Rayman Legends is the sequel to Rayman Origins, a really good 2D platformer released in 2011. It carried tight controls, maintained a beautiful presentation, and kept the Rayman franchise alive and strong. This new game, originally announced as a Wii U exclusive before going multiplatform, is also a really good 2D platformer. It carries tight controls, maintains a beautiful presentation, and keeps the Rayman franchise alive and strong. Well, maybe it’s a little more than that.
I could tell you that the story follows Rayman, Globox, and the gang saving the world from chaos created by the Bubble Dreamer’s nightmares, but the plot is so minimal that it acts as a justification for Rayman’s adventures instead of a necessary part of the experience. This mainly matters only in the first and last cutscenes of the game, and after that initial cutscene, you’re straight into the game. As you can see in the demo of the game, Rayman Legends is set up like a museum of sorts. By simply jumping into a given painting a la Super Mario 64, you can enter levels, enter different modes, change characters, and do everything you need to get done. The parts holding the game together are certainly very simple, but they are more than effective for a game that really should strictly be about enjoying the gameplay.
As for the gameplay, Rayman Legends embraces many of the mainstays of 2D platforming while incorporating a few of its own twists. Like Origins, the game takes heavy inspiration from the Donkey Kong Country series in design and challenge. The platforming is tough as nails at times, the physics feel equally floaty-yet-fun, and level-unlocking collectibles are littered throughout the lengthy stages; like New Super Mario Bros. however, the game is extremely forgiving (there aren’t even lives to worry about) and the platforming carries a similar reliance on wall jumps and precision. Because the platforming is mostly the same as the previous game and the design is similar, Rayman Legends occasionally feels like more Rayman Origins rather than a standalone sequel.
Yet even in calling the design similar to Rayman Origins, I need to qualify that by saying that the platforming in Origins (and Legends!) is great, with the physics being up to snuff and every single level being built around a different idea. Although the game will test your skills quite heavily occasionally, Legends always feels incredibly fair, and there’s such a presence of checkpoints that getting frustrated is extremely rare. In fact, Rayman Legends is so generous with checkpoints in most levels that many of the boss fights are partially ruined by them. What would otherwise be a challenging spectacle is far less challenging when the game grants checkpoints after each time you get a hit in on a boss. Bosses are such a minimal part of the game that it’s not an extremely major complaint, but the checkpoints in Legends do feel a bit too frequent at times.
More importantly, Legends has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Of the 50-60 main levels, around 10-15 are levels featuring a fairy-like creature called Murfy. On these stages, instead of featuring one of the many playable platforming characters, you control Murfy (on the GamePad in the Wii U version) manipulating a stage as an AI character like Globox goes through the stage in regular platforming fashion (though in multiplayer, human players can cooperatively control both Murfy and the characters going through the stage). To assist these AI as Murfy, you can use the touch screen to cut ropes, move platforms, and distract enemies. It’s an extremely fun way to diversify the otherwise traditional gameplay, but I would imagine that non Wii U versions will be the inferior way to play these levels without immediate touchscreen control. Furthermore, the game features a handful of musical levels that send you running rhythmically through stages masterfully set to the tune of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger and Woo Hoo by The Rock-A-Teens. The tightness isn’t on the level of Runner2, but they’re comparably fast-paced and equally rewarding when you learn to run through them in one try.
And while Legends isn’t necessarily filled to the brim with content (the game should generally last 7-15 hours depending on how deep one chooses to go), the game makes up for it in content diversity. Outside of scores to reach for, there are a ton of playable characters to unlock, daily and weekly challenges with online leaderboards, Miiverse support, scratch cards to earn in-game that unlock things like creature pets and remade levels from Rayman Origins (the game includes 40 of them!), and even a silly soccer minigame that exists just for the sake of existing.
One way Legends does feel like an evolution over the previous game is in the visual department. The new art style looks incredibly sharp, and certainly much sharper than the pretty-but-plain cartoony style in the last game. Bosses, meanwhile, are towering mammoths with 3D models that look at least as pretty as the best stuff on current gen consoles. The soundtrack is equally great, containing flavored covers of popular songs as well as original arrangements of all kinds of genres — the doo-wop and mariachi tunes specifically stand out.
It may not be another full evolution for Rayman, but Legends continues to carry a consistent greatness around the board assisted by impressive content diversity and enough new ways to play to put New Super Mario Bros. to shame. Just be sure to play it on Wii U if you can.
Wii U review copy provided by Ubisoft. Rayman Legends is available from September 3 on Wii U, Vita, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.