Ubisoft should be proud that they released the best 2D platformer in over 15 years
Sometimes I wish I could just leave a phrase and be done with a review, not to be lazy, but to leave an impactful statement that would get everyone talking. You see, something hit me when I was playing Rayman Legends and it led me to a conclusion that Rayman Legends is the Super Mario Galaxy 2 of Rayman’s gaming career. What I mean by that is Rayman Legends feels like an extension of the already superb Rayman Origins, but just like Miyamoto and his team, Ancel obviously had more ideas to pump into the formula, so what better way to do that than making a sequel and breaking the leash that holds you back to allow for more creative freedom. The Rayman team at Ubisoft has done just that, crafting a better game than Rayman Origins and the best 2D platformer this generation.
Rayman Legends begins with a simple premise. Rayman and the gang have been sleeping for a century, but during that time the world was taken over by the nightmares released from the Bubble Dreamer. It’s up to Rayman and his posse to save each area and collect the Teensies. It’s barebones, but that’s all is needed to kick-start Rayman’s adventure into more fantastic 2D platforming that was crafted in Rayman Origins, but mastered in Rayman Legends.
Time isn’t wasted on relearning the mechanics of Rayman. The first level trains the player with everything needed and then Rayman is ready to go with all the abilities, such as wall-jumping, punching, gliding, and swimming. This also includes the once Wii U exclusive feature of Murfy, a mixture of a fairy and a frog, who joins in the fun on specific levels. Having played the Xbox 360 version after briefly touching the Wii U version, I can say that there is a difference in how Murfy works between the two, and this was the main concern for people who were wondering how the touch screen aspect of Murfy would transfer to a platform that only has a standard controller.
In fairness, with the limited options given, the Murfy sections are done rather well. These levels require the player to control Rayman – the Wii U version has Rayman controlled by the system while the player controls Murfy with touch inputs – while having access to Murfy’s ability by pressing the B button. The use of Murfy within the game’s level design is often put to clever use; in some areas, he’s used simply to cut ropes to make bridges, switch on and off lights and tickle enemies, enabling Rayman to punch them out of his path. Later in the game when the levels become harder, Murfy is given more of a predominant role. One such example is the level made of cake, where Murfy is used to chomp through the food – it slowly generates back – to allow Rayman to progress. The level starts with Murfy performing basic cuts, but as it continues, timing becomes a factor and precise chomping from Murfy is required to make sure you don’t fall into the traps hidden inside the spongy substance causing inevitable death to the armless one. Words don’t do it justice; it’s a level that has to be played to get the feel, which to be honest, can be said for every level in the game – they’re designed so remarkably well.
There are restrictions on Murfy due to the fact there is no touch screen. Murfy automatically moves to each object that can be manipulated. The problem with this is that that Rayman has to be in a precise area in the level to make Murfy attach to the right object. In more complex levels, this begins to show problems. I found wanting Murfy to move faster to the next object so that I had more time to prepare to activate it, especially in levels that are based on pushing the player forward at speed. Another problem is objects that are close together. One such section is the underwater area where Murfy is used to switch in and out planks of wood that are used as platforms. Murfy would often switch to the wrong one, causing death when I activated the button and the platform gave way. Thankfully, this is limited to small occasions and for the most part players won’t have a problem with Murfy.
I can’t stress enough how each level in Rayman Legends truly shines. They use Rayman’s floaty gravity and move set – you are constantly forced to use all his abilities – to its utmost highest execution and with the genius level design this means there is never a dull moment. Each level seems to offer something different, and when you think you’ve seen the use for one such application it adds it again in a new way, often with another feature that was included earlier. There is inspiration from various other platformers, such as how some of the levels have momentum, channelling level designs from Sonic the Hedgehog. They’re packed with secrets, too, with medal Lum targets and hidden Teensies tucked away in every nook and cranny. What Super Mario Galaxy 2 did for 3D platforming, Rayman Legends is doing it for 2D platforming, and this game easily outclasses any 2D Mario game in the last 15 years.
The delay from the February release to the end of August has allowed the developers to jamRayman Legends with plenty of content. What’s astonishing is that all this content isn’t filler. These are intelligent inclusions to make the game bigger, but not bloated. Each Legend world features 9 levels, in which two of them are assigned to a boss and music level. The boss levels are what you’d expect them to be. They’re grand in scale, but don’t add anything innovative to formula. The music stages on the other hand are magical experiences that I was always looking forward to unlocking. The songs are based on famous tunes, but given a Rayman twist. It’s ingenious how these levels are balanced with the music. If you know the song or the beat, then you’ll have no problem traversing. For people that aren’t as musically cultured, then coloured indicates will help and you’ll soon be on your way to being a Rayman musical master. Seeing this in action makes me wish there was more musical platformers.
But the game doesn’t stop giving. On top of the main levels, the game is also filled with remixedRayman Origins stages and “invaded” stages that offer a time attack approach to an existing level, often making the player run the opposite way to the initial direction of the stage. On some occasions they even throw in a shadow Rayman, which evokes those challenges from Super Mario Galaxy 2. These are short challenging sections that you have to master if you want to save all the Teensies. On top of that, you also have the daily and weekly challenges, which incorporate leaderboards, so you can see how well you do against your friends and the world. All this content means you can come back to Rayman Legends for a few minutes of fun any time in the future until support is stopped. It’s crazy that I’ve spoken so much about the game, but have yet to mention the cooperative pay. Yes, it’s back, and it’s still as funny as ever, but I found that playing by yourself gave a more rewarding experience.
Rayman Legends is a title that you can tell the developers were pouring their love into it; the game just oozes joy from every angle. They also wanted people to have fun, as even hard sections of the game aren’t frustrating thanks to the friendly checkpoint system. Ancel stated that “Rayman Legends is a bit like a porno: you go straight to the essential without really wondering why the plumber was there in the first place.” While that’s true for the pacing, the overall game is one that goes for compassionate foreplay. You don’t care for the sex; you just want to be engulfed in its affection and love, and Rayman sure showers you with a tonne of that.
It’s also one attractive game created with gorgeously hand drawn, visually stunning, 2D art that shines exquisitely no matter what version of the game you play. Rayman Legends doesn’t need to push fancy particles or use the latest god ray technology to look good; this is a game that lives by strong art direction and colourful, charming animation. No matter if you’re racing through the world of food, sliding on scrumptiously melting butter or swimming under the sea inside an abandoned power station dodging electrical power blots – it all screams beauty. The soundtrack is just as great, building on the style in Rayman Origins for unadulterated and happy music. If the game’s charm and soundtrack don’t warm you up, then you’re as heartless as the T-1000.
There’s nothing much else to say about Rayman Legends. It’s a fantastic platformer that anyone of all ages can get into. It’s built from a team that has experience and love for the craft. It looks amazing, handles fantastic, always surprises, but it has to be stated that the creative and genius level design is the real star of the show – an example of one team mastering the art of 2D platforming, even outshining the masters for the genre, Nintendo. It just goes to show that even after all these years you can still get excited pressing buttons to jump – Rayman Legends asserts to that. Ubisoft should be proud that they just released the best 2D platformer in over 15 years and anyone who enjoys platforming would be a loony not to pick it up.