Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Whiskey Reviews: Rayman Legends

Platform: Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 29 August 2013
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Where to get it: Xbox Live, Steam, Here
Price: £15.99

Rayman Legends is the follow-up to the well received Rayman Origins, the game that revived the Rayman brand from dull dullness with a much needed infusion of joy. If that sounds vague it's because there's more after you hit the link.

DIsclaimer: I recieved Rayman Origins on Xbox Live via the Games With Gold service, meaning I got it for free and as such I didn't pay for the console version. I did however fork out for the PC version after playing the console one.

I'm sure Rayman has a rich and interesting lore but as far as the intro movie is concerned it's about a bunch of blue worm looking guys who put on silly hats and proceed to cause trouble all over. Y'know, typical bad-guy stuff, there's the terrorizing and pillaging, the evil minions and kidnapping lady blue worm looking things.
The world needs saving and to call forth a hero there's... an old bearded frog dude and a tiny frog that flies? Also bubbles and paintings somehow.

The story isn't important, it's about on par with the flimsy reasons Mario had to commit turtle-cide. What is important is the game play and Ubisoft have nailed it perfectly. It's so good infact that I'll go out on a limb and say that the game play is on par with other platforming royalty such as Shovel Knight.
You've got your basic moves; running, jumping and attacking. Your attacks can be charged and you can do a floaty thing in mid air in addition to attacking in all four directions (sorry diagonals, you're not real directions anyway). Enemies are swiftly dispatched with either an attack or bouncing off their noggin and are often carefully placed to not just be something to bash but also as one-time platforms to reach secrets and collectibles.
The controls are responsive and all of your moves have enough leniency to make pulling off even tricky complicated maneuvers a doddle with a controller. You'll never go careening off a ledge and curse your controller because you didn't jump, if you mess up it's your fault and that alleviates a lot of the frustration that comes with some of the more difficult stages later in the game.
Also alleviating difficulty is the (usually) generous checkpoint system that'll only see you set back thirty seconds at most for a mistake. I only encountered issues with this system on one of the final levels of the main campaign where there was no mid-level checkpoint on one of the hardest acrobatics filled courses I've ever played.
You interact with the environment a surprising amount too, from your bog standard bounce pads to swinging on vines and ropes and weird blue dots that have long swingy-arms. You'll also manipulate the environment through the aforementioned flying frog; at certain points he'll arrive on screen and you can hit B (Xbox pad) to manipulate whatever he's floating next to, usually moving platforms or pressing buttons and chaining his uses while you're wall jumping and floating and bouncing on enemies and trying to keep from dying a horrible bottomless-pit style death can be a feat of dexterity and focus.

As is often the case with platformers the game is tied together with a hub world called the Gallery, it's basically a tent with paintings in. You run around and select different paintings to go to different worlds, or to change characters. Once in a world's painting you can then choose a level, by again jumping into a painting.
More levels are unlocked by finishing the preceding level, or in some cases by rescuing enough of the blue worm things, called Teensies. Most unlocks are tied to collectibles, with Lums (basically coins) that act as your level score and add up to unlock new characters and Teensies being the main ones. In addition to these there's gold coins that I don't fully understand after finishing the game and scratch cards are awarded for getting a certain score each level. The scratch cards either award collectible creatures (which also drop Lums and coins on a daily basis), Lums, Teensies or a Rayman Origins painting.
It's very bold, and welcome, of Ubisoft to have included 5 worlds from Origins into the already very substantial package of Legends. Despite being a lengthy game it's one that ends and leaves you wanting more, thankfully the Origins worlds are there to keep you hooked.
It's important to understand that Legends is the better game, while the Origins levels are good in their own right, they're not as good as the Legends levels. I'm not saying they're not worth playing through, especially if you're not played Origins yet, but they don't seem as finely tuned as the Legends worlds.
Also on variety duty are the many many characters you can pick up along the way. The fairy princesses make their return, with two to rescue per world as well as a huge cast of characters and variants to be unlocked via accumulated Lums. The character gallery also comes equipped with a little blurb above each character which are sometimes rather funny, especially with the cross-over variants from other Ubisoft titles such as Far Cry.

The game is presented in a distinctly French cartoon style, one that's not nearly as artsy-fartsy as you just imagined reading that but more on the comfortable side of Asterix. It's charming but sometimes baffling, not all characters are cute but none of them are off-putting either.
The world design swings between more a more grounded style and giant cartoon dragons and cakes. Scenery changes fast enough to not become boring and the hub world allows you to wander the unlocked sections at will, meaning you're never stuck or sick of seeing the same theme for longer than you can bare it.
What can become grating however are the incessant cutesy yelps of the various characters. Lums, Teensies and the flying frog never seem to shut the hell up and repeated re-runs on some of the later stages will have you wanting to mute the game to preserve your sanity.
One highlight of the presentation for me has to be the musical levels at the end of each world; real songs appear as silly re-makes with the levels timed to the music. So that each pick-up, jump and enemy hit is in time with the song like a platforming Guitar Hero. The Kazoo-mariachi version of Eye Of The Tiger is truly a worthy reward.

There's a multiplayer football-type thing called Kung Foot but I didn't get a chance to try that out, apologies.

Overall Rayman Legends is an overlooked hit, one that'll probably have a huge cult following in twenty years as one of the finest platformers of its age.
It has variety, charm, accessibility and  challenge. All in spades. Completionists will find a huge amount to collect and casual players can enjoy the relatively gentle journey. For those of us who fall between those two extremes it's about a tight, responsive mix of masterful level design and straight up fun. Players looking for a bigger challenge can take on the many challenge levels, dark Rayman levels and hidden collectibles.
Even without the Kung Foot mode, and lack of coop/two player the game is still more than worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with other platforming greats and anyone who either loves platformers or is interested in checking them out should give Legends a go.

Score: 9 cheese-eating surrender monkey jokes out of 10 resisted.

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