Rayman Legends: better than the Best

Rayman-LegendsAS YOU PLAY THE LATEST instalment in the long-running Rayman series, canyon-sized grin on your face, sweat on your palms, grit in your teeth and sleep deprivation in your eyes, you may begin to ascertain what exactly it is about Legends that inspires such fervent adoration. Is it the gorgeous presentation, the exquisite soundtrack, the perfect gameplay? If you’ll forgive the glibness, yes. Yes, yes, yes and more besides. Rayman Legends is nothing short of a masterpiece, an unparalleled feat for the platforming genre and a ringing triumph for Ubisoft Montpellier and the mindscape of director Michel Ancel. To say that it is somehow superior to its immediate predecessor, Rayman Origins, is more than enough praise; to say it soundly surpasses that game in almost every regard is unimaginable. And yet, somehow, they’ve actually done it.

Little has changed from the Origins template but Legends is not so much a revolution as honed refinement. The gameplay remains largely the same; Rayman’s previously unlockable abilities are all present from the get-go with up to 4 player – local – co-op. The absence of online co-op may jar with some, but a competitive online aspect is retained via the implementation of Daily and Weekly Challenges, complete with leaderboards. Level navigation has also been streamlined, replacing the linear maps of Origins with a gallery setting, rather like a compacted, side-scrolling version of Super Mario 64’s hub. You want to go to a level in a particular world? Hop into the painting and choose from the gallery. This is the closest Legends gets to apeing Miyamoto, however – the rest of the game is delightfully idiosyncratic.

There’s nothing here that that smacks of pretension, high concept or self-importance (I’m looking at you, Limbo). There’s no sense of diminishing returns brought on by over-exposure (see: Mario) – this is old school, balls-to-the-wall, platforming gold. You want a plot? Nightmares take over the Glade of Dreams, kidnap Teensies and Rayman and his buddies have to stop them. This is a videogame story for a videogame game, a paper-thin pretext to hurl over 120(!!) levels of high-definition joy at your receptive face.

Rayman-Legends1-610x343Of those 120(!!) levels, 40 of them are remastered versions of levels from Origins, including bosses, treasure chest runs and Moskito, whose flying levels are replaced in Legends by an occasionally awkward super-punch move. When I say high-definition, by the way, I mean it. Legends is an utterly mesmerising game to simply look at; backgrounds bounce and burst with every colour under the sun. The back of the original Rayman’s (18 years young) CD case boasted of its “65,000 colours”. The old Rayman’s eyes would explode if he could behold his modern counterpart’s rainbow onslaught.

The challenge has been somewhat amped down since Origins but not significantly. You will still die – a lot – but through learning and perseverance you’ll make it past the pixel-perfect jump, the well-timed spin, the challenging boss. In an ingenious move, the developers have implemented a rhythm game sensibility with its sense of timing, particularly in the musical stages at the end of each world. These levels have you running and jumping to the beat of a famous song and I won’t spoil them for you but let me put it this way: Castle Rock is one of the single greatest platforming levels of all time. It is so simple but so effective, capable of changing an appreciative smile to a yawning crevasse of a grin.

Rayman has always done his own thing amongst the pantheon of platforming icons, never adhering to populous, never conforming to trends (Rabbids, perhaps, aside) – the love and devotion that has been lavished on every single gorgeous and impeccably-designed level is evident throughout, the mark of affection adorning every enemy, platform and background.

The most significant addition to gameplay is Murfy, who functions simultaneously as a move-a-block, snap-a-rope and enemy-tickler. Operated by a face button on PS3/Xbox 360 and the GamePad for the Wii U (on which you directly control him), Murfy levels constantly keep players on their toes, offering a subtle change of pace from the standard speed-stripe dash that gives Legends such vivacity. Though effective, it does somewhat feel like a carryover from the original vision of the game as a Wii U exclusive.

Rayman-Legends-4-610x343Load times are brief, never venturing beyond the 5 second mark and most of it is spent trying to snag a free heart before the level starts. The frame rate is wonderfully crisp and smooth, allowing the player to marvel at the fluidity of the game’s action and animations. Though the (static) camera is strangely more zoomed out than in Origins, the effect does not infringe upon the gameplay. The action is so clear it’s really quite difficult to ever lose sight of Rayman, despite so much being crammed onscreen.

There’s also the kleptomaniac collectathon of the Creatures and Origins levels. Collecting enough Lums scattered throughout each level gives you Lucky Scratch Cards which unlock these features, adding (as if you needed any) further incentive to explore every nook and cranny. There’s also a Kung Foot minigame just ‘cos. I imagine it’s great fun with friends but I haven’t played Legends with any so I cried in a corner instead. It’s just another example of how Legends bucks the platforming trend, offering up so much content with open arms.

I didn’t think Origins could be topped but Rayman Legends has succeeded with aplomb. In a gaming age so saturated with cinematic pretensions, ponderous writing and loathsome gimmickry, Rayman Legends – much like its predecessor – is a breath of fresh, vibrant, dazzlingly musical air. It is, without a doubt, the best platformer, 2D or otherwise of this generation. At last, Rayman takes his rightful place among the greats of his genre and beyond. An absolute masterclass from start to finish.