Rayman Legends goes beyond drawing comparisons to great sidescrollers of the past, it carves its own legendary status
At some point in Rayman Legends, our brave limbless hero wanders into a world where rotten food beautifully encounters fabulous skeleton foes coming straight out of a "Cinco de Mayo" party, all - obviously - backed up by an exciting Mexican soundtrack. As he walks into the first stage of this bizarre world, an evil Teensie wizard appears and promptly transforms him into a duck. And there you have it; a moment that summarizes the entirety of Rayman Legends. It is a game with little to no concern towards sense and reasoning, as it picks up very distinct elements and angrily throws them at the screen hoping that a cohesive monster will come out of that mad exercise. It is insane beyond comprehension, an out-of-control riot that is made up of unforgettable platforming, and enough content and challenges to keep players coming back for more.
Appropriately, the hub used to guide players to their wacky destinations is none other than an art gallery where gorgeous paintings depicting worlds and stages hang. In itself, that setting serves as a major statement on the game's artistic direction, since an exhibit is undeniably the place where some of Legends' scenarios should be. The game is invariably gorgeous, alternating moments of silent beauty with loud and explosive action, and featuring lines that are, at the same time, cartoonish and aggressive, which are the perfect pairing for a game that is hilariously fun, decently challenging, and stunningly creative on the design of its levels. Legends transits between varied locations; some of which are standard for platformers, such as underwater areas or dense forests; and others that are rather unique, like medieval castles and Greek landscapes. But whether it is exploring relatively common grounds or venturing into fresh waters, the game always finds a way to impress with its art.
As remarkable as its visuals may be, Legends would not go far as a platformer without great level design, and here Michel Ancel's team has certainly topped the masterful work displayed on the game's predecessor. Legends features no paced introductory start; it goes all out from the very beginning. Where Origins slowly introduced elements by gradually giving Rayman new skills, Legends fully unleashes the hero from the start, giving developers a much higher degree of freedom. Therefore, after a couple of stages, Rayman will have put all of his skills to great use. With those tools in hand, Rayman Legends, like all truly brilliant platformers, reinvents itself with each passing stage. Every level has a quirk or obstacle that makes it stand out from the rest, and all of the stages present challenges that get progressively harder as the stage goes by. With over fifty levels, Rayman Legends is able to earn the distinguished honor of never repeating itself and constantly besting its previous achievements.
The levels do not vary simply in their content; their structure is also pretty flexible. Traditional levels offer a more slow-paced blend of exploration and obstacles; boss battles are often found at the end of combat-focused stages that work incredibly well, especially for a platformer; unlockable and plentiful Invasion Levels are a crazy race against the clock to rescue kidnapped Teensies before the time expires and they are sent to outer space by rockets; and a handful of astonishing musical levels have Rayman running through brutal gauntlets that would have been nearly impossible to clear without an incredibly groovy beat to indicate that it is time to press the jump button in order to escape some incoming beastly menace. That solid mixture stops Rayman Legends from falling into overly predictable patterns, and produces sequences of sheer platforming glory.
And that all goes without even mentioning the touch-screen stages. By using the gamepad's capabilities, Ubisoft has been able to - for the first time outside Nintendo Land - bring to the system gameplay scenarios that take full advantage of its capabilities. During those levels, Rayman will be unable to proceed, leaving it up to both Murphy and Globox to finish the deal. Devoid of incredible platforming skills, Globox will need Murphy's help in order to advance safely, meaning that players who hold the gamepad must interact with the stage through the controller in order to slide platforms, open doors, tickle enemies and much more. Those levels work wonderfully well, and they add yet another layer of variety to the adventure by unlocking a door to an endless world of possibilities that are smartly used by developers to create situations that require puzzle-solving skills and quick reflexes.
Although getting to the end of the levels is a pretty important part of Rayman Legends, it is not everything. Each one of the game's stages features a certain number of locked-up Teensies that need to be found and rescued, totaling 700 within the game. Their presence on more traditional levels will most likely test players' ability to explore their surroundings and sniff hidden locations, as most of the creatures will be neatly tucked away crying for help in a secret corner; while on fast-paced stages rescuing them will frequently have to do with quick reaction to break down their cage before they go flying by into oblivion. In addition, the smiling Lums are present once again, and collecting many of them is a must if players want to earn a golden trophy on every stage.
Collecting Teensies and Lums is not just a matter of fulfilling an obsession with acing the whole game, as there are some very palpable rewards waiting for those who are willing to struggle and, eventually, get frustrated for them. Legends features an enormous horde of characters to unlock, and even though all of them behave the same way, hence merely serving as new avatars, some designs are absolutely amazing. Although characters are a nice bonus, the sweetest of Legends' gifts, slowly unlocked with the collection of loads of Lums, is the fact that it features almost all of Origins levels remastered with updated graphics and minor alterations. It nearly doubles the game's value, and it packs two platforming masterpieces in one package.
Putting Origins and Legends side by side allows for a direct comparison between both, and it is noticeable that Legends is superior when it comes to pacing and level design, standing out as the more creative of the two. However, if there is one area on which Legends is not able to top Origins, it has got to be the level of challenge. Origins difficulty purposely bordered on brutal on a few specific levels, and in spite of the fact that Legends does get pretty hard and offers a great deal of challenge, it never reaches the peaks that Origins dared to climb. Where Origins occasionally felt like an uphill battle, Legends is more of a smooth sailing with a threatening storm on the background. Some will certainly be disappointed by the lack of hair-pulling moments, but Legends chooses to, instead, please both a younger audience and a group of players that like a more reasonable level of difficulty.
Even after clearing the whole of Legends and Origins, the game still has a lot to offer. At any point in time, Rayman Legends has four challenges available for players to compete in: one pair of daily competitions, and another one of weekly struggles. Those totally original challenges, much like the levels in the game, are extremely varied and include marathons to see who is able to navigate the furthest into a level without dying, pits that are used to either collect a certain amount of Lums as fast as possible or to test who is able to reach the bottom the quickest, and much more. At the end of each day, or each week in the case of the weekly challenges, trophies and Lums are handed out to those who achieved predetermined scores. The sheer fun and addictive nature of the challenges is increased by gorgeous, very visual and informative leaderboards that are themselves a work of art much like everything else the game offers in terms of visuals.
Although Rayman Legends does not rock the platforming genre to its core, something that is not exactly a requirement for a great game, it excels and astounds in every single aspect. Its graphics are an amazing explosion of colors and lines, its soundtrack features tunes that are absolutely incredible, and the creativity of its level design is unbelievable. The last gaming generation saw a strong rebirth of sidescrolling platformers with the likes of Rayman Origins, Kirby's Epic Yarn, Super Meat Boy, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Wario Land: Shake It and New Super Mario Bros Wii. Rayman Legends takes a step beyond those fantastic titles, and it shows that modern 2-D platformers are no longer content with simply being compared to the landmarks of the past; they want to carve a legendary status for themselves. And, Rayman Legends - by all means - does precisely that.