If I were Nintendo, I'd be seething. Not just because failing Wii U sales forced Ubisoft to release a planned Wii U exclusive across multiple platforms, but because the title in question manages to comprehensively beat Nintendo at their own game. We've talked about Platinum "doing a Nintendo" with The Wonderful 101 -- a game that proves innovative, idiosyncratic, unmistakeably original and chock-full of whimsy -- but Rayman Legends is a game that bends Mario over its knee and spanks the plumber's recent work soundly.
This is, quite possibly, the best 2D platformer since the SNES era.
Origins was a fantastic game, but Legends takes things to a new level, also tossing in a bunch of Origins' stages just for fun as if to say, "Yeah, we made this too." This is a game made by a studio at the height of their powers and a cheery middle digit to any and all detractors of the 2D platformer.
I have to admit, I've been one of them, my idealism sullied by the lazy-if-solid Nintendo carousel that gave us New Super Mario Bros. Wii and U and will deliver Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze later this year. But Rayman Legends is fiercely inventive, shaking things up by delivering on the fundamental tenet that Nintendo used to espouse: giving the player something new every level.
Rayman is as resolutely floaty in his handling as ever before, but precision is very much the order of the day. Everything has a hand-crafted feel to it, and everything feels like it's in its right place. Imagine the best guitar solos you can think of, where each and every note is perfectly pitched and weighted, and you wouldn't dream of adding more or changing the positioning. Well, Legends feels like that: the levels have been designed to provoke interest and challenge skills, to promote mechanical concentration even as you begin to lose yourself in the sumptuous aesthetics. It's a beautiful, grin-inducing game, and it's not afraid to make things really difficult for you.
Speed and pacing are used to tremendous effect in Legends. There are levels where walls of fire will urge you forwards, with pitfalls and hazards placed expertly to test your timing. You'll fail often, but it never feels cheap, instead rewarding calm deftness over panicked button bashing. Checkpoints are generous, and respawns instantaneous, hurling you back into the swing of things immediately. Legends is a game that expertly engineers a smooth difficulty curve to proceedings, teaching players early on that the spacing of platforms and the gaps in between have been deliberately designed to fall at the very end off a hover cycle or an extended jump. Rayman has never been a character that excels at fine-tuning a landing in mid-air, instead these games require players to understand momentum and speed and the character's limitations. Ultimately, you understand that if you fail it's your fault, not the game's.
Nowhere is this element of fine crafting more perfectly exhibited than in the musical stages that come at the end of each world or chapter. The delights of dashing through a stage in time to the likes of Black Betty and Eye of the Tiger have been well documented, and they are joyous, exuberant, and often laugh-out-loud levels that sync the pinpoint platforming with a musical beat. But just as each jump and kick can be correlated with a cymbal crash, there's still a scoring aspect to the levels. You'll still have to judge jumps perfectly to achieve the gold cups at the end of each level and wind up with the maximum number of Lums. There are still dangers to look out for, and the manner by which the game manages to combine seemingly contradictory elements of madcap fun and platforming precision cannot fail to put a smile on one's face.
If there is a slight criticism to be made, it's that the central new mechanic here -- that Murfy is now a playable interactive character of sorts -- was so clearly designed for the Wii U that its implementation here feels a little awkward. On Wii U, when Murfy presents himself, you can control him directly via the GamePad's touchscreen, and it's the same with the Vita version. On Xbox 360, however, Murfy is relegated to a slightly inconsistent, context-sensitive, single button. If there are multiple targets on the screen, he'll flit between them automatically as you move, but the triggers are often less sensitive than one might imagine, and on trickier levels where you're switching between several interactive objects in the space of a second or two, it can all get a bit haphazard. We've not spent a huge amount of time with the Wii U version of the game, but what little we did led us to suspect that it'll be the definitive version purely on that strength. It might well be, as on Xbox 360, that the Murfy sections on Wii U prove to be the least enjoyable, but we'll have to wait and see.
That's the only criticism I have, though, for Rayman Legends is an experience stuffed to the gills with gameplay. The loading screens have you skipping about for a moment or two trying to nab an extra heart before the level begins properly. If you snatch enough Lums in a level to reach the clover symbol in between the Silver and Gold cups, you'll bag a lucky scratch card. Match three or more symbols as you rub away the silver coating, and you could win more Lums with which to obtain more content, as well as unlocking things directly such as aforementioned levels from Origins, and pet creatures for your bestiary that generate bonus Lums each day.
As a content package, too , Rayman Legends is staggering. Long after you've completed the main game, and gone through it several times to try and achieve higher scores and greater sums of Lums, there'll be persistent daily and weekly challenges to compete in. The few we've engaged in so far have been races through a level to see how far you can get, chased by walls of fire, and forced to make split-second platforming decisions. You can see the ghosts of your nearest competitors, not to mention previous runs that you made yourselves, and there's a constantly fluctuating table of results. Earn your way into the medal bands and you could receive a pretty package once the challenge time limit expires, but as the clock counts down there'll be plenty of others trying to beat your times and distances.
It's fiendishly addictive; a perfect platform for that "just one more go" style of bitesized gameplay. And then, of course, there's Kung Foot: the single-screen cross between Smash Bros. and football that the devs made to keep themselves from going insane whilst crunching for an early release (that never came). In the end, though, it made it in here and that's a blessing, because it's riotous fun with three other people on the sofa. Nintendo will mourn the loss of this exclusive (and well they should), but it means that more of us get to enjoy the delights of Rayman Legends, and that's brilliant. So too are the little details and extra bits of polish that the game's seen in the months between original and actual release dates.
- Ludicrously inventive
- Phenomenal aesthetics
- Sound design -- from the little effects to the full-blown musical levels -- is fantastic
- Insane amount of superb content
- Cracking fun with friends, co-operatively and competitively
- Gorgeous art design
- Engaging challenges to extend longevity post-release
- Murfy is a bit rubbish without a GamePad
- Offline/online multiplayer shouldn't be mutually exclusive
The Short Version: It's effortlessly charming, fiendishly challenging, mechanically sublime, and stuffed with enough content to keep us coming back for more long into the winter months. It's a blast solo or with friends, whether you're playing together directly, or trying to best one another's scores in asynchronous fashion in the challenges. Put simply, Rayman Legends isn't just one of the best platformers we've seen in twenty years, but one of the very best games. Absolutely stunning.