Rayman Origins made me take notice of a franchise I had never given much thought to. After playing through its sequel, I have an even greater appreciation for the artistry that Ubisoft has brought to 2D platforming.
In an era in which game heroes carry virtual steamer trunks loaded with gear and power-ups, Rayman offers an elegant alternative. What you see is what you get. Aside from a rare boxing-glove upgrade, the characters’ moves are the same from beginning to end. Their arsenal of jumps, glides, and melee attacks didn’t leave me wanting more gimmickry, but instead made me feel all the more attuned to their precision and subtlety. Like Super Meat Boy, you learn exactly what characters are capable of, and how they can most efficiently maneuver around their worlds – a must, since the later levels are hard as nails.
Instead of simply treading water, Rayman Legends tackles new environmental themes and unexpected gameplay twists – including a stealth-based section and a level that plays a lot like a Metroid-style world. You won’t see yet another ice level or desert zone; instead, you explore spy-themed underwater lairs, bizarre nightmares, and other imaginative venues. The game’s new lighting engine adds another layer of visual flair to what was already a beautiful series. Ubisoft has even included remastered versions of levels from Origins that feature graphical updates and design tweaks.
Several auto-scrolling sections incorporate the game’s stellar soundtrack, including a mariachi-inspired version of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” Players’ jumps and attacks are timed to fit the music, and it plays like equal parts platformer and rhythm game. I only wish there were more of these – they’re incredibly fun to play.
As much as I love Legends, it’s certainly not a perfect game. Legends sticks with its predecessor in one unfortunate way, which is an overreliance on collecting items. You either squeak through levels perfectly the first time or have to revisit them later if you want to see everything the game has to offer. I’m all for gating off high-end rewards for that kind of dedication, but it was annoying to have to replay levels to free 9 or 10 of my hidden friends so that I could unlock the next set.
Fortunately, diversionary activities in the game make it feel like less of a grind. As you progress, you unlock tweaked versions of completed levels, which offer high-pressure, time-based challenges. There’s also a silly soccer minigame, as well as a variety of ranked online challenges that will be updated weekly.
All told, Rayman Legends provides top-notch gameplay with an expansive package of additional content. I’m glad to see the possibility of Rayman and his friends popping up at more regular intervals. If Ubisoft can maintain the series’ current level of quality, by all means, keep ‘em coming. I know I’ll eagerly play each one.
The bulk of Rayman Legends is essentially identical to its last-gen predecessors. That doesn't mean that PS4 and Xbox One owners don't have anything to brag about. Most noticeably, the loading times from stage to stage have been eliminated. They weren't egregiously long before, but I'm not complaining. Ubisoft incorporated the PS4's touchpad, though it's not anything especially interesting; you only use it as an in-game camera or to rub the in-game scratch-off cards. Xbox One owners can get access to a few exclusive challenges that unlock achievements. There are also a few platform-exclusive characters: Far Cry 3-inspired Ray Vaas and Far Glob, as well as a Splinter Ray costume based on Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher, pop up on the Xbox One, and an Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag-style Assassin Ray character makes an appearance on the PS4. Ultimately, it's a wash, and it comes down to whatever console you happen to prefer. Both games are gorgeous, and they play as beautifully as they did before.