The most remarkable thing about Rayman Legends is how consistently it introduces new and unpredictable ideas over its roughly 12 hours. This beautifully animated co-op game tosses dozens of inventive ideas into the mix, proving there's still room for exciting creativity in the platforming genre. Naturally, Rayman starts out with simple running, jumping, and punching, but before you know it you’re sneaking past dozens of deadly traps, battling huge bosses, or playing through awesome challenge levels that look like '90s music videos. Every time I thought I found a personal favorite stage, the next one came along and replaced it.
I kept thinking the constant variety couldn't possibly hold up, but surprisingly, each of Rayman Legends’ stages looks more impressive than the last. This sequel takes Rayman Origins' colorful, animated look and feel in new directions. The beautiful transitions and clever bosses look stunning, expressive, and vibrant. A distinctly Loony Toons quality of the music and the adorable alien Teensies Rayman has to rescue give Legends character and personality to spare, even though there’s not much story here. I love its subtle and inventive visual tricks that hide dozens of crafty secret areas in plain sight, and since most levels don’t have time constraints, Legends gives us carte blanche to roam around to discover and appreciate secrets for ourselves.
Compared to most platformer characters, Rayman's jump physics tend to feel a little floaty, but I got used to it and grew to love it quickly. The levels he runs
Boss fights are some of the highlights of Rayman Legends. They don't reinvent the platforming boss battle, but these encounters show off some of the best visuals tricks, putting on a spectacular show. The Luchador, for example, is a towering mass of muscle who swings a huge hand and constantly launches his tiny opponents into the air. As I figured out his patterns and thumped him on the head, the reactions from the surrounding crowd sold the atmosphere of a big prizefight.
Amazing games like this one are always best when shared with friends or family, and almost every level feels finely tuned for both single-player and co-op. Things do get a bit chaotic when four players are jumping around at once – it’s easy to get confused about which character is yours, since everyone shares the same screen and a lot of the character skins look similar. To be fair though, no platformer has really solved this problem yet, and Rayman does it as well as any. The one thing that's truly disappointing is that there’s no online play, which means that other than some online leaderboards and daily challenges, Rayman Legends is stranded as a couch co-op game.
The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of Rayman Legends support co-op for four players, and the Wii U version adds in one more using the GamePad. It’s no secret that Rayman Legends was planned as a Wii U exclusive, and the Wii U GamePad works well with it to let one player take on an assistant role and help out the other four by activating switches in the environment. But Ubisoft came up with an elegant solution when it transitioned Legends to other platforms by letting Rayman command his flying encyclopedia assistant activate switches and levers using a single button.
On PS3 and 360, these puzzles require precise timing which makes it more difficult played in single-player, but I still found that to be a good challenge; it provides another interesting twist that gave me a fun level of control over the environment. It’s great that Ubisoft figured out how to make this co-op idea work in single-player, and that the frequent and well-placed checkpoints make sure it never feels frustrating.
On Wii U, this setup is a little different: If you're playing single-player, at one point you switch to the perspective of the assistant, and gameplay moves to the GamePad screen in a hilarious transition. At that point, Legends takes advantage of the Wii U's hardware to have you play a minigame in which you pull switches to manipulate the environment to try to keep a computer-controlled Sir Globrax alive in labyrinth-like stages.
The PS4, Xbox One, and PC versions of Rayman Legends look the same as the rest, except at a higher resolution. But I didn't feel like this made a big difference in the visual quality, because Rayman's strength is in its arts style rather than its technology. The only benefit here is reduced load times that quickly allow you to zip into a level of choice. The PS4 version has one additional feature: You can take screenshots and then pan and zoom using the Dual Shock 4's touch pad.
It's a good idea that's a lot of fun in co-op, requiring careful teamwork and coordination, but in single-player it's the most frustrating part of Rayman Legends. Simply put, they transform it from a great platformer into a frustrating escort mission. No matter how carefully I would clear a path for Sir Globrax, he still doesn’t always make good decisions. Sometimes he understands the trail you’re trying to set for him, and even occasionally shows some level of desire for self-preservation, but often he’ll go straight into a dangerous obstacle he could have avoided. Again, they're great when played in co-op, but constantly losing because of AI stupidity beyond my control made me want to avoid those missions entirely in single-player.
No matter where I play it, though, Rayman Legends is a fantastic example of why platformers will never stop being fun. It got where it is by building on lessons that trace back to classic Nintendo-made platformers, such as Yoshi’s Island andWario Land 4. Both games buck traditional genre trends and focused on exploration and discovery, and Rayman Legends takes the same approach and adds a consistent formula of smoothly increasing challenge, colorful presentation, and crazy variety that reminds me why I fell in love with this genre in the first place.