Rayman Legends review
Rayman Legends has a surprising spring in its step for a game that’s been delayed for almost a year. Originally set to be one of the stars of Nintendo’s exclusive Wii U launch line-up, Ubisoft Montpellier’s limbless hero instead made it to all the major consoles as well as the PC. His true home, however, will always lie with the Wii U - it’s here where Michel Ancel’s goofy creation shines brightest.
The Wii U has plenty of potential for asymmetric gameplay - this is when two players have completely different experiences when playing the same game, a play-style championed by Nintendo in the run up to the console's launch. Rayman Legends is an absolute master class in how this should be done, beating Nintendo at its own game by creating one of the most substantial asymmetric offerings we've seen since the console’s launch.
Using the touchscreen, GamePad players control Murfy, a flying green frog who can interact with the world in a way other players can’t. That could mean fending off dragons with a catapult while everyone makes their way to safety, or tickling heavily-armoured enemies so Rayman and company can smack them in the face. One of our favourite Murfy levels involved eating our way to victory by scoffing tunnels of cake, but he can also be used for more practical tasks like moving platforms across fiery death pits or rotating spiky circular mazes using the GamePad’s gyro sensors. Whatever the task, Murfy is the string holding each level together.
Of course, asymmetric gameplay doesn’t quite work when there’s only one player, but Ancel’s team has been careful to make each of its 14 Murfy-essential levels as solo-friendly as possible. On the Wii U, players swap Rayman for Murfy and use the touchscreen to guide an AI-controlled Globox through each level. On PC and other consoles, players keep control of Rayman, but can tap a button to get an AI-controlled Murfy to do their bidding.
We tried out both versions, but as much as we liked keeping control of Rayman’s actions, tapping a button to activate Murfy just didn’t create quite the same level of immersion as poking and prodding the touchscreen. Both AIs are incredibly intelligent. Globox will sniff out hidden secrets and captured Teensies as long as you create a path for him to find them, and Murfy is quick to catch on to your respective intentions, but when there’s so much for Murfy to do, the Wii U version not only shows off the game’s wealth of ideas more effectively than other platforms, but it also creates that much-needed variety to help keep the game feeling fresh and exciting.
It’s almost a shame there aren't more Murfy-specific levels in the grand total of 123 stages, but the sweetest moments of Rayman Legends are even more fleeting. As if each level wasn't already a joy to play, each world culminates in a special music stage where every button-press melds with the beat of the soundtrack to create a flawless harmony of pitch-perfect platforming.
Simple actions like sliding down a zip wire are transformed into sweeping glissandos and Black Betty guitar shreds, while mid-air kicks and jumps become the punching bass line of a mariachi-style Eye of the Tiger, but it’s the wider spectacle of Rayman’s trademark humour that really makes you smile during these stages. It’s a shame, then, that Rayman Legends has just six of these tracks in its repertoire, but there’s at least some consolation to be found in the later remixes of each level which take them to even more giddy extremes.
If you’d rather not have the music guiding you when to jump and punch, there are always the speed-runner-esque Invasion levels to sink your teeth into. Here, Rayman has 40 seconds to sprint and scrabble across nail-biting obstacle courses to save a trio of rocket-bound Teensies, but you’ll need perfect timing to reach the top of the online leaderboards.
The Invasion levels, in particular, are a cunning throwback to Rayman Origins’ treasure chest chases, but the evolution from its predecessor is plain to see - not least because Rayman Legends also includes 40 bonus levels from Origins as unlockable extras. Whereas Origins is strung together by a series of individual rooms, Legends’ levels are often more free-flowing, rarely breaking up the action except when you discover a hidden Teensie chamber. There’s a much greater sense of structural cohesion as you progress from one level to the next as well, with the aforementioned mariachi-flavoured cake world being a particular stand-out.
Throw in daily challenges and a surprisingly addictive kung-fu/football mini-game and Rayman Legends gives us the biggest excuse in months to rave about the Wii U again. There are few platformers that cater so well for both single and co-op play without making a few (and often patronizing) concessions to one mode or the other, but Rayman Legends walks that fine line with confidence and style. An essential game across all platforms.
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