With Rayman Origins setting a new standard for everyone's favourite French hero, and rubbing shoulders with the leaders in the platforming genre, Michel Ancel's long overdue sequel has a lot to live up to. Fortunately, Rayman Legends is a tremendously fun and brilliantly designed title that is the very definition of a must-have for fans of the hop-heavy genre.
The release takes Origins' fundamentals and polishes them to within an inch of their life. The controls are as tight as ever, allowing you to run, jump, swim, swing, and glide through the environments so smoothly that it's as if you're not really controlling your character at all, but working on instinct and manipulating the action with your mind. Levels are so meticulously detailed that you'll be blown be away by their delicious visuals, charmed by their impediments, and delighted once you master their unique challenges. And through all of these emotions, a stunning score will add peaks to your enjoyment, driving your adrenaline through difficult stages, and calming your blood pressure as you explore. This is a game that masterfully links each individual part of its makeup into an exquisite whole, culminating in a true sensory treat.
While its predecessor was fairly narrative-driven, Legends puts much of its focus on content. Rayman and his friends are awoken a century after the events of Origins to find the Teensies – peculiar wizard fellows – have been captured by Dark Teensies, and the Glade of Dreams has been overrun with demons and monstrosities. It's up to the limbless hero and his friends to save the land and retrieve the mythical creatures. Of course, this rescue mission provides loose context for a slew of different environmental themes, spanning castles, lush jungles, dank swamps, and more. You even get to explore under the sea, and the fiery horrors of a nightmarish kitchen. There's an unbelievable amount of variety – with many of the best levels from Ubisoft Montpellier's previous adventure revisited for good measure.
It's not just a question of visual variety either. While precision platforming is certainly the order of the day – demanding impeccable timing and focus – it's augmented with stealth sections, boss battles, and more. The sheer number of ideas on display prevents the action from ever outstaying its welcome, with even minor minigames such as Kung Foot – a competitive multiplayer mode where two teams battle it out trying to score goals by jumping and attacking the ball – bringing hours of entertainment. However, it's the music levels that truly take the crown. Featuring a Rayman remix of a classic song, these stages push you to the right while a backing track plays, with your jumps, attacks, and general interactions overlaying accompanying melodies. It literally results in a symphony that's written in gameplay, which is perhaps the biggest compliment that you could possibly pay such an imaginative set of levels.
While you'll need focus to beat the main campaign, adding three other players to the action via drop-in/drop-out co-op brings a chaotic dynamic to the affair. Multiplayer is a barrel of laughs and negates the challenge a touch, with death resulting in your character blowing up like balloon, waiting to be tagged back into play with a slap from one of your team mates. However, it can get confusing with so many players on screen, and detracts ever so slightly from the pure presentational treat that you'll derive from the single player mode. It's not bad, it's just different – and it's a testament to the quality of the title's design that it manages to appeal in both options. We enjoyed exploring the levels alone first, and then returning with friends to gobble up Lums, where standing on each others' shoulders makes it easier to reach those high hanging goodies.
Adding buddies to the mix is also useful for handling the duties of Murphy, a floating frog-type fellow who aids you occassionally in levels by interacting with the environment. In single player, once Murphy appears, he'll automatically fly over to the next object that he can interact with, including platforms, enemies, and ropes. This mechanic is a remnant from the game's original Nintendo Wii U exclusive days, where the Gamepad's touch screen is used to navigate the amphibian, while the computer takes control of Rayman. Here on the PS3, the automated solution works fairly well. You don't have the accuracy that you would with the Gamepad, but you don't lose control of the main character. However, it doesn't always flow; the pace of the game can reach such speeds that using Murphy is unwieldy. Fortunately, another player can take control of the sidekick in multiplayer, allowing everyone else to concentrate on surviving the stage.
With six worlds, oodles of collectibles, co-op, re-mastered stages, and more, Rayman Legends is absolutely bursting with content. It can feel a little overwhelming at first, but once you start freeing Teensies and opening up the game, it's hard not to want to sample everything. Each individual level is packed with its own challenges, including grabbing the aforementioned Lums. These happy-go-lucky organisms unlock scratch cards – another leftover from the Wii U release – that you rub away at with the analogue sticks to unlock even more content, including the previously touched upon Rayman Origins stages, as well as creatures which generate more Lums for you to collect.
Finally, there are daily and weekly online challenges, which task you to promptly gather up Lums, dash through a level, or survive for as long as possible while something deadly gives chase. Your score is uploaded to the leaderboards, and you're rewarded with tiered trinkets and Lums depending on how well you performed compared to the rest of the community. It can be a little frustrating watching your gold trophy decline as others compete and the score thresholds for the awards adapt, but it's a compelling mode that will pull you in for multiple runs as you attempt to better your score.
Rayman Legends winds up with a fistful of content and scores a knock-out blow with its impressive visuals, infectious audio, and exceptional controls. Some of the Wii U features may struggle to translate, but this game still more than lives up to its name, and is destined for a place among the platforming elite. Chaotic with friends and addictive alone, this will leave you intoxicated by its charm, and with so much to do, it won't outstay its welcome anytime soon.