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PLATFORM: XBox 360 (reviewed), PS3 , WiiU, PC, Vita
ESRB RATING: E10
DEVELOPER: Ubisoft Montpelier
It’s a beautiful and tragic thing that Legends is multiplatform, as opposed to WiiU exclusive. It’s a beautiful thing, because there’s not a $350 price of admission to get to play the spectacular sequel to one of the best platformers ever made. It’s a tragic thing, because A: this game absolutely feels like it was made with the WiiU’s best interests in mind, and B: even if it was exclusive, it’s depressing how much it doesn’t chap Nintendo’s ass fierce knowing how much Rayman Legends utterly shames the last 10 years of Nintendo platformers.
To be fair, Origins did that when it came out on the Wii as well, showing of a level of charm and invention and humor we used to be able to count on Big N for consistently, but that was a game with far less hype behind it. The WiiU is starving for games right now, and Legends, along with The Wonderful 101, was the light at the end of the long, dark, gimmicky touchscreen tunnel. Legends didn’t need to reinvent the wheel here–more levels using the same engine would’ve still gotten plenty of folks to shell out again for the game–but it certainly gave it a shot anyway,delivering an advancement of ideas, artistry, and ambition here the likes of which we’ve only dreamed of seeing in a platformer, and that the WiiU NEEDS right now to justify its existence.
I couldn’t tell you the set up of Legends if I tried. There’s something about the Bubble Dreamer’s worst nightmares coming to life, the Teensy Magicians kidnapping/enslaving their own people, Rayman enlisting the help of a succession of awesome, spunky, warrior princesses, but really, even Michel Ancel himself slaps a big ass “IRRELEVANT” sign on the whole shebang.* Jump in a painting, walk forward till you hit something cool. It takes less than 20 seconds: Right at the outset, you get to see the new Ubi Framework engine dazzle. Origins already set the precedent of being a game that looks like the interactive cartoon we’d been dreaming of since the 8-bit days. Legends goes the extra mile, with new depth, shading, and detail bringing it up to par with the best animation has to offer. Put a scene from The Emperor’s New Groove next to someone playing Legends, the ability to tell which one was Disney and which one is the wacky video game comes down to shot choice, and number of llamas. The music doesn’t go as diverse as the last game, where big band/banjo hoedowns, relaxed and groovy lounge music, didgeridoos, and American Indian chants found their way alongside poppy breakbeats. This time, it streamlines into a gloriously fitting Danny Elfman-meets-Termite Terrace sort of vibe, making the changeups that happen count, like Spanish guitars for the Fiesta De Los Muertos, or a level that musically references the entire history of spy films, including a gameplay segment directly and brilliantly referencing this scene.
The brilliant goes beyond simple aesthetics though. The actual mechanics of the game have not changed. You still run, jump, glide, slide, and crawl as always. Murfy from Rayman 2 comes back as a helper character, controlled by the B button here, but with the touchscreen on the WiiU port, to slide platforms, create/destroy new ones, or, little stuff like rotating THE ENTIRE STAGE, but that’s the only big adjustment to make. Those are the sections where, for the first time, one feels the pain of not having the WiiU controller, a feeling that I don’t expect will happen terribly often. But if there is any context in which the title makes sense, it’s in just what kind of world you’ll be exploring with those mechanics, and how much the game’s scale has grown. Origins had its moments of big–mostly it was that one food stage boss you have to fight from inside his stomach–but nothing on the scale of having entire new sections of stage grow around you, or bosses engulf the entire stage, having to run down their backs to smack them in the head, or being chased down corridors by giant, screen-filling swarms of snarling little demons. The devil is more in the details, however. Origins was pretty, and full of great design, but now we’re at a point where every screen is brimming with life and detail. Never minding that just watching your playable characters move and interact is a joy, backgrounds have their own little mini stories happening at almost every turn. I was so engrossed in gameplay that I didn’t realize one of the underwater corridors I was running through had a giant jellyfish just swimming around in the back. And that’s just the peripheral stuff.
There’s moments the game wants you to stroll around, enjoy the scenery and the simple platforming joy, others where the level is complete chaos. Stages routinely crumble around you, forcing you from vertical to horizontal gameplay. Giant creatures will chase you through a level, destroying everything in their wake. The elements are often utilized to their maximum, heart-attack inducing close shave potential. It all seems like rather big stuff for a game so focused on sheer charm the last time around, but Origins was far from being an easy game, and this is no different. The mood has changed, ever so slightly, to accommodate, but never at the expense of that charm or fun. You may getting your ass handed to you by one of the Fiesta De Los Muertos stages, but then you think about how you’re getting your ass handed to you by a stage where you create paths by having a tiny bug helper eat his way through giant cakes, running through giant rotten apples, or smearing guacamole on the walls to stop lava from falling on you and you just can’t stay mad at it.
This game actually owes more to Rayman Jungle Run‘s existence than one might expect. Even though it was on mobile (and if you haven’t downloaded it, you’re doing your fancy smartphone a disservice), the constant forward movement and Rube Goldberg stage design carries over here. A lot of the stages rely on getting the player into the stage’s deliberate rhythm–literally so, during the game’s music levels–figuring out which enemy to jump on to get to which platform to get to which items, that won’t lead to a deathtrap. This is the idea that the last few console Sonic titles have been going for, but perfected. These sequences of pure kinetic momentum are myriad here, but are so diabolically inventive and exhilarating when you get them right it’s impossible to imagine them getting old, and they won’t, considering there’s over 100 stages to explore here.
You read that right. Legends is literally choked with content. There’s the main game, Rescue Princess stages, the musical levels, Invasion stages, where you have to run backwards through a level within a time limit, with redesigned obstacles and enemies from another stage in the game, 40 stages from Origins, redone in the new graphics engine, daily online challenges with specially remixed levels where the developers give the entire community a section of level to complete in a certain time, or collect as many Lums as you can within. That’s not counting the numerous character skins to earn, the scratch off tickets where you can win new stuff on a constant basis, the little creature collections that allow you to collect more Lums the more of them you put together, or the super fun, chaotic, optional soccer mini game built right in. The Vita port will apparently have some sliding block puzzle thing in addition to all this. This game will keep players coming back well into the holidays, and that’s if you start it on release day.
With two games, Ubisoft has delivered the kind of collective experience the platforming genre’s been begging for, on a level of pure imagination and talent that all the new indie platformers in the world, by their very nature, could never touch, on a level that we simply cannot rely on Nintendo to deliver anymore, and on a level that older gamers only spoke about in hushed pie-in-the-sky whispers back when games were all blips and bloops. Rayman Legends is quite literally the game of our wildest dreams. I’d take one of these over the last 10 years of platformers I’ve played, and not even think twice.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
*-Deserves its own sidenote, because it’s too great: Guy was quoted in a French interview stating, “In a way, [Legends] is a bit like a porno: you go straight to the essential without really wondering why the plumber was there in the first place.”