Sep 23, 2013

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Rayman Legends Review

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It’s a rare treat when you sit down to write about a game that has an element for which you can wholeheartedly say is worth double the price of admission. In Rayman Legends’ case, this element is its soundtrack. There was a meeting I imagine, deep within the secluded walls of Ubisoft, in which a decision was made something along these lines: “So, Rayman Origins is easily one of the greatest, most charming platformers ever made. How do we follow that up, guys?” Perhaps there was a short, somewhat painful silence that followed before Michel Ancel stands up and calmly suggests, “What about Eye of the Tiger arranged for a mariachi band?” That’ll do it. It’s not that any element of Rayman Legends is even in particularly poor. There are a few marginal shortcomings, but overall it’s a once again pitch-perfect platformer, with a charming cast, in a brilliantly rendered world. It’s just that the soundtrack, composed by longtime Ancel collaborator Christophe Heral, blows so much of everything out of the water in terms of sheer quality, joy, excitement, and uniqueness. This, in a game that is almost completely nothing but joyous, exciting, and unique!

The music encapsulates almost every single thing that the game does right in its own, stand-alone little world. Rayman Legends without its soundtrack might well be a less worthwhile experience, but the soundtrack without Rayman Legends would still be every bit as incredible. I need to start off by saying this because a lot of the time I forget to pay reverence to amazing game soundtracks. I often forgo too many of the multimedia elements, instead focusing more in-depth on mechanics and gameplay and ludo-narrative and such – but as an aspiring composer myself, it would outright criminal for me not to open this review by telling you how absolutely astounding the compositions in this game are. They far surpass Origins in terms of scope and breadth, and probably even surpass Beyond Good and Evil as one of Heral’s best works. The apt term here is “masterpiece.”

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A 2D Rayman platformer, Legends is a follow-up to Origins in the most direct of ways. The look, feel, and general approach taken here is very much congruent as an Origins sequel. Rayman, Globox, and the Teensies all return as playable characters, with newcomer Barbara filling in the solitary “is a girl” role, and all play in ways that will be inherently familiar to those who have completed Origins. Although, there have been many tweaks. The sequel is far less slippery than earlier with a far tighter reign on the characters than in Origins, which has influenced the level design in rather substantial ways. There’s far more focus on precision platforming than in the prior outing, and the difficulty curve more or less lines up directly with the end of Origins save for a handful of tutorials. At any rate, this game clicks in perfectly with Rayman Origins as something part of a series; although the link between the settings may appear to be tenuous, like that between Rayman 2 and Rayman 3.

The major difference between Rayman Legends and Rayman Origins – at least, from the outset – is that Rayman Legends makes Rayman Origins look awful, graphically. Although still rendered with 2D sprites, Legends has employed a marvelous, oil painting-inspired look, which breathes a depth and life into the environments in ways that the genuinely stunning Origins never did. If Origins was a Saturday morning cartoon, then Legends is a motion picture. I swear that a single character in Legends packs in as much detail as an entire level of Origins. And if you’ve seen Origins, you’ll know that’s not a slight on that game but a hell of a compliment for Legends. Whatever the team did to the Ubi Art framework to get Rayman Legends looking as good as it does, they did it right.

Well-rendered graphics, however, don’t mean squat without aesthetic pleasantry, and Legends has it in spades. The worlds here are so beautifully designed, it’s mind-boggling. From medieval castles to the Japanese mountains of Shogun legend; to the clouds of Ancient Greek mythology and beyond, Rayman Legends visits worlds very much in line with the Legends title. There are fairy tale swamps and James Bond-esque underwater bases. There are rocky mountain passes, spewing balls of lava, and calm fields of lush greenery. Unlike Origins, which opted to run with a single look for entire worlds, every stage in Rayman Legends has something else fantastic to look at. They all feel congruent, but at the same time, special; unique in that most magical of ways.

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Getting to levels is also far and away improved. Instead of a Super Mario Bros.-esque world map, the stages of Rayman Legends are divided into five worlds, and you reach these worlds by jumping into magical paintings. The fictional explanation for this happening is simply the fact that it’s a video game. It’s much easier now to make your way from level to level, and you never once lose control of your character while on the level hub, so the game feels much more connected, vibrant, and alive. This, combined with the fantastic aesthetic, combined with the impeccable graphic fidelity, goes to create a feeling of sheer adventure.

It’s a strictly linear platformer. There’s no Metroid or Castlevania influence, nor any real “secrets” as much as there are only unlockables you might need to pay a bit of attention to spot, and variety comes mostly in variations on a theme (albeit, sometimes fairly substantial variations, including whole quasi-stealth areas). No, the bulk of Rayman Legends is spent running, jumping, floating and punching in a straight line. And yet – and I say this word in only the most literal sense – it is epic. It feels like a lengthy, epic journey; a quest, even! The game doesn’t offer any plot beyond a very, very basic premise, the characterization comes from the charming animation and rudimentary voice clips alone, and there’s not even really a goal at the end that you could have predicted you’d accomplish at the start. …and yet, there is something so full about Rayman Legends. It does feel like a whole, big trek. Sure, it’s through many different worlds, all differing from each other with some barely connected by a thread to the rest of the game. But finishing Rayman Legends makes you feel like you have explored the vastness of a varied and, ahem, legendary universe.

The platforming doesn’t take a back seat to the presentation. The level design includes true cream-of-the-crop stuff, with some stages offering dense, maze-esque labyrinths to traverse, and others more in line with a Canabalt-ish runner game. Some levels go down instead of left, some reward speed, some reward precision, and many reward both. Though, there is a kind of basic primitiveness to a great deal many levels. With exceptions (the boss fights that feature the bosses rendered seamlessly in 3D are a true highlight), they aren’t nearly as genuinely creative as the world that’s been crafted – nonetheless, they provide the perfect amount of no-frills run-jump-punch 2D Rayman fun. It’s not to say that the game lacks variety – no, the game is immensely varied – but that variety merely takes form as quite literal variations on existing themes. There are many levels here I’d probably list as my favorite platforming stages of all time – in particular, the much hyped “music” levels, in which you must run forward and jump, punch, and float in time with a stellar arrangement of a popular song. Like aforementioned Eye of the Tiger, arranged for a mariachi band. It’s the kind of thing you don’t know you want until you hear it; after which, you’ll wonder where it’s been your whole life.

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About Andrew Deavin

I was born, and then I did some stuff, and now I'm on the internet. I'm a pretty cool guy, or, so my friends tell me.