Well, as they say, better late than never. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that, despite the very public disagreement between Ubisoft Montpellier and its publisher over the release date of Rayman Legends, the delay has done little to taint the final brew – in fact, it may have just improved it, but we’ll get to that later. In much the same way as Origins, Legends is an acutely honed platformer exhibiting the best of the genre in one immaculately presented package, albeit with a slight twist to the formula. It starts in much the same fashion, with Rayman and his cronies awoken from their long slumber to help rid the land of some evil ne’er-do-wells by running around, jumping over and generally smacking any object that strays within their periphery.
Whereas Origins started with Rayman stripped of his abilities – gradually introducing each feature to the player as you progress – Legends offers the suite of powers (wall-jumping, combat and swimming) from the very start. Yet, the influx in abilities never threatens to overwhelm. Instead each chapter of the game’s story – divided Mario-style by paintings in a gallery – is crafted to incrementally introduce the fundamentals, which break things down quite neatly into ‘The Swimming Levels’ ‘The Wall Running Levels’ and ‘The Gliding Levels’.
In fact, the entirety of the campaign is a tightly constructed routine. Each of the five main worlds conform to a template that involves a few basic platformer stages, a chase, a boss battle and then finally a musical crescendo. Origins followed a similar, albeit less captivating approach, and much like its predecessor it remains engaging through inspired level design littered with quirkiness and homage that keeps everything feeling fresh. One stage takes a slight detour from traditional platforming into stealth, finding itself inspired by Sean Connery-era Bond (complete with John Barry-esque musical cues), with a hint of BioShock’s Rapture for good measure. While other stages don’t quite wear their influences on their sleeve so overtly, it’s impossible not to appreciate the level of detail on display.
Of course, Legends is a gorgeous looking game. We’ve said it before, but it’s one of the few games where the promotional imagery doesn’t do it justice. The UbiArt Framwork is employed in more complex ways, which ultimately doesn’t mean much to anyone aside from saying that everything has a richly detailed presentation akin to high-end cinematic animation. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what has improved in the visuals, but suffice to say all the cutesy characteristics of the worlds are amplified, given much more colour, warmth and charm.
But we’re not a superficial lot and there are other changes that noticeably improve on what has come before. Players are tasked with collecting ten caged Teensies scattered around each level, some hidden, and others less so. Certainly it encourages players to return to previously explored areas to seek out every last captive and unlock all of the content that the game has to offer.
And Teensies aren’t the only characters returning in a more functional capacity. Long-serving fans of the series might be wondering how the return of Murfy impacts the gameplay, and the truth is that he acts more of an irritant than an aid. While he was clearly designed to take advantage of the Wii U’s GamePad functionality – y’know, because it was Nintendo’s exclusive – his presence on other platforms feels hamstrung by poor controls. For the most part he’s fine, appearing occasionally in missions to move platforms around at the player’s command, but during later sequences that significantly up-tempo, directing his attention becomes less practical. However, these moments are kept to a minimum and far from an indictment of his role altogether.
Of course, this wouldn’t quite be so noticeable if the rest of the game wasn’t so exceptionally paced. The score – one of the finest of recent years – is composed in sync with the game’s action, which galvanises the conventional platforming. A standout mission involves sprinting through a desertscape while sand-worn structures topple around you and it’s here that the music imbues a sense of heroism while you navigate through the crumbling scenery narrowly avoiding being crushed. It’s a rare to see a third-person platformer outside of Uncharted perform a similar feat of exhilaration. In two-dimensions it’s simply non-existent.
And with secrets hidden within each stage, it’s almost a shame to break stride and interrupt the stimulating flow of action and music. But secrets are there to be found and while these are traditionally extra Lums or Teensies, each contribute to various totals that unlock further spoils to entertain once the main clutch of missions have been completed: challenges, multiplayer football riff Kung Foot and a bunch of Origins stages that have been redesigned. There’s even a whole unlockable world comprising of re-styled 8-bit versions of previous musical stages.
There’s no lack of content here and there’s plenty to return to once the selection of story missions have been completed. But for the most part Rayman Legends is a lot like Origins, slightly tweaked and iterated to create a more polished, entertaining and bountiful product, while remaining as addictive and accessible as its precursor. No doubt the extra development time has only expanded upon the glut of features that lends Legends a wealth of replay value. It’s the cherry resting atop the very attractive icing on quite the substantial cake. While it might not necessarily be a revolution in genre terms, it doesn’t pretend to be either. However, it is one of the slickest, most essential platformers of the last few years. It may have taken a little longer than expected, but Michael Ancel and his team have done it again.