Several months ago, I reviewed Rayman Origins, a colorful, creative, and tightly designed platformer that I came away from about as positively as I could. As such, it seemed inevitable that I would get to its sequel, Rayman Legends, and seeing as how the game has a Switch port due out in about a week, I figured that now would be as good a time as any.
Rayman Legends Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Wii U, Switch, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Storywise, Rayman Legends is a direct sequel to Origins, beginning with Rayman and his buddies chilling out in a tree after taking care of the evil subterranean grannies from the last game who ravaged the lands with their various goons and magics. So tuckered out by their adventures, Rayman and friends end up sleeping for 100 years, and by the time they get up, the world was taken over by the dastardly evil Teensy from the prior game, who also managed to split himself into five forms now… because magic. Anyways, Rayman and pals need to venture across the lands, taking out the various baddies, saving all 700 Teensies, and recruiting the ten barbarian princesses who exist because… I don’t know.
While just as ridiculous as the storyline of Origins, I feel that there were numerous missed opportunities here, and a lot of that has to do with how the only story that can possibly be pieced together is in the form of a very short introductory cutscene, while the rest of the game has the characters popping in and out of various paintings, which unlike a world map begs many questions about what, how, and why the characters are doing what they do. Much like the first game, it’s disposable and does not make much sense, but in a less endearing way.
Anyways, the gameplay is the obvious showcase here, and just about every positive thing I said about Origins carries over here. Characters control fluidly and intuitively, with their collection of familiar abilities (running, jumping, punching, wall running, and gliding) all being enjoyable and easy to use. However, there is a level of subtlety and precision available in these fairly basic actions, which is gradually learned over time, and is eventually demanded of by the game when it very gradually increases in difficulty.
Yet the game never becomes frustrating or annoying because of this added challenge due to an approach to failure that has characters rapidly turn into a bubble after they perish, pop, and then reappear at the last checkpoint in a given level, or the beginning whatever the case may be. All of which only takes a few seconds before the player is thrown back into the action, with absolutely no punishment for their failure other than lost progress, which is rarely ever a big deal due to the generous placement of checkpoints in most levels.
Meanwhile, the levels feature interesting and unique designs throughout, with each and every stage offering something slightly unique to those that came before it. In addition, levels are quite simply enjoyable to play through, whether it be a run that prioritizes searching for as many of the collectible Lums as possible or trying to find each and every Teensy, neither of which are very difficult tasks, or one centered around simply perusing one’s way throughout the stage, enjoying the scenery. And said scenery really is quite gorgeous.
The same rigorous attention to detail and appealing character and environmental design from Origins reprises itself here, expanded to include a series of new themes that gear closer towards the realm of traditional fantasy. This execution is seen from everywhere down to the general visual style, which adopts a more painterly look, resulting in nearly every frame of the game looking like something worthy of being placed on a wall as a piece of art. The soundtrack mirrors this sentiment by containing the same general wackiness that the Rayman series has been known for, and is abundantly featured in both Origins and Legends, while also containing more serious or dramatic tracks, which often play off the wackiness of the theme, setting or situation of a given level.
Speaking of levels, along with the traditional platforming stages and expected boss stages, there are a variety of other stages that serve to add additional variety into the game. Music levels, where the player must react to a series of obstacles that are lined up in synchronicity with a song, resulting in a beautiful arrangement of obstacles, set pieces, and music that manages to capture the appeal of a rhythm game while feeling more in-line with traditional platforming conventions. Invasion levels, which require a high level of precision and mastery in order to fully complete as the player must rapidly plow through a series of deceptively devised obstacles in order to seek a form of personal satisfaction that can only be found in overcoming a difficult yet attainable challenge.
A total of 40 remastered levels from Rayman Origins, each given some rebalancing to accommodate changes to how this game handles collectibles and a visual rehaul that makes each and every stage a feast for the eyes while being just as enjoyable to play as they were in Origins. A series of weekly and daily challenges that are held via an online service that, surprisingly has not gone offline yet, and really does push the player’s platforming proficiency to the test. And finally, Murfy levels, which actually compose about a third of the new levels in the game.
The Murfy levels center around the player traversing a typical stage with the help of Murfy, Rayman’s little green friend, who has the ability to manipulate context sensitive portions of the environment which are accessed with a single button. Well, if you are playing on a system without touch controls. These levels very clearly draw back to how Rayman Legends was originally a Wii U exclusive game, and Murfy was originally designed to be used with the Wii U gamepad, either by one player as they switched between the touch screen and television screen, or by a partner using the gamepad. Keeping this in mind, it is rather clear that some things were accommodated so that all of Murfy’s actions could be simplified to one button, or two in the event where Murfy needs to tilt something.
In spite of this, these levels do offer an interesting and often slower paced take on the platforming conventions featured throughout the rest of the game, and are still rather enjoyable to play and unique, using Murfy’s abilities to add further variety into this game. Although, Murfy sometimes can be a bit picky about what objects he can and cannot manipulate when there are multiple ones in close proximity.
Similarly, there are a few gripes I had with this game, most of them being minor. The exact timing and level precision required for certain levels and challenges can honestly be a bit much at times, requiring near exact movements to be made in order to emerge victorious. There is no way to skip the scene where the Teensies are rescued at the end of every level, which can get a bit annoying after the 100th level.
The hitboxes for certain character models or objects can feel a bit too specific at times, with the biggest point of contention for me being the newly introduced lump strings, which encourage the player to collect a string of multiple Lums in a row in order to keep a Lum multiplier activated and allow the player to get even more Lums. Except on numerous occasions, I found myself missing certain Lums in the string, ending the multiplier, and encouraging me to restart the sequence, which can now conveniently be done through the menu button. Oh, and for some reason the loading screens before each level all feature framerate issues which I do not remember seeing in the PC version when I originally played it 4 years ago.
These are pretty minor minutia that are the only bits of contention I had with this game, excluding one thing, the Party of the Living Dead. An area mostly comprised of 8-bit renditions of the downright stupendous music levels of this game that attempt to mimic a “retro” aesthetic in the worst way. Firstly by taking the carefully constructed songs of the original 6 music levels and converts them into a disappointingly lame 8-bit rendition and secondly by covering the screen with a series of garbage “retro” filters that only go to make the game harder because of how it is physically harder to see anything.
The worst example of this has to be the final stage, which is also positioned as the final stage in Rayman Legends, where the game rapidly flips between different eye searing visual effects at a rapid pace. It really is a shame that such levels are in what is otherwise a collection of very strongly designed levels and in a game capable of such beautiful imagery. Yet what really irks me if how uncreative they are compared to the rest of Rayman Legends.
This is a game featuring a stage where the player characters are turned into ducks and need to be guided around by a smiley green fairy that eats through giant blocks of cheese in a land named and themed after the Day of the Dead. Where there is a music stage that requires precise platforming movements as the player character shrinks and grows while hopping around on didgeridoo snakes to the theme of Eye of the Tiger, played on what sounds like a bunch of kazoos. And where there is a stage where the player characters must descend from an inflatable island in order to sneak into a shadowy underwater base occupied by toad-men with lightning guns, set to music clearly inspired by classic James Bond films. Yet this was the best that they could come up with for remixed music levels?
In spite of that admittedly ignorable blemish, I have little to say about Rayman Legends that is not overwhelmingly positive. The game controls wonderfully, the stages are creative in both premise and design, and by combining and unifying the detailed backgrounds and animated character under a familiar banner with the introduction of more complicated shading, the game ends up looking downright gorgeous. There is so much to love about the game that, much like its predecessor, I consider Rayman Legends to not only be among my favorite platformers, but among my favorite games of all time. It is an example of pure platforming bliss, and I’ll likely revisit it every few years just to remind me of that.