If there’s one platforming series that just doesn’t get the love it so rightfully deserves, it’s Ubisoft’s Rayman. Not everyone, it seems, loves Rayman. the most recent game featuring the limb-less wonder, Rayman Origins is beautiful, fun, and wildly inventive – but didn’t sell all that well. That really ought to change, because somehow (I’m presuming black magic was involved) its sequel Rayman Legends manages to be even better.
If you’ve played the previous game, the mechanics really haven’t changed much, and it’s still a game about collecting singing yellow blobs and saving caged-up or hidden teensies using some of the tightest, most precise platforming you’ll experience. There’s a story too, but as with most platformers it’s really just an excuse to jump on, over, and around things. Here, Rayman and his ragtag group of friends – now including the vixen Viking Barbara - have been asleep for a hundred years, and the Glade of Dreams has been invaded by nightmares; the stuff of Legend. Rayman must now enter a series of worlds to save the teensies. That’s…really about it, but honestly, you don’t play platformers for the story.
There are quite a number of additions and new features that make Legends special though. The first, and most instantly noticeable is that you’re now accompanied once again by a rather large green fly by the name of Murfy. In select sections of the game, Murfy is able to interact with the world by pulling levers, cutting ropes, moving objects, tickling enemies and a host of other silly little things to help you progress. the game was originally designed for the Wii U, and you’d have to tap or slide your finger across the screen to accomplish these actions. The game was delayed to port it to other platforms – and one of the burning questions I had was how Ubisoft was going to translate these actions to the other systems that were lacking touch inputs; or if perhaps they’d remove them completely. I’ve been playing preview code on the Xbox 360, and they’ve managed to get it to work – but it’s a little inelegant, and far less fun.
The little green fly is now controlled simply by tapping a button when he contextually hovers over certain items. See him flying by a rope? Tap the “B” button and the rope is severed. It works, but it’s far less engaging than the Wii U version where you’d swipe across the screen to do the same thing. Moving things that would have used the Wii U’s gyroscope, such as wheels and the like, are now done using bumper buttons. It does mean that although Wii U owners were stung by a delay, they have consolation in the fact that their version (and the Vita version!) will be superior.
Back to the game though; it’s still as beautiful, insane and inventive as ever – but there’s now a number of worlds with distinctive aesthetics and wildly varied gameplay. for instance, there’s now a series of levels titles “20, 000” Lums under the sea that, while obviously influenced by Jules Verne’s classic also pays homage to BioShock. There is, of course, plenty of swimming mixed with the platforming but there’s now a dash of stealthy play with a new dynamic lighting will have you gawking at the screen while you dash under passages and around boxes trying your best to avoid the deathly light. And yes, there’s a nod or two to Splinter Cell that should elicit a chuckle. One of the bosses in that section, A Madman’s Creation, has you battling a giant clockwork Dragon using fiendishly clever, devilishly difficult platforming mechanics that had me questioning my self-proclaimed status as a platforming champion; thankfully handy checkpoints make it fun and addictive as opposed to furiously frustrating.
Another world, accessed like the others by jumping in to a painting, is filled with undead Hispanic skeletons (that should make Grim Fandango fans squeal with delight) has all the aesthetic trappings of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. It’s frankly, quackers. One level turns you in to a duck, and has you escaping a celebratory world made out of cake, while another shrinks Rayman and his friends to evade giant spiny worms in…a cake. Somebody at Ubisoft obviously has a thing for confectionary. I’m sure, by now, that you’ve seen the “Castle Rock” level that combines platforming with music to the tune of “Black Betty” – in this world, the musical level is a Mariachi version of Eye of the Tiger that is both hilarious and hellish. The boss, within this particular universe is a giant Luchador who knocks away the ground while you battle in a giant pit of lava.
There’s a lot more, but detailing just how wild and wonderful each world is would be robbing you of the pure, distilled joy you’d have experiencing them on your own. I will, however, tell you that there’s even a section called “Return to Origins” filled with levels and enemies remixed from that game – and if that’s not enough, there will be an entire challenges section with daily online challenges where you can stack your platforming skills against the rest of the world’s by completing brutally difficult levels. On top of that, when you’ve completed some levels, you get to do an alternate speed-run version of the level where you have to save a group teensies before they get fired off in to space on rockets that features some of the most challenging platforming I’ve ever encountered. It’s all rounded off with some silly, throw-away mini games like Kung Foot, a simplistic two player soccer game.
Rayman Legends has benefited from the multiplatform delay, and is now stuffed with so much content that even the angriest Wii U owner has to be satisfied. And it’s content is weird, wild and wonderful and an absolute delight to play. It pains me to say it, but there’s more charm, more invention and more keen and clever design than we’ve seen from Mario games in ages and if Ubisoft continues in this direction, our favourite plumber could be relegated to second place.
Rayman Legends will be released on Wii U, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PS Vita at the end of August, or early September for our American Chums.