A kaleidoscopic romp through a veritable rumpus room of crisply rendered cartoon madness, Rayman Legends plays out like the psychoses of a nine year old filled to brimming with cheap sweets and budget cola, or perhaps the contents of Granddad’s medicine drawer. A long overdue return to both screens and to hardcore platforming has everyone’s favourite little yellow … something leaping, fists a-blazing back onto consoles and straight back into your heart.
In an industry still so lamentably obsessed with AAA titles, blockbuster visuals and budgets to reduce even the richest and filthiest oligarchs to cap-in-hand Oliver Twist-esque caricatures, it’s endlessly and mirthfully refreshing to go back to basics and to go there in such impeccable style.
Following on from 2011’s Rayman Origins, Legends does as most would expect. Seemingly endless swathes of platforming madness, set out in levels of increasing difficulty, combine the stupid with the stupendous; the laughable with the laconic. An outwardly childish game is here masking a cruel and calculating team of developers, not lacking in black humour and evidently in possession of a rather sadistic penchant for driving gamers far and wide irretrievably around the twist.
Maddeningly compulsive gameplay will see players, forced by their own completionism, to rescue every last Teensy, scouring each level nook-to-cranny and wearing their thumbs to the bone. As if a gold trophy weren’t enough, fully completed levels also deliver a fascinatingly rewarding tune, danceable and infinitely earworming, sure to coax even the most reluctant of platform gamers into submitting to the game’s charms and grimly grinning and bearing the slog towards completion.
The guys over at Ubisoft Montpellier really know how to subtly grasp the player by the short and curlies, drawing you in with simply rewarding levels, populated by wildly fantastical denizens of the kind familiar to players of the series’ previous iterations, only to see you run into a brick wall just a few stages later. But by this point, you’ve already got the bug and are far beyond the point of no return. And the brick wall is made of cake.
The environments are lush and take advantage of the simplicity that the 2.5D format offers, trading off complexity for finesse. The levels are incredibly dynamic, almost dizzying at times, and increasingly demanding as the story levels follow an unforgiving difficulty curve, positively certain to induce more than a few fits of game rage. Accompanying all of this is a wonderfully honed score, never failing to combine with what’s happening on screen to forge a beautifully symphonic synergy of sound and vision that transcends the seemingly trivial to induce genuinely epic moments.
Legends’ attention to detail and synchronicity shows itself best when puffed-up for parade in the closing levels of each stage, where a mixture of well-known tunes are recreated by the game’s cast of players, soundtracking some of the most frenzied, unrelenting and ingenious platforming yet seen by this reviewer. Each jump, kick and smash coincides perfectly with a guitar stab or horn blow and this, together with the wonderfully bright visuals flirting with the psychedelic ushers in a rewarding synesthetic experience and boldly plasters grins over the faces of all bearing witness. Of the musical levels, Ramjam’s ‘Black Betty’ is a favourite, though a mariachi version of ‘Eye of The Tiger’ comes in close second.
The mechanics of the platforming themselves are fairly rudimentary and will come naturally to experienced thumbs, also delivered here along with the usual limitations and frustrations. The hovering can feel clunky on the Xbox ONE controller, but is in no sense a significant failing and fails to detract from what can be at times a seamless rollercoaster of a ride. Though it's worth noting: as with any rollercoaster, once you've been around a given number of times, you begin to feel as though you know the drill, for better or for worse
The main story levels are fluffed out with unlockable portraits (each level being accessed by jumping through a picture in the main gallery, acting as the menu), extra playable characters and all the expected virtual bumf. The unlockable forty levels are remastered from Rayman Origins and will contribute to the final haul of Teensies and shed enough lums (the series’ currency) to light up the dark side of the moon, which is a great motivation to check out a glimpse of the series’ past. The value of some of the extras is beyond me, but for fanatics or perhaps children, these will undoubtedly chuck a little extra juice in the tank.
Lovingly crafted and polished, with a complex filling within an unassuming outer shell, this wonderful truffle of a game should find its way onto the consoles of all and sundry. Taking a break from the shooters and the RPGs is an experience that always has much to recommend itself, and this wonderfully nostalgic journey back to the genre that reigned before games ‘grew up’ is an apt prescription for anyone starting to forget one of the key pillars of intent behind the games industry, that is, to have fun, and with Rayman Legends, have fun you shall.
Thanks to Xbox for supplying our review copy