an incredible degree with no weak links in the duration of what is an incredibly lengthy game.
Not only are there loads of worlds and therefore levels, but there’s also remastered version of levels from Origins and challenge courses that come in weekly or daily variations, allowing you to try to beat the times and scores of other players and friends. You’re encouraged to keep coming back and as long as Ubisoft don’t start repeating challenges too much this could extend the life indefinitely for many players. Each challenge doesn’t take many seconds to complete, but trying to faster and faster while constantly being compared to the game’s population is addictive and maddening.
In addition to all of this content, everything can be played in multiplayer, with up to four people playing any of the levels or challenges. On the Wii-U and Vita versions you can use the touch screen to help the main player or the AI progress through many of the levels by cutting ropes, manipulating levers and cutting through various materials, on the other consoles and PC these duties are assigned to the ‘Y’ or Triangle button as an AI helper does it for you. That might sound too simplified but in fact attempting to hit that button while moving at speed becomes challenging and another mechanic to master.
If there are any criticisms of Rayman Legends, they’re that the controls feel slightly floaty (it’s easy to do the wrong action, particularly in the levels where you’re being chased and moving precisely when hovering is quite difficult) and that the story or campaign has no real progression. You don’t learn new abilities like in previous Rayman games and the story is much more of the original Super Mario Bros Ilk rather than Last of Us or even Super Meat Boy. This means that while Rayman Legends is a great game to dip in and out of, it’s hard to play it for extended periods as the gameplay can start to become repetitive. Ubisoft have tried to shake things up with each new level but you start seeing the same tricks recycled and they lose a little bit of their effect every time they come round again.
This is an old-school platformer presented as possibly the most beautiful game of the generation. It’s worth buying for anybody just because of the visuals and audio, but you might rediscover a love for a simpler time in gaming too. Ubisoft have decided not to attempt to keep on making Rayman in 3D, instead they’ve gone back to refine what they had with the 2D games. By doing that they don’t have to worry about as many technical limitations, they don’t have to fight with camera angles and complex geometry, they can let their imaginations run wild and polish it to the nth degree. We only wish more developers would go back to a genre they could perfect rather than struggling with games they have to make compromises on.