US: 18 Feb 2014
Rayman Legends is a joyous game, a well-made platformer that’s not only fun, but smart about how it’s fun. It’s also a big game with several worlds that each contain almost a dozen levels (and it also seems to contain the entirety of Rayman Origins, literally giving you two games for the price of one). The scope of it all seems daunting at first, yet it also seems to end too soon. Raymen Legends is all about momentum, and once you get into its groove it’s impossible to stop.
That focus on momentum makes for some awkward controls at first. Rayman doesn’t have a double jump, which feels limiting in the early levels, but since the entire game is designed around this limited jumping range you quickly get used to it. Instead of the double jump, you can increase the range of your leaps by getting a running start, and this is where the momentum comes into play.
You’ll spend a lot of time running in Rayman Legends, and the levels are designed with this in mind. There’s almost always a perfect line through the levels, and like a parkour runner leaping through a city, the more that you play, the better you can intuit that perfect line. When everything goes right, Rayman looks to be dancing through the levels with jumps, punches, body slams. There’s no practical reason to try for a perfect run, you’re not rewarded for getting through a level without dying, but you’ll strive for it nonetheless purely for aesthetic reasons. Failure just isn’t graceful.
The game is generally split into two types of levels: There are the more traditional platformer levels that are meant to be explored at your own pace, and there are the “timed” levels in which you’re chased by a wall of fire, forcing you to speed through obstacles as fast as possible. Naturally the latter levels are the most fun, offering the most sublime platforming outside a classic Nintendo game. These are the levels in which everything “clicks,” in which everything about the game works in harmony: the level design, the controls, even the art style, difficulty, and soundtrack.
Rayman Legends is a vibrant, goofy, catchy, and sometimes brutally difficult game. Forgiving checkpoints do help alleviate any potential frustration from the difficulty; you’ll never have to start a level from the beginning. If that’s not enough, the music and art and characters and worlds are so wildly imaginative that you can’t help but smile even as you fail a jump for the fourth time in a row.
That harmony comes to a glorious head in the final level of each world. These are always timed levels, but they’re special because they’re backed by an interactive soundtrack that makes you the conductor. Your every jump and bounce is a musical beat, rows of collectibles create melodies, and even the enemies join in the fun, popping into the foreground and background to provide vocals or instrumental solos.
Rayman Legends is all about momentum, but the tricky thing about momentum is that it’s hard to change directions when you get going. Rayman himself is no different. When you try to move back and forth, he doesn’t change his direction immediately. Instead, he takes about a half second to turn around and then starts moving, so for a brief second you’re stuck in place. It’s a minor thing, but it can mean the difference between life and death in the game’s many boss fights. These battles take place on a single screen, so there’s no running involved, and the brutes often fill the screen with projectiles, turning Rayman Legends into a bullet-hell game. The projectiles are slow, but so is Rayman in this confined space. You’ll die a lot and blame the controls and curse the game. Bosses are always the worst part of every world, but thankfully they’re always followed by the musical levels, ensuring you end each world on a high note.
Rayman Legends clearly knows where its strengths lie, and it paces itself to purposefully highlight those strengths. You’ll never be angry at it for long.
As a pleasant bonus, the Playstation 4 version has the best use of the DualShock 4 touchpad that I’ve seen to date. Every level has hundreds of collectible Lums (think of them as the coins in a Mario game). If you find enough Lums in a single level you’re rewarded with a scratcher ticket that you can scratch off using the touchpad. That extra layer of physicality is satisfying, and it helps that every ticket is a winner with rewards ranging from more Lums to more levels. You’ll also get a pack of tickets every time you collect a couple thousand Lums, another example of Rayman Legends knowing where its strengths lie.
There’s a minor but welcome online component that has you competing against the community in daily and weekly challenges. You’ll run as far as you can in a level or try and collect “X” number of Lums as fast as possible, then you’re ranked and rewarded a bronze, silver, or gold trophy. These challenges aren’t new. They just repurpose content from the rest of the game, but the added context of competition makes you feel like part of a greater whole. It’s a single-player game with a strong sense of community.
Rayman Legends is designed to make you smile. It can be brutally difficult, but it’s also clever, whimsical, and stuffed with such a variety of art and music that it never repeats itself. A few bad boss fights are easily forgotten amidst the pure platforming pleasure that is Rayman Legends.