When the original Rayman was released in 1995, the title defied convention. The game’s sprite-based, hop-and-bop action diverged from the three-dimensional fighters, shooters, and racers which dominated the PlayStation’s launch library. Nearly two decades later, franchise director Michel Ancel is still challenging the status quo. Although the 2D platformer has experienced a decline in popularity, with output largely restrained to entries from Nintendo and indie developers, recent release Rayman Legends reminds us of the power of the genre. Ushering in salubrious sophistication and innovation, the title is one of the most blissful and indulging experiences to be found on console this year.
Like 2011’s Rayman Origins, Legends’ superiority stems from its peerless level architecture. The title’s traditional stages are remarkably sinuous, encouraging players to traverse each level in a single, uninterrupted flow. Most entries in the genre divorce the rudiments of platforming, creating a disjointed jumble of navigation, item collection, and combat. With Legends, elements are typically fused into graceful union; with cadence broken only by player miscalculation. More importantly, Legends feels remarkably responsive- with the game’s persistently sixty-frame per second delivery and impeccable responsiveness permitting pin-point accurate leaps, speedy wall jumps, and precise underwater navigation. An abundance of glowing Lum (the game’s insect-like currency), giant coins, and captured Teensies, persistently dangle just out of reach, inspiring a bit of elaborate maneuvering from gamers. When these challenges are coupled with a sizeable amount of surreptitious passageways, Rayman Legends has the capacity to become a near-compulsion for completionists.
Fluidity is also in abundance in Rayman Legends’ new cooperative play mode. Here, one or more players use conventional controllers to direct the on-screen protagonists, while another utilizes the Wii U’s Gamepad to guide Murfy the Greenbottle. Initially, Murfy’s duty of environmental manipulation feels like busywork for participants who haven’t developed platforming proficiency- yet still yearn for a sense of involvement. But before long, it’s clear that the character is crucial to the survival of the party, as Murfy faces an increasingly hectic load of route construction and enemy elimination, as players tap, swipe, and twist the second screen to ensure the safety of the team.
As the New Super Mario Bros. series demonstrated, adding more playable characters may be comical but can also introduce a whole new set of issues. Mercifully, protagonists in Rayman Legends’ don’t wildly rebound off each other, instead extended the ability to climb cooperatively. Characters left behind are enclosed in a bubble which lingers on the screen border until a benevolent player brings them back into to the fray. That said, Legend’s liquescent (non-Murf) levels tend to convert multiplayer sessions into a rushing cascade, dragging any dawdlers into befuddling whirlpools on the fringes of the screen. Perhaps that’s the reason why online co-op is nowhere to be found.
When single players are forced to direct Murfy, Rayman Legends’ AI is normally up to the task, waiting for walkways to be hewed or enemies excised before proceeding. That said, the game’s impulsion to extract every last collectable from a game is disrupted by the CPU, whose main motivation seems to be to exit a level safely. It’s pretty frustrating to spy a wayward Teensie writhing for help and have Rayman or his cohorts ignore the plea. Still, the cooperative-focused stages are in minority and when viewed in conjunction with stealthy segments and rhythm-platforming, are just part of Legend’s delightful sense of variety.
Beyond the lengthy core campaign, there’s a wealth of content to keep player occupied. Daily and Weekly Challenges offer abbreviated tests for players- where they are pitted against asynchronous ghost rivals. Pleasingly, success isn’t measured against a fixed benchmark, but against Rayman Legend’s online community. So earning a silver medal at the commencement of a Challenge doesn’t insure a lot of Lums at the end of the competition. For gamers who enjoy direct rivalry, Kung Foot offers an entertaining multiplayer mini-game that adapts the game’s mechanics into a soccer variant. Amazingly, developer Ubisoft Montpellier even found the time to shoehorn in forty remixed levels of Origins, catapulting the stage count over the century mark.
Aesthetically, Rayman Legends is the reigning showcase of the Wii U’s capabilities. Putting out two different images on television and Gamepads, the game’s refresh rate is resistant, rarely affected by a flurry of on-screen activity. Visually, the game is consistently opulent. Playfields are filled with parallax scrolling and sumptuously drawn art, while diminutive details fill every screen with charm. Animation for character, environments, and boss characters isn’t just seamless, but filled with little nuances only discerned after replay. Gratifyingly, Legends’ sounds match the competence of its graphics, offering everything from stirring melodies, orchestrated symphonies, to licensed tracks remixed in unconventional (and often comical) ways. While it might seem odd to praise a user interface, the game’s menu system is to be commended. Allowing both quick navigation and persistently alerting players to new unlockables and leaderboards that offer both global and country-based charts, Legends’ menu trumps the responsiveness and functionality of the Wii U’s internal UI.
Imagine all of the qualities of an ideal platformer, and chances are Rayman Legends has the feature. From an extended campaign that accommodates both individuals and groups up to five players, the title exhibits a remarkable scalability. For those who have trouble staying monogamous to a single title, Legends’ drip feed of unlockables, Daily and Weekly Challenges, stage remixes, as well a as persistent leveling system all goad gamers into exclusivity. While Nintendo fans might harbor a bit of resentment from the purported delay of the Wii U version, overlooking Rayman Legends would mean missing out on what will surely be one of the best platforming titles of this era.
Rayman Legends was played on the Wii U with retail review code supplied by the publisher.