Did you know ducks could wall-jump? Well, maybe not all ducks. But fowl sprouting the head of a certain limbless hero definitely can. Rayman Legends is unabashedly weird, though never to the detriment of its fantastic action sequences. As you dash across platforms to the beat of a mariachi "Eye of the Tiger," or tickle armored guards to lower their defenses, you realize that Legends is strange with a purpose. It uses absurd scenes to imbue this feisty adventure with enough variety to keep you continually amazed, aside from the unfortunately drab Murfy stages. Rayman Legends' off-kilter identity serves as the foundation for this wild and crazy journey.
Momentum is the name of the game in this 2D platformer. Rayman runs, leaps, swings, glides, kicks, and swims with a kinetic grace that compels you ever onward. Being able to squeeze past spikes and thunder across toppling towers should be expected, but what makes Legends special is how joyful such movements are. Rayman chains moves together so effortlessly that you often get lost in the rhythm. Pirouette across a series of platforms at top speed and then rocket toward earth in a ground-shaking slam. Follow that up by bashing a nearby baddie before bounding up that vertical shaft. Such combinations roll off your fingers as you venture deeper into this fantastical world.
Legends on the Wii U slams on the breaks in certain levels by putting you in control of Murfy, a helpful fly, while the AI moves Rayman. Here, you must shift your focus to the GamePad as you spread guacamole and ready catapults in an attempt to guide your bipedal friend to safety. These levels are a noticeable misstep in a game bursting with great ideas. Rayman walks forward without any involvement from you for long stretches, and oftentimes waits stubbornly while you try to pull object in the exact place he desires. Vacillating between passive and fiddly is a poor way to inject diversity. Even when things run smoothly, controlling Murfy isn't engaging because progress requires neither puzzle solving nor dexterity on your part. There is some appeal in playing with a friend because anyone controlling Murfy can torment his or her friend. But, Legends stumbles in these stages, especially compared to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions in which you control Murfy with a button tap while running as Rayman.
A smooth difficulty curve welcomes those unfamiliar with Rayman's hijinks without annoying those well versed in the art of jumping. Achieving such a precarious balance is a testament to how enjoyable the core mechanics are. Despite minimal challenge early on, the pleasure of dashing through these beautiful worlds urges you forward. And there are hidden collectibles that require a curious mind to track down. Lums and teensies are waiting to be discovered, and nabbing all of them unlocks copious rewards. There are goofy-looking creatures, additional playable heroes, and even dozens of stages from Rayman Origins. Such treasures make exploration a treat, and the fact that the early challenges are optional ensures that everyone can enjoy this game from the onset.
It's when Legends picks up steam that its impressive potential is reached. Varied situations keep you wondering what's going to come your way next. You may play red light, green light with a security system in an underwater fortress, or catch a ride on an updraft as you wind your way through spikes and parachuting meanies. Boss fights demand an inventive spark as you dodge their plentiful attacks while trying to puzzle out how to retaliate in kind. Plunging to the briny deep to torpedo past booby traps is particularly impressive. So often swimming segments derail the breezy derring-do of a platformer, but Legends makes the oceanic sections a high point. Fast and smooth, swimming's unshackled movement makes overcoming deep-sea dangers a satisfying detour.
Speed is the most gripping of all of Legends' demands. Running is usually preferable to walking, though it's your choice if you'd rather admire the stunning sights than sprint past them. However, some stages sport clocks whose ticking hands continually remind you of your pending failure. When your tail is on fire, you appreciate just how well constructed these levels are. Every enemy and trap is expertly placed to ensure you never have to slow down. Stages become invaded after you complete them the first time, which means you have to sprint through in less than a minute without getting hit even once to free trapped teensies. And sometimes, you even have a shadow Rayman right behind you mimicking your every move. When you reach the checkered flag, it's hard to contain the smile on your face because you know you overcame a formidable challenge.
Other levels thrust their excellent score to the forefront. Forced-scrolling stages set to catchy tracks such as "Black Betty" are the highlight of this frenetic adventure. Every movement you perform coincides with the background beat. So you know when to jump and when to kick, and seeing an orchestral performance come together is delightful. However, don't think that the soundtrack is important only in these stages. The score is a constant companion that has you bopping your head along as you jump and climb through the many levels. It's hard not to be awash in joy as the lums sing their companionable song while you scoop up every last one.
Legends excels as a single-player experience because traversing the plentiful worlds is eminently enjoyable and engaging. Still, there's a five-player option for those who'd rather see the various wonders with friends by their side. Maintaining top speed can be tricky with people who aren't quite as skilled as you, but if you're on the same page as your buddies, Legends continues right where the solo adventuring left off. Launching your friend's character to reach a hidden section or to collect lums shows how handy a second player can be, and you can transport yourself in a bubble if the difficulty ever becomes too high. Of course, if your friend is a dunderhead, you may have to slap him or her. Digitally, of course.
Rayman Legends is an excellent game in just about every way. Still, there are a couple of minor problems. Murfy's levels serve as brief distractions from the giddy energy that embodies the rest of the game. And when female characters such as Olympia die, you're treated to a creepy panty shot that's totally out of place. But those are the only negative marks this game bears. Fueled by smooth platforming, striking visuals, wacky situations, and infectious beats, Rayman Legends is a nifty platformer that exudes unabashed delight.