Republished on Wednesday 25th April 2018: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of May's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
After spending far too much time in the shadow of the Raving Rabbids, Rayman made a triumphant return to consoles in Rayman Origins. While critically celebrated, this bonkers platformer with its bright and colourful art style never really found the wider audience that it truly deserved. Fortunately, Ubisoft has given gamers a chance to see the error of its ways with the release of Rayman Legends, which not only serves up more of the same brilliant platforming found in its predecessor, but also manages to deliver an even better experience to boot.
Rayman and the other heroes of the Glade of Dreams have been asleep for a century. In that time, the nightmares have returned and spread across their home causing the Teensies to become imprisoned within them. Knowing just how to solve this sad situation, The Bubble Dreamer sends Murfy the Greenbottle to wake the realm’s brave protectors, who embark on a dark mission to save as many of the long snouted beings as possible.
Set across more than 120 stages, the campaign provides an enormous variety of challenges. Ranging from relentless chases where you’re run down by an angry pursuer to underwater dives that see Rayman paddling around sea mines and torpedoes, the obstacles that stand in your way are constantly changing making every level fresh, interesting, and increasingly tough. Despite its primary focus on platforming, the game never outstays its welcome, constantly whisking you off to new worlds with new ideas before you can even contemplate getting bored.
All of these areas are brought to life courtesy of a fantastic 2D art style which has plenty of little 3D flourishes to add depth to every backdrop. When this is mixed with the quirky design, it produces an aesthetic that you won’t find anywhere else, and helps to really drive home the personality of each of the worlds. Whether it’s the luchadores and skeletons of the Mexican levels or the toads and thorns that pepper the swamp-themed stages, the presentation rarely disappoints.
Adding another layer to the atmosphere is Christophe Héral’s audio, which fits each of the individual settings perfectly. There were a number of occasions where we had his music stuck in our heads, and even found ourselves whistling along to the catchy carefree tune that plays in the level select gallery.
Not content to just have the soundtrack play a background role, though, the designers have brought it to the forefront during a number of specially-themed music levels which act as the climax to each of the worlds. These are built around a re-imagined piece of music – such as a Mariachi inspired version of Eye of the Tiger – and are perfectly timed to the pace of the level with every jump, bounce, or hit corresponding to guitar solos, drum beats, or musical crescendos. These serve as an unexpected surprise, and will leave you eager to see what style of music is used next.
Kitted out with his usual moves – jump, punch, and hover – there’s really only one major change to the titular hero’s repertoire compared to his previous adventure, and that’s the addition of Murfy. At select points throughout the game, he’ll make an appearance and can be used to manipulate the environment to clear your route towards the exit. His interventions range from moving the position of platforms to tickling shield carrying enemies so that they drop their guard. Using the Greenbottle while also controlling Rayman is tricky, but it’s very rewarding, and adds an extra layer to the already stellar gameplay.
If there’s any criticism it's that it can take a little while to acclimatise to the controls. For example, the jump feels a little too floaty at first, and even at full sprint, we couldn’t help but think that the characters move a touch too slow. Fortunately, these initial irritations soon dissipate, and you’ll quickly settle into the rhythm of the game. You’ll still encounter occasions where you misjudge a jump due to the physics, but it’s only really an irritation in stages that have minimal checkpoints or tight time limits.
Your performance in each stage is gauged by not only how many Teensies that you rescue, but also how many of the floating bugs – named Lums – that you vacuum up as you race towards the exit. With gold, silver, or bronze medals available, there’s plenty of replay value if you want to earn the highest tier on every stage. Of course, it isn’t easy to get 100 per cent, as you’ll need to stray off the main path in order to grab everything, but that provides an interesting challenge for completionists to strive towards.
Collecting Lums and Teensies unlocks extra characters and additional stages respectively, so retrying areas is a requirement if you want to see everything that the game has to offer. Thankfully, as you get deeper into the campaign, you can tailor the challenge by choosing which levels to tackle, as the harder stages – such as the time limited invasions – are purely optional and won’t bar your progress through the main thread of the adventure. If you do decide to unlock every area and character, there’s a ton of content to work through, including a selection of the best levels from Rayman Origins. On top of this, there are also daily and weekly community challenges to tackle, so you can test your skills against the wider community.
To add even more replay value to an already bursting package, the developer has incorporated local multiplayer for up to four players. This drop in/drop out mode can be played across any of the game’s levels, and while it’s not as fully featured as the Wii U version – which supports up to five players – it still offers a great way to enjoy everything that the title has to offer with friends. It’s just a shame that online co-op is conspicuously absent.
Unless Nintendo decides to release a Mario or Donkey Kong title on the PlayStation 4, it’s going to take something special to unsettle Rayman Legends’ current command of the next-gen console’s platforming crown. While the controls take a little getting used to, the crazy art style and musical levels more than compensate, and are worth the price of admission alone. If you also take into account the discounted price point, massive amount of variety, and local multiplayer, then it’s impossible not to recommend this dream package to anyone with even a passing interest in the side-scrolling genre.