In an era when the first person shooter is king, decent platformers are a rare breed. With too much focus on trying to be 3D, or adding overly complex mechanics to try and engage gamers into a game that isn’t really up to much I’ve really missed the chance to sit down, run from left to right and jump about the place; surely it’s not too much to hope for? It would seem the guys at Ubisoft agree – Rayman Legends take everything that is great about platformers, gives it some extra cool stuff and makes everything else look like a desperate try-hard.
Even those who haven’t played a Rayman game before should recognise Rayman himself, the slightly odd but entirely lovable body-with-hands-and-feet-but-no-arms-and-legs guy. By doing little other than running, jumping (with clever gliding helicopter-ears) and the occasional punch or kick he’s a very agile and entirely responsive little chap, ready to take on whatever’s thrown his way in order to rescue the weird little blue Teensies that have been captured by the bad guys who have taken over the Glad of Dreams. It’s a plot setup which is born out of necessity more than driving the game forwards, and serves as nothing more than a reason for you to head to a vast range of gorgeous and colourful locations to do your stuff.
Not that a lack of storyline does anything to hinder your enjoyment, you’ll be far too busy tracking down as many Teensies and Lumes as possible (the latter being the glowing gold creatures used as in-game currency) in order to unlock more levels to leap into, and with the bewildering quantity of content available it’s a task that won’t run its course very quickly. There are loads of areas to open up, each containing a series of themed levels, but even within the same area there’s constant variety and challenge as you progress through each one. Some have you simply doing the stereotypical platforming stuff, but as you start to move through the trickier regions there are underwater sections, ice-covered slippery levels, jungles with vine-swinging, all sorts. But none of it feels overly contrived or dropped in for mere padding, it all seems to natural in terms of the progression of the game that it’s hard to imagine how each element could have been missed out. Everything looks stunning, and for once those screenshots that look gorgeous are actually an accurate depiction of how things look in motion.
And yet all of the diversity mentioned so far takes a firm back seat behind the real star of the show: the musical levels. After beating a boss at the end of each section you’re presented with a speed run level, one which you can only successfully beat by running at full pelt throughout the whole thing. The difference here is how your actions drive the soundtrack behind the level, something which can only really be described with a demonstration, which we’ve helpfully included with the video below of us playing the first of these musical stages. It’s something so perfectly created, and so incredibly fun it’s almost impossible to work out why it hasn’t become a feature in previous platformers. It’s unusual to laugh while playing a game, but when you have huge bad guys thumping a smaller guy over the head in perfect time with the background music it’s difficult to resist.
One double edged sword comes in the form of Murphy, a floating sidekick who’s called upon during some of the levels. Murphy will fly about being useful by cutting ropes, ticking bigger bad guys to put them off and jabbing things in the eyes to get them out of their way. His actions are sparked with a quick tap of the O button, which sounds cool and helpful until you try doing it at speed while jumping between two constantly growing thorny branches and end up timing it all wrong. It’s like trying to cook pancakes while playing the violin at the same time – there’s probably a technique in there somewhere, but it needs a few attempts to get it right. It’s a frustration that knocks you out of your rhythm at times, but considering there are also plenty of moments when you fall to your death through nothing but ham-fistedness and crap timing it’s possibly just another challenge to hurdle.
Luckily there’s no huge punishment for being rubbish – you don’t get pushed back all that far when you screw it up, and you don’t get penalised with a reduction in Lumes or Teensies that you’d picked up before the checkpoint. It might still take 15 attempts to clear a specific section, but the learning process involved does kick out some of the possible annoyance of getting it wrong repeatedly. And you can always bring in a couple of friends to join you for the 4 player co-op option, which gets a bit insane at times but can be enjoyable at the same time. Not as enjoyable though as another ace up Rayman’s sleeve, Kung Foot, a great little mini game which allows players to play against each other by attacking the ball in order to score at the other side of the screen. Totally ridiculous, utter mayhem, but entirely enjoyable.
There’s other stuff too – scratchcards to win, older Rayman levels to unlock and play, characters to unlock that you can instantly swap with to play your levels as someone else, and daily and weekly challenges that upload your best scores to an online leaderboard in order to win prizes if your score is good enough at the end of the time allocated. It’s a huge playground of brilliant design and enjoyment, one that admittedly could’ve been improved with some online capabilities beyond the leaderboards, but it’s still a very fun game to get hold of.
If you’ve been away from platforming for a while, or are simply getting bored with the endless stream of games that insist on you killing stuff with the latest great explosive device, you really need to grab a copy of Rayman Legends. Try the demo, watch the videos, but above all else just buy it and enjoy being able to have fun without worrying what comes next. To paraphrase a famous potato, this was a triumph. And well done Ubisoft for deciding against making this a WiiU exclusive, otherwise a lot of people would have missed out on this, and that would’ve been a huge shame.
Reviewed on PS3