Rayman Legends

Ubisoft Montpellier’s gleeful latest instalment in Michel Ancel’s Rayman series may have had a long and difficult journey to the shop shelves, but even after playing it for just a few minutes you realise it was well worth the wait. Originally penned as a Wii U exclusive, Ubisoft’s much discussed decision to go multiplatform, delaying the release of the finished game, has resulted in the rare luxury of several months worth of spit and polish. As a consequence Legends plays and looks amazing and it’s big – almost as big as some of the crazy boss fights our pint sized hero is pitted against.

In fact the game is so big it initially feels quite daunting. Five of the game’s six vastly varied worlds are open to explore almost off the bat, with a clear standout being 20,000 Lums beneath the sea, which contains stylistic nods to BioShock and Shadow Complex. Add to this just as many levels repurposed from Origins as an added bonus (an astonishingly generous gesture), daily and weekly challenges with full leaderboards, pop up timed challenges and a quirky little kung fu soccer minigame and you have an experience that is bursting at the seams with quality content. There’s a good fifteen hours of gameplay here if you breeze through it and you can almost double that if you want to put the practice in to ace every level.

Legends many times comes close to rivalling the level of unfettered creativity in Mario Galaxy

Who would have imagined back in our 16-bit youths that Mario and Sonic would be challenged by a limbless upstart for platforming throne, but following last year’s Rayman Origins it feels as though this strange protagonist with his trademark helicopter spin has been on the creative ascendency. Michel Ancel’s clarity of vision and careful guiding hand ensures that Rayman can stand proudly amongst the platforming greats. Whilst his bouncy swagger and colourful chunky levels feel similar to vintage platformers like Toejam and Earl or Earthworm Jim, the game is thoroughly modern in its execution and design. Despite its deceptively childlike presentation Rayman isn’t afraid of throwing down a challenge either, although it always feels fair with well placed checkpoints and tight controls. Each mistake is your own fault, and it’s a satisfying feeling when you sail through a level after several attempts.

Each of the game’s colourful worlds contains eight levels, including a dramatic chase, an ingenious boss fight, and a closing musical fanfare, which sees classic rock songs repurposed as choreographed pieces of platforming gold that will have you grinning from ear to ear. In fact these stages serve to further emphasise Rayman’s strength as a rhythm action game, with the platforming requiring dexterous and precise button pushes. These moments are most apparent when Murphy, Rayman’s frog sidekick, is used to manipulate levers and platforms as you run, jump and glide your way through the levels hazards. These moments were originally created with the Wii U interface in mind, where one player can use the touchscreen to manipulate Murphy. This may still be the best system to play the game on, but I was surprised how well the transition to gamepads has been.

Murphy moves automatically to the next activation point, requiring you to push the B button (or circle) at the right time. Easy enough when you’re not under pressure, but when you’re mid jump and being pursued by a wall of fire, things get pretty tense. Rather than watered down and out of place these moments feel central to the experience; yet another fun mechanic in the game’s impressive toolkit. The only slight downside to playing the game on Xbox is neither the analogue stick, nor the terrible D-pad seems a satisfying method of control, and the pad’s hard, rounded face buttons will make your thumbs sore after prolonged use.

Legends is a masterpiece of pacing, mixing up leisurely exploration with tense chase sequences (Sonic’s pursuit of Dr Robotnik in Sonic 2’s Labyrinth Zone comes to mind at times), each exquisitely crafted level using every platforming trick in the book and inventing a load more besides. Legends many times comes close to rivalling the level of unfettered creativity in Mario Galaxy, and that is the best accolade you can ever give to a platformer. Each level contains a number of captured Teensies, whose release forms Rayman’s scant narrative justification (and that’s just fine), including two which you will need to find cleverly hidden doors to get to. These doors lead to self-contained mini challenges, not unlike the challenge tombs in the fantastic Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, which are devious in their execution and demonstrate the game’s brilliant puzzle design at its best.

Rayman Legends is not only a brilliant game in its own right, but is testament to the continued importance of the genre. It not only provides a colourful and fun distraction from an industry focused on cinematic storytelling and serious themes, but a space where inventiveness, dexterity, and breezy wit can reign supreme.


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