Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC, PS Vita
Release Date: September 3, 2013
ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older
This game was reviewed using a PS3 retail copy provided by the publisher
Before 2011, Rayman hadn't been a relevant IP for years, even if he did help kickstart the Rabbids series of games earlier in the generation, but that quickly changed when Rayman Origins took video game critics by storm. While previous Rayman titles before it got lost in the trend of 3D platformers, Origins returned the limb-less hero to his original 2D-platforming glory and turned the genre on its head by giving us fast, loose gameplay mixed with whimsical humor.
It was no surprise then, that the world was ready for more when its sequel, Rayman Legends, was announced. Not only did Legends look to expand even more on Origin's concepts, it would also give us entirely new ones, like levels set to the rhythm of a song. And after what amounts to a nearly year-long delay from its original release, is this the Rayman game we've all been waiting for?
Once again, the plot is barebones, but a game like this scarcely needs one. It turns out that Rayman and his blue pal Globox have been sleeping for a century, and in that time, the Bubble Dreamer's nightmares grew in strength and number, and the 10 princesses of the land and all of the teensies have been captured by the nightmares and the five dark teensies. Thus Rayman and his pals set out to rescue the captured and return peace to the land.
Let's not beat around the bush here - if you played Origins, you'll know mostly what to expect when you start playing here, as Legends doesn't stray too far from what the former game established. The gameplay is still as fast and furious as ever, with a few new tricks and plenty of new levels and variants. Think of it as an expansion of sorts on Origins, like Super Mario Galaxy 2 was with the first Super Mario Galaxy. However, the first major noticeable difference in Legends is the change from a world map to a 2D hub world where you enter different rooms and jump into paintings that represent each level. I didn't mind the change in the end, but I would be lying if I said I didn't miss the overworld from Origins.
Also notable is the introduction of new playable protagonist, Barbara the Barbarian, who literally has an axe to grind with the game's villains. She controls similarly and yet differently from the other three main heroes; whereas Rayman controls a bit more loosely, she's a bit more stable and balanced. I actually played more as her as well as her fellow princess cohorts (all of which are variants on Barbara's design) throughout the game than Rayman or the others.
Each world in Rayman Legends consists of a number of normal platforming levels, followed by two challenge levels that you need to complete in order to unlock that world's two princesses, followed by a dedicated chase level, boss level, and musically themed level at the end. Much like in Origins, the normal levels span the gauntlet of experiences, always keeping things fresh with new gameplay mechanics in every world. In fact, each world focuses on different types of platforming; for example, the Fiesta de los Muertes world (based off of the Spanish holiday, "Day of the Dead") mixes in a new ability that sees Rayman switch from normal size to tiny (and back), while 20,000 Lums Under The Sea is loosely based as a Bond spoof, with most of the action being stealth-based aboard an enemy submarine.
The levels that are perhaps the most memorable, however, are the chase levels, wherein you'll be chased by walls of fire, vicious creatures, robotic sea dragons and more, and the level design that follows is meticulous, well-balanced, and well timed. One of the best examples is a level where you're being chased by a giant luchador; the action is fast and frantic, but his punches help create holes and pathways for you to progress through at just the right moment. Another level has you running through a collapsing structure as it continues falling over on itself in the desert. And yet, the most unique levels are the musically-themed ones which are set to renditions of popular songs spanning '70s rock to classical pieces and others. My personal favorite is the Castle Rock level from the first world that plays along to the beat of Ram Jam's "Black Betty"; as Rayman makes his way through the level, everything corresponds to the beat of the song beautifully, from enemy movements to Rayman punching objects and more.
One of the only detractions during my experience was the addition of levels where you partly control a new flying frog character named Murphy. Depending on which version of the game you have, you'll either be controlling Rayman and Murphy (in the PS3, 360, or PC version), or Rayman will be automated by CPU and you'll control Murphy's movements by touch on the Gamepad (in the Wii U version). After playing these segments, it's clear as day that this was built from the ground up for Wii U's gamepad, as moving Murphy manually with a button is largely unintuitive and doesn't change up the gameplay much. Unfortunately, I did not get to try out the Wii U version for this review, but I did play the demo on it enough to know that I liked using the touch controls for this a lot more.
Aside from the normal five world campaign, Rayman Legends is jam-packed with extra content, including an extra world that can be unlocked, most of the levels from Rayman Origins (that's not a spoiler, by the way; it's made apparent immediately), a 2D soccer-like minigame, daily and weekly online challenges that present a level where you either have to make your way through it as fast as you can or fall as far as you can; more unlockable heroes to play as (which are mostly just variants on Rayman, Globox, and teensies); and a monster collection that will help you acquire more Lums.
Visually, the game looks great and just as good, if not better than Origins. The UbiArt Framework engine once again pulls off its magic, with the game looking almost reminiscent of an interactive cartoon, slapstick and all. And once again, the music deserves a ton of merit here, whether it's the whimsical orchestrated sections that recall bits of Peter and the Wolf, the Latin-inspired songs from the Fiesta de los Muertos world, or the many other songs, it's no hyperbole to say that Rayman Legends has one of the best and most addicting soundtracks of the year.
Despite being so similar in formula to its predecessor, its amazing just how much Rayman Legends is able to up the ante on its gameplay and levels. Although it clearly isn't as fresh if you've played Origins, Legends feels sharper and more refined in just about every way, and extremely entertaining to boot. Even if we don't get another sequel for a long while, this is certainly a great place to leave off, as it's definitely one of the best 2D platformers developed in a long while.
+ Same great platforming as Origins but expanded upon
+ New worlds really change up the gameplay in each level
+ UbiArt Framework continues to shine with its visuals
+ Soundtrack is irresistibly good
- Murphy levels don't feel like they add anything new in non-Wii U versions
- Not as fresh as Origins was, despite great new levels
Overall Score: 9 (out of 10)
Rayman Legends is a great follow-up to an already amazing game, and manages to pack in a ton of content to boot.
Which Version Should You Buy?
There's no escaping the fact that Rayman Legends was developed to be a Wii U game; there are a few things that make it obvious during the playthrough, not least of all being Murphy's levels. That said, it largely depends on what you want.
If you hate touch-centric designs, definitely go for the Xbox 360, PS3, or PC versions. But if you enjoy games that make use of the Wii U's gamepad in certain ways not possible on the other consoles, by all means go with the Wii U version. Of course, if you enjoy handheld games the most, the Vita version is the one you'll want there.