It's pretty clear that the landscape of video games has changed drastically over the years, but there's one genre that has suffered more than any other: the 2D platformer. Once the go-to genre for the game designers of the 8 and 16-bit eras, things were shaken up after the release of "Super Mario 64," forever changing platformers as we know them. Now, the 2D platformer has mostly been relegated to the "New Super Mario Bros." franchise and indie developed love letters to their childhood. Mario just doesn't have many contemporaries any more, save for one holdout, Rayman. Ubisoft's most family-friendly mascot reminded gamers that he was still a big deal in 2011's excellent "Rayman Origins," and he's back again with a follow up, "Rayman Legends."
Like many platformers that came before it, "Rayman Legends" is pretty light on a backstory. For the last hundred years Rayman and his friends have been sleeping, and in that time the Bubble Dreamer's nightmares took over their world, and they must be stopped. Rayman, Globox, Barbara and Murfy must fight some of the most terrifying monsters ever to help save the Teensies, and bring peace to their land once again. It's pretty generic, but it doesn't really matter either.
The game's appeal clearly doesn’t stem from its fiction: like "Rayman Origins," the gameplay is the biggest selling point of "Rayman Legends." While the base gameplay of running and jumping is as old as games themselves, the development team at Ubisoft Montpellier managed to make this game feel new and compelling at just about every turn. Each of the game's worlds feels separate and unique, and they serves as the core for that area's gameplay, offering up true variety from beginning to end. The game constantly introduces new ideas at a digestible pace, never overwhelming the player with too many concepts at once - from floating on air clouds to stealthily swimming beneath the sea. You never grow tired of one environment, or one gimmick, because the game has already moved on.
Originally intended to be a Wii U launch game, "Legends" demonstrates just how good and creative two-screen platforming can be on a console… in some cases even better than Nintendo has. In addition to the always-enjoyable, single-player off-screen play option, the Wii U version of the game comes with levels that take advantage of the touchscreen in new and unique ways. As play switches over to Rayman's buddy Murfy, players must use the GamePad's screen and motion sensing capabilities to guide characters through the levels. Whether it's as simple as cutting a rope with your finger, or rotating the screen by tilting the GamePad, these levels help demonstrate the aforementioned unique design decisions, as well as just what kind of gaming the Wii U offers.
While "Rayman Legends" shines as a single-player title, the co-op experience manages to stand above its solo counterpart. Venturing through the campaign with a friend (or friends, as the title offers up to 5-player co-op) is satisfying, and never gets to be too cumbersome. Having more than one person around for the Murfy levels is significantly better than going through them alone, since you can better coordinate your moves, instead of having your onscreen character auto-running, hoping they go where you want them to. As an extra bonus, there's even a multiplayer soccer mini game included, Kung Foot, where players can go head-to-head to try and score the most goals.
"Rayman Legends" isn't at a loss for content either - there's an almost endless supply. From unlockable content that's based on how well you do in each level, to daily and weekly challenges that let you compete online for high scores or in time trials, to straight up collectables in each area of the game, it's going to take a long time for your average player to come anywhere near completing the game. Heck, "Legends" even includes 40 levels from "Origins," making it a great way to play through some of the original's highlights if you missed it the first time around.
So, even after all that "Legends" keeps on giving, and it does so in beautiful fashion. "Origins" introduced the UbiArt Framework, that helped make it an unexpectedly gorgeous game, and "Legends" just builds on that foundation. Both on the big screen and the GamePad's little screen, Rayman's latest quest looks, and sounds amazing. There was clearly a lot of time and effort that went into polishing this release, and it really shows (maybe those delays were worth it). The best examples of all of the bells and whistles culminating in "Legends" are the music-based levels that round out each of the game's worlds where Rayman (or your character of choosing) is chased through a lovely looking obstacle course, to the tune of some very interesting songs, from "Eye of the Tiger" to "Black Betty."
While fans of the "Rayman" series should have been able to get their hands on "Legends" last November, with the release of the Wii U, it turns out that Ubisoft rewards patience. All that waiting paid off, and "Rayman Legends" is a game that stands up to its name. Both challenging enough for the experienced gamer, and accessible enough for the novice, "Legends" strikes a solid balance between old school and new school, and it looks and sounds good while doing it. Couple that with a near endless supply of content, and a huge amount of replay value, and "Rayman Legends" comes out looking like the complete package ... even if it is still missing an arm and a leg here and there.
Score: 9 out of 10