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Rayman Legends is finally a reality. Six long, cold months of waiting for the the sequel promised to us. While not the original February 2013 release that Wii U owners expected, now is the time to find out if Legends has been worth the wait. Even with the wait, however, you'll just have to trust me when I say that this is the better way -- much better.
Rayman Legends is awesome, as if anyone ever had any doubts. Sequel to 2011's Rayman Origins, Rayman Legends takes up the platforming baton of its predecessor and continues at winning the race. Seriously, Rayman's competition is looking pretty thin these days. Or maybe that's because Rayman is looking so strong? Barring a few cursory complaints, I only really have one other thing to say: the Teensies, let me tell you about them.
Dream with Bubble Dreamer
Bubble Dreamer is having nightmares and said nightmares have kidnapped the Teensies – again. It's up to Rayman and his dozens of friends to free them, and put Bubble Dreamer's nightmares back to bed for good. That dude should really stop smoking whatever he has in that pipe, because he's dreaming up crazier and crazier things.
Anyway, Rayman and crew set up shop in a giant mystical tent full of picture frames that allow for travel to various worlds. And that's as much story as the game offers, which might be more than Rayman Origins ever had, I suppose. However, it's certainly not much, and while I'd love to see something more cohesion, the story serves its purpose and never gets in the way; just a teensy story full of Teensies.
Yet this lack of depth and structure truly allows Rayman to set his hair spinning and soar into the sky, free as a bird. How else but in a dream could a world of dragons come face to face with one of monster luchadors? Or a sea of flesh-eating rodents meets a quartet of rock and roll grannies? Secret agent toads and barbarian princesses? From one level to a next, Rayman Legends' setting shifts, returns, and ultimately comes together to create a diabolical mix of delicious imagination. As respected as Rayman's platforming may be, its creative heart is what truly drives the experience. You'll never stop having that feeling of, “Oh wow, that was absolutely amazing. I wonder what's coming next level?”
Rayman's expansive imagination is wholly brought to life through stylized painterly art, naturally. If there were any worries that the Wii U version of Rayman Legends might look less than perfect, let me slap that thought off the Internet. Rayman Legends is beautiful. Period. From the hand-painted textures to the eerily smooth animations, every bit of the game has been brought to life in a way few can aspire to. Every bit of the game is brimming with impressively rich detail, from foreground to background, mixed with more colors than a decade's worth of shooters could dream of. And despite that, Rayman Legends manages to stay crisp and clean, keeping platforms distinct and gameplay unfettered by minutae. Well, at least not unintentionally.
Maybe someday Ubisoft will aspire to make a more robust, meaningful story for Rayman. That there is not more to the game as a whole is pretty disappointing, but it's hard to focus on that when Legends feels so gratifying in each and every moment.
Teensies Can't Save Themselves
Platforming is Rayman Legends' bread and butter. Mechanically, Legends is extremely similar to Origins, in that Rayman can still jump, duck, punch, and glide through the air. Then you have the wall jumping, spin attack, speed boosts, and an assortment of other tricks that dedicated fans will recall. Movement options are key, considering the very slippery type of platforming Rayman's built on, as my deaths via falling into holes can confirm. That way the player always feels in control, through a combination of simplicity of mechanics and visual acuity that give Rayman its unique gameplay.
It's easy to say Rayman has roots in classic Mario platforming, in regards to its slippery momentum, as well as the jump-on-their-head combat. Similarities end there, however, as Rayman encourages freedom of movement, unlike Mario's enforced limitations. Rayman's free-flowing movement could almost be considered parkour, just so long as the player can press the buttons fast enough. That said, better do some finger exercises, everyone. Bless our modern controllers and joysticks, because otherwise I'd have blisters on top of my pulled thumb muscle.
Where Rayman Legends begins to differ in comparison to Rayman Origins is its embrace of streamlined speed. Legends encourages players to go and keep going, similar to Super Meat Boy in many ways. The safest path is often the fastest path, as constantly moving forward will let projectiles miss by just enough and platforms arriving just in time. It's a testament to the talented level designers at Ubisoft Montpellier that I managed to beat the game, because I refused to let go of the trigger. Where in Origins I felt like I constantly had to search out secrets and hidden fast paths, Legends instead rewards intuitiveness and awareness without slowing the player down.
Most secrets are either along the main route, cleverly placed to be easily ignored, or accessible via a mechanic used in a manner not immediately apparent. For instance, ground-pounding on a trampoline will launch the player much higher than just a normal jump, perhaps leading to a Teensy in trouble. These are often marked by red flags, like soft Teensy screams or out-of-place foliage, which is a hint that you may want to use the ground pound.
The hard part isn't finding things, as most hidden objects can be uncovered just by slowing down a tad to take in more of the scenery. Rather, the toughest part is collecting all of everything. Each level has ten hidden Teensies, hundreds of Lums and two types of trophies depending on your abilities at finding everything. Then, after progressing a certain way through the game, invasions will begin. These are small side-levels (for most levels) that are basically 40-second races to the finish, with entirely new designs to them. Not enough? How about 40 Rayman Origins levels redesigned for Rayman Legends, unlocked through “Lucky Tickets”? Want more? Consider the 60 creatures to collect that provide daily Lums to pick up, or the dozens of skins for you or your co-op partners. Don't even get me started on Daily Challenges! Yeah! New challenges! Every day! Gosh!
I clocked in about ten hours of gameplay into Rayman Legends and currently sit at #1 on the trophy leaderboards. That means I was able to collect the most general junk along my way. Trust me when I say I fully completed, at best, maybe 25% of the levels I played. I unlocked some bonus levels and collected over half of the Teensies, but I bet I've got at least another dozen hours of gameplay left -- there's still so much left to do. Don't even get me started on the Daily Challenges! What Rayman Legends lacks in terms of depth, it more than makes up for in sheer amount of content.
Getting In Touch With Rayman
With Rayman Legends, a new type of gameplay has been introduced, specifically as a result of the game's initial Wii U exclusivity. One out of every three or four levels has touchscreen based gameplay in it. During these stages, the player takes control of Murfy, a small bug-like guy, and rather than perform the platforming yourself, you let the AI run it. However, the AI can't manage the obstacles on its own, so the player must clear the path ahead using the touch controls.
In practice, this a great change of pace, and the idea behind it very solid. That's not to say it's perfect, of course. The controls do have some lag, which the game does a great job of hiding, but it can still be frustrating. Levels can be a bit repetitive, as there are only so many mechanics that Ubisoft built into the game. The result is a lot of the same finger slides and pokes across the screen in different contexts that never truly feel unique.
Finally -- and this is probably my least favorite aspect of the game -- due to the graphical fidelity being worse on the GamePad (not bad, just worse), my eyes would occasionally get blurry. Yes, I even felt dizzy at times. It may not happen to everyone, but it certainly happened to me. The issue is worth mentioning, considering it might influence your platform choice for Legends. To be completely honest, however, I would still rather play the Wii U version and experience that gameplay as it was intended, rather than go with a platform with the content removed. The game's use of the GamePad controls is really one of the best on the Wii U yet.
After Rayman Origins, Rayman Legends had a lot to live up to. I'm excited to say that Rayman Legends improves on its predecessor in virtually every regard. That's not to say that Rayman Legends made any significant number of changes. Instead, what Ubisoft Montpellier did with Legends is refine what made Origins so outstanding. They embraced that gorgeous art style and are now taking players to even more wonderfully imaginative settings. Rather than let player remain constrained by level design, they're now instead promoting an "Endless Runner" style of play, an immediately gratifying style of platforming that complements the themes of the game well. Mostly though, it's clear Ubisoft Montpellier had as much fun designing their game as we're likely to have playing it. How else could Rayman Legends be as it is?
While the Wii U as a platform still has its rough moments, I never stopped to reconsider my decision. At the same time, I'm quite glad that the game was ported to other platforms, because Legends truly deserves as much attention as it receives. What the GamePad lacks in terms of hardware, it more than makes up for in innovative asymmetric gameplay.
Rayman Legends is unending, exhilarating fun. While it will never be known for the depth of its experience, Rayman Legends never claims to be anything more than what it is: lighthearted, hilarious, and inspired fun that anyone can (and should) enjoy.
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