Taken as a whole, the characters that populate the goofy world of Rayman Legends might be the most enthusiastic ever committed to pixel. Rayman and company grin and greet even the most ferocious of enemies, idle characters pump their fists or pogo on the spot excitedly, and even the game’s anthropomorphic flora appear to be in a perpetual state of ecstasy over their pointless sentience. Such unbridled enjoyment is infectious, and like the world’s longest sugar rush, it never wavers over Rayman Legends' generous run time.
A 2D platformer that successfully binds most of that genre's ideas into a joyously protracted and frequently hilarious romp through the lively imagination of Rayman creator Michel Ancel, Legends hits the ground running and surprises at every turn. Like 2011’s Origins, the game's threadbare story involves some nonsense about a looming threat to Glade of Dreams – the home of Rayman and crew – but details are scarce and character growth non-existent. What is foremost on players' minds is the saving of lums, floating glee-factories that resemble tiny suns with arms and relaxed demeanor, as they are needed to unlock levels and playable characters.
This lack of specific story beats is perhaps to avoid having to justify the varied and curious creatures and settings that the player happens upon during their adventure. Fortunately, for a game almost completely lacking narrative propulsion, its world possesses real character. As Rayman’s posse blaze through a forest swinging on vines, bouncing off mushrooms, bashing baddies, and gliding on air currents above tentacled nasties, inquisitive animals in the background poke their heads out from behind trees and sniff the air, googly eyes wide.
Later, toads shake their fists and yammer incomprehensibly as the player character hitches a ride to earth on their parachutes, and a plump dragon fights to keep himself airborne as he circles our heros, belching fire. The attention to detail in the game’s animation is astounding, and the visuals themselves a sumptuous, cartoonish painting. What’s not to like about a cake level that is constantly morphing around the player as it is gobbled by train-sized centipede-like bugs?
The game’s level design is also of the highest quality, and wrings every ounce of mileage from its few mechanics. Some levels are tranquil explorations of serene islands suspended in air, while others breakneck dashes under crumbling castles, hounded by thorny tentacles or walls of fire. There is plenty of wall-jumping and object-smashing, but puzzles also abound, usually in the form of one of many hidden challenge rooms. Most involve rotating, shifting, or otherwise changing the state of objects using Murfy, Rayman’s fly-like friend, then guiding Rayman through.
Rayman Legends grips the player’s attention by offering small tweaks on its mechanics, by focussing on one aspect of gameplay, or by shifting genre altogether – something it does frequently and masterfully.
There are engaging side-scrolling shooter missions against toads strapped in jetpacks, floating sections that mine the same tension as classic games like Pitfall and Lander, and delightful Bit.Trip-style rhythm games that require the player to frantically traverse hazards in time with things like a lighthearted yet totally kick-ass version of Black Betty, or a Mexican Mariachi band's cover of Eye Of The Tiger.
Even without the propulsion provided by the familiar strains of pop songs, Legends’ soundtrack is outstanding. Its score shifts from orchestral might to relaxed ukulele and whistling as the levels unfurl, and its hilarious sound effects, from its grunting toads to whooping Teensies to stinging smack attacks, are great. Everything has an associated noise, but not even Murphy’s high-pitched exaltations or the “Oooh!” from an unseen audience whenever a secret room is discovered ever wear thin.
Despite players being able to resurrect each other indefinitely, having more than one onscreen (the game allows up to four, or five on Wii U) doesn’t neuter its at-times spiky difficulty at all. In fact, a high degree of co-operation is required just not to accidentally swing a rope out of the reach of a plummeting teammate, for instance. The results of such selfishness are frequently amusing though, and friends come with other benefits: characters can stand on each others' heads to easily access areas tougher to reach alone, as well as team up on bosses.
Multiplayer outside the local-only campaign comes in the form of Kung Foot – a passable soccer minigame – and online challenges, which are updated daily. Challenges consist of time trials against all others in the game’s community, wherein each run shows the ghosts of those also competing. It's an addicting and rewarding mode whose levels so far have been pleasingly tough to master, and it's nice to see one's standing on local as well as global leaderboards.
Rayman Legends is an enthusiastic celebration of gaming. A magnificent confluence of personality-filled visuals, brilliant sound, and smart design decisions well-implemented, it overflows with charm and has the gameplay to match. An improvement in every area over the already-triumphant Rayman Origins, it’s an ecstatic, energetic, essential title, the peers of which are as few as its faults.