The 2D platformer has seen a big resurgence this gen. The downloadable space has given us gems like Super Meat Boy and N+. Retail has seen everything from the creation-based LittleBigPlanet to the multiplayer madness of New Super Mario Bros. Wii to the challenging return of Donkey Kong Country. A couple of years back, Rayman returned to his 2D platforming roots with the beautiful Origins, but it is the sequel Rayman Legends that in my opinion has taken the crown for best 2D platformer of the generation. And given the competition that is a huge compliment.
Rayman: Legends builds on the excellent platforming of its predecessor. Instead of earning abilities as you progress, you’ll have everything from the outset which includes a deep roster of moves from wall-bounding to floating to the still incredibly fun ability to run along walls and ceilings. And small new tweaks like the way that mid-air attacks don’t slow your momentum pay big dividends as well. These are all put to great use in the game’s stellar level designs which encompass many different styles of levels. Some will have you jumping around exploring the environments at your own pace while others will have you constantly moving at a full sprint while navigating the hazard-filled platforming courses. One new twist on the latter has you playing along to some licensed music like “Eye of the Tiger” by timing your jumps and attacks to the beat of the songs. It’s a fun way to cap off each world and comes as a final reward after besting each area’s clever boss fight.
The world themes also deserve kudos. The subtitle Legends hints at direction they go in here. You’ll travel through a medieval land and then later an ancient Olympia-styled area. And showing just how talented the developers behind the game are, they manage to take stealth elements (which are often tricky to incorporate in non-stealth games) and swimming (which can be disastrous in any game) and combine them into a spy-themed world that works wonderfully. Great swimming mechanics with an interesting stealth twist and plenty of memorable moments (including a surprisingly funny Ocean’s Twelve reference) and you end up with one of my favorite stretches in the game.
Much talk prior to release focused on the new Murfy levels. I was kind of worried myself they would hold the game back especially since they were designed for the Wii U and I was playing the PS3 version. I was happy to find I enjoyed these levels as well. On PS3, you control Rayman like a normal platforming level with Murphy actions relegated to several buttons on the controller (mainly L1/R1 to rotate things and circle to move various platforms). It ends up just adding an extra element to the typical Rayman gameplay. For example, sometimes you will have to bounce off a platform to another wall, then have Murfy move the platform so you can hop off do another bound and reach a higher area. Admittedly some levels work better than others, but they add a bit more variety to the proceedings and have some unforgettable moments of their own. My favorite being the final level of this type where you have to wall-run up and around this one area while using Murfy to keep positioning various platforms so Rayman can continue scurrying along ceilings and walls as a dragon chases behind you. I wouldn’t have minded there being less of these style of levels compared to the more traditional ones, but it is hard to complain too much with the game being as good as it is. As for whether these levels are better the way I played them (same on PS3, 360 and PC) or the touch-controlled versions (Wii U and Vita), I’m not really sure. I would guess the PS3 way is better for singleplayer and the Wii U better for co-op, but I have only played the demo for the Wii U version, so it is definitely tough to say for sure. Either way I think they are more fun than they seemed at first glance and even if they aren’t your cup of tea with everything else on offer here, I think people will still enjoy this game immensely.
If you’ve seen anything on this game, you’ll know how beautiful it is. It features the same gorgeous hand-drawn artstyle rolling at a smooth 60 frames per second as Origins, but this time around they have added some 3D elements which work better than I thought they would. It makes for a sight to behold and as good-looking a game as any out there right now. Also worth noting is how much I loved the new princess designs. Each world has two unlockable female characters and there is just something about their look, animations and some of their actions that I found striking and funny. I rarely use unlockable characters until a second playthrough, but I liked some of these so much, I found myself switching between them and Rayman often throughout the adventure. I particularly loved Ursula, Olympia and Barbara. And finally the music is great and perfectly fits each world. The medieval and spy tunes have stuck with me in particular.
My only complaints would be in a couple of ways where Legends falls short of its predecessor. I found it to be much easier to get all the lums and teensies on my first run through a level in Legends compared to Origins. Throw in the lack of time trials for each level and I missed that feeling of having to really replay each level to master it that Origins’ had. The Land of the Living Dead World isn’t a good replacement for the Land of the Livid Dead level in Origins either. The game just generally isn’t as challenging as Origins because of those things and some overly generous checkpoints. Having said all of that, it still isn’t a pushover from a difficulty perspective. And some of the new content makes up for these lacking elements. It includes some remade Origins levels, has some daily and weekly challenges to compete with other players online via leaderboards and ghosts, and one of my favorite additions, the new Invaded levels. These are reworked levels that task you with completing them in 40 seconds. Some of these really test you to find the right combination of routes and moves to make it through in time. Besting a tough one gives you one of those great fist-pumping, “Fuck Yeah!” moments like only great skill-based games can and I found them very addicting. I still would have liked time trials in the traditional Rayman levels, but these tough Invaded levels take the sting out of that omission a bit.
Pitch-perfect platforming and inventive level designs. Gorgeous visuals and fun new worlds to explore. Loads of varied and rewarding content. And most importantly fun as hell. Rayman Legends delivers one of the best experiences this generation of consoles. If it weren’t for the even more brilliant The Last of Us, this would be my front-runner for Game of the Year. An absolute must-play for any platforming fan.