Platformers are a dime a dozen. For a new title to stand out in an ocean of them is an arduous task, and the ones that do are quickly thrust into the shadows of a certain plucky plumber and his brother. But there’s a new star in town, folks. From the pitch-perfect soundtrack and charming visuals to the flawless audio accents and multifarious gameplay, Rayman Legends is the best platformer – and one of the best games overall – on any console right now.
The stage is set: The Glade of Dreams is in danger once again, invaded by nightmares. Rayman and his friends wake from a long sleep, springing into action to protect their realm. Through five different worlds filled with diverse levels, they charge forward to cleanse the land of the nightmarish intruders. It’s a wonderful excuse to paint the canvas with this intoxicating landscape, but no additional narrative is necessary. The rest of the game speaks for itself.
In the tradition of 2011’s Rayman Origins (an excellent game in its own right), Rayman Legends is a side-scrolling platformer oozing with charisma. The crisp, hand-drawn animations give each hero and enemy their own unique personality. The varied worlds demonstrate their cartoonish identities while remaining rich in detail. The action all takes place on a flat plane, but the environments add the depth of the third dimension to engross you in each setting. And there aren’t enough kind words to describe the audio elements of Rayman Legends. The orchestral soundtrack superbly complements every situation with the prowess of a good film score, and the hilarious sound effects are the finishing touches to complete this impeccable presentation.
In fact, you may spend so much time admiring this game that you fail to notice how great it feels to play. This is because the action in Rayman Legends is effortless. After a short time with the early levels learning the basics, you quickly begin to understand what the game wants you to do. Running, stomping, punching, floating, wall-jumping… The levels often demand that you chain these actions in quick succession while being chased by a wall of fire or climbing a sinking building. But the levels are so finely crafted that rattling off precise maneuvers feels natural. As a result, Rayman Legends can present you with some stiff challenges that manage to be difficult enough to provide exhilaration upon completion, but typically short of being truly frustrating. That said, this game seems to have the skilled player in mind. The challenge becomes formidable towards the end, putting a light damper on its level of accessibility.
This is also because the game puts fun first. There are no limited lives to worry about and, in most cases, the checkpoints you return to when dying are generously close to the location where you failed. In this way, Rayman Legends openly encourages exploration and experimentation without fear of lost progress. Furthermore, many of the most difficult sequences take place in hidden areas that are not required for progression. While your primary goal is always to rescue the many “Teensies,” collecting all of them in each level isn’t necessary, though you constantly feel the desire to find every one nonetheless. In essence, Rayman Legends allows you to decide how much – and when – you want to be challenged. In almost every case, once you feel like you’ve mastered everything the game has thrown at you, there’s another step up for you to take should you choose to accept it.
Where many platformers can eventually feel long in the tooth and overstay their welcomes, Rayman Legends manages to keep things interesting throughout. After a couple of traditional platforming levels, you may be presented with one of your flying friend Murfy’s stages, tasking you with using the Wii U tablet controller to instruct the little bugger to cut ropes and drag platforms, guiding the plump Globox safely to his destination. Or maybe you’ll find yourself in one of several large-scale boss battles in all its bombastic glory. Perhaps you’ll be racing along to a wacky rendition of Eye of the Tiger in a pseudo-rhythm game. Rayman Legends holds your attention – and your admiration – from start to finish.
But I use the word “finish” loosely. There is a ton of content in this game that goes well beyond what is required to roll the credits. Collect enough Teensies and additional levels will unlock so frequently that you won’t be able to keep up. Simply progressing through the game offers additional “Invaded” versions of previously completed stages to offer up additional challenges. And if you do well enough on a given level, you earn a “Lucky Ticket” which can award you with even more stages in the form of throwbacks to Rayman Origins. There’s even an entire world to unlock if you collect a hefty amount of Teensies, adding yet more content.
Moreover, there are the daily and weekly “challenges.” New ones are provided on the appropriate basis and your successes are pitted against a leaderboard of players from around the world. Depending on how well you perform each challenge, you can be rewarded with a bronze, silver, or gold cup, but only if your standing remains upon the challenge’s completion at the end of the day or week. It’s a surprisingly effective incentive to keep you coming back to maintain or improve your standings until each challenge ends. And for bragging rights, the previous challenge winners’ names scroll across the bottom of the screen when browsing the Glade of Dreams.
If you have friends in tow, Rayman Legends provides drop-in, drop-out multiplayer for up to four players in local co-op. It often makes things more difficult, but can also result in some ridiculous and hilarious moments. However, the multiplayer is most enjoyable when playing the Murfy levels, allowing one player to use the tablet controller as Murfy and the others to navigate the platforming.
While Rayman Legends has an iteration for all major consoles, the definitive version clearly resides on the Wii U. The touch control and dual-screen support provided by the tablet controller allows additional interactivity in nearly every situation – especially the Murfy levels – and no other console is equipped to match. The same excellent game extends to all platforms, but playing on the Wii U feels like it was created with that console in mind.
Whether you’re a rabid fan of platforming games or you’ve grown disillusioned with them over the years, Rayman Legends has the charm and gameplay to leave you enthralled. Nary a fault can be found while conquering its many levels and soaking in its immaculate aesthetic. Completing the core stages is a joy, but the numerous collectibles, unlockable levels, and daily challenges will have you returning to the Glade of Dreams time and time again. I’m not afraid to say it: here is the pinnacle of the platforming genre for this gaming generation.