Rayman Origins came during a time of resurgent nostalgia for the platformer genre that is fortunately still prominent, as we’re seeing new renditions of old classics or new entries for franchises that had seen years of inactivity. For its part, Origins seemed content to draw from Donkey Kong Country Returns with its fast and intense trial-and-error gameplay while also capturing the four-player appeal of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. If Mario is that kid’s birthday party with cake and balloons while DKCR was a wild college bash, Rayman Origins was like a small but loud gathering with close friends. It struck the perfect balance between the two, resulting in something more engaging than either game. Rayman Legends seeks to recapture the magic a second time and if it doesn’t quite match up to Origins, to me that’s largely because Origins had the chance to impress me first.
100 years have passed since Origins and the Godlike figure, the Bubble Dreamer, awakes our heroes from a century-long nap to take care of the growing Nightmares that have multiplied over the decades. That’s the full extent of the storyline and anything more beyond the introduction is nonexistent, so anyone expecting more will be sorely disappointed. I could take or leave it; platformers aren’t known for their deep plots.
Legends is a case of “don’t fix what isn’t broken”, as nearly everything about it is essentially a bigger version of what there was in Origins. The individual worlds follow a similar structure of different themes; World 1 is a Forest stage, World 3 employs foods, and World 4 is an ocean setting like in the first game., These realms are diverse and distinct, and emphasized all the more by the gorgeous graphics. World 3 is a colorful pastel setting rifled with skeleton Mariachi bands and a Day of the Dead theme. World 4’s oceanic route employs a spy theme where sneaking around is as much a part of the gameplay as maneuvering through crusty old underground pipes. While I am more enamored by Origins’ 2D animated look, Legends is nothing short of gorgeous. Everything is detailed in a paint-like coat (even the character and level select screens are represented through picture frames) and they all move so smoothly. The lighting is fantastic and the developers made excellent use of their color palette to craft a vivid masterpiece. This is one of the most atmospheric games I’ve ever stumbled upon, one worthy of sharing the spotlight alongside other artistic beauties like Okami and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
The controls are tight with only a slightly loose feeling to them. Sometimes Rayman and pals end up clutching onto the edge of a cliff when I want them to fall down, and then there’s the way the running punch can accidentally force your characters to collide into enemies and obstacles like they’ve slipped on Crisco. But overall, the game plays beautifully and I barely had any trouble. It also has possibly the best underwater levels of any platformers I’ve played. Instead of being slow and clunky, the characters swim just as gracefully in sea as they run on land. More platformers could stand to implement water stages with Legends in mind.
The big draw of the game is the green, grinning machine Murfy. As an originally Wii-U exclusive title, Rayman Legends was designed for the player to use the gamepad to maneuver Murfy to move platformers or tickle enemies to pave the way for Raymaan and friends. For the Playstation 3 edition, Murfy’s controls are connected to a button on the controller (the circle button in my case). If you’re playing alone, this is where you have to get a bit dexterous because you’re simultaneously controlling Murfy AND your chosen character. Thankfully this isn’t as cumbersome as it sounds, since Murfy’s AI is exceptionally responsive and he’s always where you want him to be while game also gives you some breathing room to activate him. The setup isn’t perfect and it was clearly meant for the Wii-U first, but it wasn’t nearly as bothersome as it could have been. Kudos to the developers for thinking this through.
The best part of the game, hands down, are the musical stages. You control your character as a song plays in the background, forcing you to time your beat as you jump and attack your way to the finish. They’re short but inspiring, not to mention catchy—their rendition of 126.96.36.199’s “Woo Hoo” is ridiculously addicting. I could play an entire game based on this concept alone.
A slight drawback to Legends is that it’s a bit easier than Origins. Checkpoints are plentiful and any Teensies you rescued in mini-games (as well as the loading screen on some stages) provide you with hearts. Origins took me weeks to conquer, whereas I finished Legend’s main mode in one week. Thankfully, the game has tons of replay value. If you’re tired of retreading past levels to pick up any leftover Teensies or Lums, you can try your hands on the bonus Invaded levels. Because these are time trials, you don’t have the luxury to relax as you attempt to reach the goal while enemies, obstacles, and Dark Raymans make it anything but simple. These provide the real tests for platforming experts and are nearly frustrating, but they’re great for those seeking a challenge. Not up for that? You can go online and take on the surprisingly addicting Challenges. Want to play soccer? Kung Foot’s got you covered. You can also try to score Lucky Clovers to unlock more Lums and Teensies or get a new Creature (who spews out even more Lums; as of this writing, I had over 130,000 of those glowing freaks.) Or you can unlock the “Back to Origins” mode where 40 remastered levels from Origins await. I admit the last one is a tad redundant; I’d rather they had used time and resources to create more levels for Legends instead, but this is a neat treat for those who never touched the first game.
Rayman Legends is a visually striking and entertaining game. Even if it’s more of the same, its goofy themes and the imagination put into the game more than make up for it. The presentation is near perfect, while the humor is undeniably charming (my favorite is a giant luchador quickly whipping out a Terminator 2 reference; I laughed way more than I should have). If you loved Rayman Origins or are just starving for a good platformer, Legends has all the bells and whistles needed to satisfy. It may not dazzle quite the way its predecessor did, but it certainly doesn’t suffer from a sophomore slump.