Rayman Legends review
A legendary expansion on its origins
I absolutely adored Rayman Origins. It was a return to form after a series of party games, but it wasn't merely a return to the more popular stylings of Rayman 2 and 3. It was more akin to the very first Rayman game for the Playstation, Sega Saturn and PC in which you move from left to right, collecting stuff whilst making it to the end of each level, although it wasn't quite as hard. You also learned “new” techniques along the way, such as punching, floating in mid-air and swimming. In many ways, it was a modernization of Rayman 1, but like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it was able to become palatable towards newer gamers without insulting the intelligence of older gamers. It was brilliant, focusing on a more rhythmic structure whilst culminating its elements into a sublime experience. Even now, it's possible to pick up Rayman Origins and still find yourself enthralled by it.
But what about Rayman Legends? Well, it's a good game, too! It has all of the hallmarks of surpassing its predecessor with its fine-tuned art style, tighter gameplay mechanics and a higher focus on rhythmic level designs placed on a larger scale, but it also had those moments where it felt like it sidestepped whatever issues may or may not have been prevelant or even relevant in regards to Origins' design and as a result, it feels like a sharp step down. A lot of the additions to the overall formula are admirable, but sadly, whatever excitement generated from the elements are cut down once the realization that they're either gimmicky or haphazardly executed at best hits you square in the face. Don't get me wrong, none of these elements turn Rayman Legends into a bad game or even a mediocre one; however, they undermine the improvements that were made on the elements established in Rayman Origins.
If you thought that Rayman Origins was short on story, then you'd be surprised to find out that Rayman Legends is downright anorexic on that detail. After the events of Rayman Origins, the Dark Teensies have found a way to release all of the Lums into the world whilst kidnapping all of the regular Teensies. It's up to Rayman, Globox, a couple of Teensies that weren't kidnapped, and these princesses that'll also need rescuing to recollect the Lums and rescue the Teensies. Now, that's about as much plot as Rayman Origins had, but that game at least had a plot twist for its final world; meanwhile, that is all Legends has going for it. No endgame plot twist or anything like that; just that premise.
I was initially skeptical in regards to the original screenshots of Rayman Legends – it looked a bit too detailed for its britches. However, once put into motion, the game winds up looking a lot better than its predecessor. Not only are the colors a bit more vibrant and the animations a bit smoother than what Origins offered, but the amount of detail put into the shading and lighting is really what brings it to life. It allows everything to pop out more as there's more for your mind to process, but it's never overwhelming to the senses, allowing it to be stylish without being over the top. Furthermore, it retains a constant framerate even when there are plenty of objects on screen, which is always rather pleasant when most console games would find themselves lagging or screen tearing. There are a couple of issues – one minor and one major. The minor one is that the 3D rendered bosses are a bit jarring – granted, they're smoothly animated and look good, but they clash quite a bit with the 2D surroundings. The major one is that a couple of the visual filters applied in the last world's levels seem more intent on making you blind, rather than challenging your listening skills (more on that later). But suffice to say, it is a very pretty game.
The acoustic guitars, maraccas and xylophones of old are replaced by a more “epic” orchestral soundtrack. At first, I was a tad baffled by this – the premise of the game is no more epic than that of the first game's. What convinced me that my confusion was irrational was the title screen's song – it's fantastic, it easily finds it way within your subconscious with its simple yet infectiously upbeat melody, and it's a genuinely well orchestrated piece of music. The rest of the soundtrack follows suit as you travel through castles, enchanted forests, deserts, under the sea, an undersea fortress and Olympus. Also as a result of its composition, it makes the adventure seem like it'll be an epic pilgrimage to save the Teensies.
In general, the soundtrack is still a rather energetic affair, even during the stages that are meant to be more “quiet” (like this one stage in the aforementioned undersea fortress that's kind of like a part of a James Bond movie). It uses a combination of fast and hard hitting rhythms to pump up the blood, to really get you going. Rayman Legends may have those moments where you need to stop and look around for collectibles, but for the most part, it's about going forward, jumping across gaps and landing on enemies for some leverage. A soundtrack that encompasses this through constantly moving rhythms is a natural fit for that style of play, especially for the Invasion levels where the idea is to dodge obstacles and, above all else, to keep *bleep*ing moving!
At its core, Rayman Legends is a straight up sidescrolling platformer with a heavy emphasis on fast paced, rhythmic platforming. To put it simply, each ledge, jump, collectible placement and obstacle is placed in a way where if you had solid reflexes, you could feasibly finish most levels without the need to stop too often. In a sense, it's almost as if the controller is an extension of your body – and by that, I mean that each level flows so well from start to finish with its landscape design and object placement that each action just comes naturally. Why, you'll find yourself able to jump torso-first into a stream of Lums whilst kicking an enemy in the head and rescuing the Teensie with little effort. While this was present in Rayman Origins, Rayman Legends performs all of this on a larger scale – no longer does each level feel like four or five segments vaguely congealed into one. Here, Ubisoft are given a bigger playground to mess around in. That allows for more obstacles, more collectibles, and more time to take in the scenery. As you'd imagine, they manage to take advantage of this. From seamlessly flowing forest levels to exploring a grimy underground base, there's hardly a moment where the level design skips a beat. Everything feels like they're placed exactly where they ought to be to provide some nice scenery porn whilst providing the player with obstacles to overcome. Oh, and much like Rayman Origins, Rayman Legends supports four player local multiplayer, so you and three other friends can experience the joys of this game's level designs together!
It's hard not to gush over most of this game's levels, and its tight controls aid in making them sublime! It's easy enough to run, jump and swim, and each movement – especially if you're swimming using the left analogue stick – feels about as precise as brain surgery. It works rather well with the elaborate animations and overall, most any given failure is all on you. This is especially true for the music stages at the end of each world. Based off of covers of songs you may or may not have heard of, these levels' designs are based off of the rhythm and beats of said songs. Each jump, kick and spinning hammerfist, among other actions, are based on what's going on in the song, so if you have an ear for rhythm, you'll have a very good idea of how to go through these levels. This is paramount in beating the 8 bit remixed versions of them in the last world as there are visual filters and multiple screens which will mess with your eyes, forcing you to listen to the music and make snap decisions based on the rhythm and beats, rather than just your eyes. As I mentioned, there are a couple of filters that go way overboard, but thankfully, your ears and reflexes should still be able to carry you through the levels. Oh, and these remixed levels, unlike every other level, has no partway checkpoint – it has to be done all at once, making you more reliant on your ears than before!
As much as reflexes matter, I'd imagine that people would like to put their skills to a truer test. A time trial, if you will. While the time trial system from Rayman Origins has been omitted, there are a series of levels that take a slice of the larger levels, redesign them to make them trickier via additional obstacles and tighter corners, and put you on a timer. These are the Invasion levels. If what you want out of your levels is some little ass kicking and a true test of your maneuverability through a series of obstacles, then your wish is Ubisoft's command. But maybe you prefer to have some prescence online – well, that's where the online challenges come in! Daily and weekly challenges involve going a certain distance the quickest, going the furtherest through a level, and collecting more Lums than everybody else. To make things seem more competitive are transparent characters – other peoples' runs through the challenge. Whether you learn from them or simply race them is your business. Either way, while the absence of live racing can seem a bit fleeting for the competitive edge, there's still something that motivates you to go for gold.
But Ubisoft didn't want to leave well alone. As I've mentioned before, Rayman Legends has plenty of additions besides the aforementioned Invasion levels and online time trials. One is in the form of Murfy. On the surface, his implementation into the game is a frank reminder that this was, at one point, a Nintendo Wii U exclusive until Microsoft and Sony wanted a piece of the pie. In practice, it's significantly better on the systems that aren't the Wii U! Rather than make it like Lemmings whilst using the touchpad to manipulate the level, Murfy's controls are instead relegated to the circle and shoulder buttons to activate whatever he happens to be hovering over. Where there's potential to activate the wrong mechanism by accident, Murfy will usually rotate the right wheel or pull the right lever to manipulate that part of the level just as you're about to jump to the corresponding platform. Furthermore, this adds a small layer of intensity as you'll find yourself quickly activating bits and bops before being able to make your way through the level, lest you fall behind. This goes doubly for the time trial and autoscrolling levels as you have no room to move too slowly.
However, I feel that Ubisoft went a tad overboard as Rayman Legends promotes itself as being bigger, better and uncut – a fair amount of levels feel very set piece-y, which I don't mind in shooters and other such games where things going boom look cool and they're designed to feel more like movies than video games; but in a game like Rayman Legends where replaying levels is a necessity in procuring a 100% rating, it loses its luster due to repetition. A shallow scenario like being chased down by a big monster just loses its impact once you realize that it'll only catch you if you slow down, which you're less likely to do upon repeated attempts. This is further established with bosses; they're overly formulaic and flashy in their approach and as a result, said battles boil down to dodging their slow, predictable attacks and then shooting at them when they're vulnerable. It's not a bad formula exactly, but it loses its appeal once you quickly figure out their patterns and your pattern of attack. I feel like Ubisoft sort of forgot that these levels may need to be played more than once in order to procure a 100% rating and while they can rest on their laurels in terms of their mostly fantastic level design, the set pieces and bosses aren't quite good enough for repeated playthroughs.
I can certainly admire any developer who is willing to make their sequel in this fashion, but most of it seems to be to the game's detriment. Now, Rayman Origins had this sort of thing going on in spades, but Rayman Legends' obsession with basing entire worlds on one or two gimmicks became rather tiresome by the time you finish them. The second world – Toad Story – is based on Rayman's ability to ride the wind using his gliding ability. Now, this was cool when used sparingly in Rayman Origins, but basing more than half of the world's entire levels on this is nothing short of tiresome. Rayman Origins and Legends worked splendidly with its rhythmic style of play, so why on Earth didn't it translate to its wind riding gameplay - or most of its other gameplay styles, for that matter? It even tries to be a shoot em up by giving you the ability to shoot fireballs in a few levels. Sadly, even something that worked in Rayman Origins feels like a tired gimmick as you find yourself just riding the wind, shooting monsters whilst trying to collect lums that are floating in the air. What was once a fun diversion from the gameplay feels rather ho-hum in its execution. Perhaps it's because it's not a reward for finishing most of the levels in each world, but a main gimmick for a pedestrian level that feels like it's far too long for its own good?
Rayman Legends does exactly what a sequel should do – it takes its predecessor, improves on it and adds whatever it deems necessary to add. The levels are bigger and better than before, the presentation is leagues ahead of its older brother, and its mechanics are more finely tuned. If it had simply stopped there, then it would be quite close to perfection. I don't mean to poo poo all over its efforts to further differentiate itself from its prequel, but the additions of boss battles and set pieces felt tacked on, as if they didn't quite have enough time to fine tune these elements. That, and some levels feel even more gimmicky than expected and as a result, it's going to be a tad harder to want to replay the entire game. Between the more set piece heavy levels and the boss fights, it's a definite step down, which is a crying shame as the rest of the game is a significant improvement over what was already a fantastic game! Perhaps if everything was polished to a tee, we'd have ourselves a perfect game, but for now, let's be happy that Rayman Legends is still quite a good game and did improve significantly on the platforming.
About the author
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