Rayman Legends Review: Legendary Silliness
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It’s seldom a good sign when a game is held back at the eleventh hour, and worse still when the delay is a whole six months, prompting open complaint from the development team.
Originally planned as a Wii U launch title with a six-month exclusivity period, Rayman Legends was reputedly rushed out to catch an audience of early adopters, but poor initial sales of Nintendo’s still-beleaguered console prompted a major change in strategy from Ubisoft. While 2011′s Rayman Origins was showered with praise and was hailed as one of the best platformers released in years, there was some worry that its sequel would suffer in the wake of such high-level corporate shenanigans.
It could have all gone so terribly wrong, but the team behind Rayman Legends knows how to make the best of a bad situation. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and when you find yourself with a complete game and six months to spare, you keep on building.
Looking back, it’s easy to imagine that things might not have turned out so well if the game had launched on its originally planned release date, but it seems that not one week was wasted during the interim. While there are still some signs of its Wii U-centric development, Rayman Legends is a solid fit for just about all platforms and worthy of your attention.
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U, Playstation Vita
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Release Date: Aug. 29, 2013
There’s not really much to say about the scene-setting and storytelling of Rayman Legends, simply because there isn’t much of it. This is a pure throwback to the days where the most story you got was a screen or two of poorly translated text, and maybe a page or two of background fluff in the manual.
In short, the magical Glade Of Dreams (’tis a silly place) has been invaded by living nightmares again, and it’s up to limbless hero Rayman, his rotund and squishy buddy Globox and newcomer barbarian princess Barbara (unlockable after a level or two) to run around, jump a lot, punch things and rescue a lot of big-nosed blue critters called Teensies. Any pretensions of storytelling are almost immediately abandoned by having the entire game set in a tent, and each level being held within a painting on display somewhere in the structure. None of this matters in the slightest.
You’ve probably watched the trailer and seen a few gameplay videos by now, so it almost seems redundant to mention that this is one of the most gorgeous 2-D games ever made. The art is bright, detailed, full of character and animated with a sense of classic cartoon energy that you seldom see these days, within games or without. While Origins was gorgeous, Legends goes a step further by doing a lot of fancy things with real-time lighting playing cleverly across more deeply shaded character art. The result is that almost any screenshot could be easily mistaken for concept art, and it looks better still in motion. Even the occasional polygonal boss model fits right in with the style. Were it not for their habit of weaving between the background and foreground to show off their highfalutin’ third “D,” you could mistake them for sprites.
If Legends makes its first impressions through its painterly aesthetic, then the second thing you’ll encounter is a little more divisive; Murfy. A holdover from the Wii U version of the game, where you could use the touch-screen controller to move around this little green fly-creature to interact with the environment, stun enemies or otherwise act as a helping hand.
The Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC versions share the same solution to the obvious control issues: Murfy will move automatically to the nearest/most obvious interactive object, and a single button (or two bumpers for items requiring rotating) will activate him. You’ll lose out on the ability to pick up and move certain things manually, but it works well enough; level flow isn’t affected too badly, and he only appears in maybe a quarter of the regular levels.
Still, elephant (or rather, fly) in the room aside, it’s surprising to see a game with such simple, accessible controls in this age of context-sensitive actions and control maps covering every button on a gamepad. Rayman Legends continues as Origins set out, with simple eight-way directional inputs, a run toggle and buttons for attack and jump. For the levels where the helper-character Murfy appears, you control him with an extra action button, but it’s otherwise as simple and intuitive as gaming gets these days. It is very highly recommended that you use a gamepad, though, as it cannot be understated just how much of a difference it makes having the run button bound to a trigger that your finger is perpetually on top of. There are also a few levels (swimming and aerial shooter stages, especially) where analogue movement becomes useful, although not essential.