Rayman is back for more frantically fun platforming action. While Rayman Legends was released last fall for all current gen systems, it's seen a recent release on the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. We decided it was about time for us to finally put the little guy through his paces.
One of the most common phrases I heard for the most recent Muppets movie was that it was "not cynical;" in other words, that it just had fun and didn't look at the world with a large grain of salt in its mouth and a chip on its shoulder. Rayman Legends feels like the video game world equivalent. It doesn't try to tell a serious story, or do something clever with the meta-game or ludonarrative dissonance. It is simply (beautifully), purely (wonderfully), a platformer that is a platformer.
The main campaign takes Rayman and friends across five different worlds spanning 48 levels. The goal in each level is to make it through by running, jumping, floating, and even swimming, all the while collecting the imprisoned Teensies along the way. The more Teensies you grab, the more levels you unlock. It’s all very straightforward, yet there’s something more there. Each level is carefully crafted and executed. Many of the platformers I play today feel as if they focus on the challenge aspect of the genre; can you time your jump right to make it to the next platform or get the fastest time. There are certainly levels where those kinds of elements come into play - many of which are found in the optional “Invasion” levels - but for the most part, Ubisoft Montpellier focuses more on how to get the most out of the basic running/jumping/punching mechanics.
For example, the first level you encounter in the Fiesta de los Muertos world sees you turned into a duck by an evil Teensy wizard. You’re quickly brought to a road block in the form of a giant piece of cake. That’s when Murphy, Rayman’s magical helper, appears to lend his jaws to the task. Murphy will eat through entire sections of cake at your command and while initially it’s a simple matter of having him eat it all, later on, you have to be choosy as to which sections he eats and which he leaves alone. In another level, you have to swim past devices that shoot on sight and whose view is obscured by random pieces of trash or rock floating in the water.
One of my personal favorites is actually early on in the game where you’re racing through a series of wooden ships that are sinking into the sand. While it can be a bit frantic and crazy at times, there are well-placed “relax” sections where you have a chance to to catch your breath and prepare for the next sinking ship.
That is what I find most impressive about Rayman Legends. Every time you feel like you’re about to hit that point of snapping a controller in half due to frustration, the game backs off. It gives you a moment to catch your breath, come back from the edge, and get ready for the next challenge. This may happen midway through a level, or even with the way the levels themselves are encountered. While the levels do get progressively harder there are some that feel easier than the one before or the one after. Again, Ubisoft Montpellier shows its talents at and understanding of the platform genre by pacing these levels so well.
Without a doubt, the best levels overall are the music levels. Each of the main five world ends with a boss fight and then a music level. These levels are more along the lines of the “constantly running, jumping, and timing your jumps right” challenge sort, but they have their own twist. As you run and jump through these levels, you are given a soundtrack that plays in sync with your actions. The most famous example is the “Eye of the Tiger” level that was shown off in a trailer for the game. While these levels are carefully scripted to hit certain beats and moments just so, they are done in such a way that you don’t feel it.
All you feel is the joy of running through a level as “Black Betty,” or Antisocial’s “Trust,” or an original work by one of the game’s musical composers, Christophe Heral, plays alongside you. The only complaint about these levels? They’re too short. If Ubisoft put out a $15 downloadable title with 6 or 7 full-length levels done in this style, with additional DLC tracks down the line, there’d be a whole new “musical game” boom.
Aside from the main campaign, there's a bonus world with challenge versions of the game's music levels, daily and weekly challenges, and 40 remastered levels from Rayman Origins. All for the low, low price of just $40 and most of which are cooperative, with the exception of the challenges which are limited to just single player.
Rayman Legends supports up to four players locally with each player being able to select from the many colorful variations of Rayman, friend Globox, Teensies, and the Princesses (ladies in viking helmets wielding battle axes) that are tied to the worlds themselves. All players share the same screen, however, the screen can progress past lagging players leading to some unintentional deaths. Fortunately, these characters become floating balloon versions of themselves and the controlling player can guide his or her character to another player who simply has to punch the balloon to revive his fallen comrade.
That particular system of revival doesn’t always work out well. Not all of Rayman Legend’s levels are a frantic rush through the stage but many of them do have portions where you’ll be having to run and jump with a fair degree of precision. Getting revived right in the middle of such a sequence will usually mean another quick death. What’s more, those levels that are a rush through the stage progress at the pace of whichever player is in the lead and whoever falls behind gets killed. More than once while I was playing with a friend one of us would move ahead on the screen and the whole screen would shift forward to that person, leaving the other one to become one with the “balloon-iverse.” This doesn’t happen too often, but it can be quite frustrating when it does.
When Rayman Legends was released on the current-gen systems last fall, it did so after a disappointing delay and, like its predecessor, amidst a number of other high profile releases. Its release on the next-gen systems is a chance for it get out there more in the public eye as folks wait for more releases on those systems, and I hope that it does. There have been few other platformers that I’ve played that have resulted in me sitting there with a big, happy grin on my face while I do so. It may briefly disappear during a particular moment of frustration, but then the next level comes along and so does that smile.
Rayman Legends is gaming fun its purest essence.
The Co-Optimus Review of Rayman Legends is based on the Playstation 4 version of the game.