Rayman Origins was one of my favorite games of the year when it launched back in 2011. Its undeniable charm and completely off the wall qualities, coupled with its pure brilliance as a solid platformer, earned it way more time in my Xbox 360 than any other game that launched.
I loved it.
Rayman Legends arrives for me, then, with a whole lot of hype and a lofty set of standards. This brand new take on the Rayman franchise has already proven what it's capable of with its original entry, so I came into Rayman Legends with the expectation that the folks at Ubisoft would find a way to top their initial efforts.
In some ways, they succeeded. In others, the proximity of Legends to Origins makes this new effort not all that fresh.
Is Rayman Legends worth your hard earned money and quickly waning free time? Let's find out.
A Practical Work of Art
Rayman Legends is, from top to bottom, absolutely gorgeous. Ubisoft created something special with their UbiArt engine, the virtual brain behind the game, and that shows in almost every single environment.
Just like Origins before it, Legends finds a way to stand out amidst a pack of games that are all starting to look way too similar. The landscape was even more unified and homogenous when Rayman Origins dropped, so the effect of being so unique isn't quite as special for Rayman Legends, but it is there.
The hand drawn aesthetics mixed with deliberately vibrant colors and absolutely wacky character models makes it feel like you're playing the a really brilliant and well polished set of concept art. It delights at every turn, and exploring levels never gets old because of the stunning art they're filled with.
My only complaint is that it feels very much like well tread ground after Rayman Origins. This might be the central negative theme in my review, but the temporal proximity of Legends to Origins means that this art isn't as fresh as it could be. It's gorgeous, but it's not really surprising.
Platforming Precision Conquers Difficulty
Beyond the art, what makes Rayman Legends so gosh darn good is its platforming mechanics. Rayman Legends can be brutally difficult. It throws intense level design and complicated obstacles in front of players at a constantly ramping pace throughout its campaign.
This game is hard.
But what makes that difficulty a joy rather than a point of negative contention are the platforming mechanics. Ubisoft created a game that's buttery smooth and exquisitely precise. Behind the pretty landscapes and silly music is a finely tuned platformer that commands precision and expertise from players and completionists.
That's why Rayman Legends, and Rayman Origins before it, is special. There's the artistic appeal, the aural appeal, the franchise appeal and the out and out silliness. That stuff is all window dressing to the beautiful gameplay.
It's merciless at times, but Rayman Legends pulls off its toughness with grace thanks to a set of platforming mechanics that are precise enough to elicit joy during play. You'll be smiling ear to ear as you die for the fortieth time in a particularly hard section. That's the magic here.
Multiply the Awesome with Friends
What's fun alone gets even better when you add friends. Rayman Origins was great to play in doubles, triples and quadruples, and Rayman Legends carries that torch forward.
In the Wii U version, and we'll detail a few more of its exclusives, you'll even be able to play with five players. I can't personally attest to how well this works, but I'd assume it's just as good as it is with three and four.
In the early stages, the multiplayer here works exceptionally well. Levels are easy enough that individual players won't hold back an entire group. That means that there's plenty of time for new folks to master the timing and platforming necessary to advance in the game.
However, as things progress and Legends turns from simplistic to tough, the multiplayer becomes a much more challenging experience. Especially in levels where players have to keep pace with one another to succeed, the multiplayer element can get in the way if one person is not nearly as good as the rest of the group.
With that said, when a full bunch of players is of relatively equal footing when it comes to skill, Rayman Legends' multiplayer element is absolutely amazing. Thanks to the fact that players merge over one another when colliding, rather than bumping and sliding, multiplayer becomes less of a competition than it is in, say, New Super Mario Bros.. This is great.
The hidden gem of the title, though, is Kung Foot. Ubisoft tossed in this little extra as sort of a joke, but the reality is that the side game is a lot of fun. Kung Foot is basically multiplayer soccer. One team volleys against another in order to score more points in a given time limit. It's silly, it's stupid and it's a lot of fun.
Wii U Exclusive Features
I did want to quickly pass over the Wii U exclusives for those considering one platform or another with Rayman Legends.
Most notably is the GamePad. Players will be asked to control Murfy on the GamePad. This character can manipulate obstacles and level features by tapping, touching, sliding and prodding at spots on the GamePad's screen. In other versions, this is accomplished with the controller, but on the Wii U it's done with a touchscreen. That fact makes Murfy's sections much, much more enjoyable on Nintendo's console.
You'll also, like I said before, be able to rock five players at once on the Wii U. Four players will use Wii Remotes, if you have enough, and the fifth will use the GamePad. The GamePad player will be Murfy, in the situations that demand him, or another runner like Rayman, Barbara or Globox.
Finally, and this extra is just silly fun, players will be able to unlock a Mario and Luigi costume for both Rayman and Globox. It's goofy, but it's a good reward.
A Gem Built Purely on Fun
We're giving it an Editor's Choice badge specifically because this title absolutely warrants a purchase during the holiday season.
Rayman Legends manages to balance fun, charm, difficulty and value together very well in one individual package. This title will provide you a whole heck of a lot of play, even after you complete the main campaign and decide to dive into the remastered Origins levels or collect each and every medal and Lum to be found.
Like I echoed throughout this review, I think the biggest problem Rayman Legends has is that it feels like an extension of Rayman Origins. Look at the difference between Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 for proof that direct sequels can evolve in incredible ways. Rayman Legends does feel like an improved Rayman Origins, but the changes between the two are a tad too minimal for this thing to blow minds all over again.
It's a great game, though. We're giving it an Editor's Choice badge specifically because this title absolutely warrants a purchase during the holiday season. The Wii U version of the game currently stands as the ideal one to own, given the GamePad specific play, but any edition will do just fine.
The way Legends unfolds by doling out unlocks and rewards at a constant speed means that you'll constantly be rewarded for playing. This positive reinforcement manages to push the game forward in a really compelling and addictive way.
The holiday season of 2013 is rocking with games worth your money and time. Add Rayman Legends to the list of titles to pick up. You won't regret it.
We purchased a copy of Rayman Legends for the Wii U with company funds. While we have logged well over 13 hours in the game, we have not conquered everything it has to offer. It's long, and there's a ton to do.