For anyone new to Ubisoft Montpellier’s Rayman series, imagine early ‘90s Mario but French and raised on a diet of nothing but Pixy Stix and Mountain Dew.
The gameplay in Rayman Legends is fast, frenetic and endlessly engaging, making it one of the most entertaining games of this console generation and an easy recommendation for families looking for stuff they can play together.
Along with a handful of recent titles like New Super Mario Bros. Wii U and Donkey Kong Country Returns, it also proves there’s still plenty of life left in old-school 2-D platformers.
True to the conventions of the genre, the game’s storyline is barebones, to say the least: After saving the day in the last game, Rayman, Globox and the Teensies decided to take a nap. When they are awakened 100 years later, they find that the idyllic Glade of Dreams has been invaded by nightmares, including legendary creatures like dragons, sea serpents and, um luchadores.
Naturally, the only way to defeat this new evil is to collect a lot of gold shiny things and save princesses.
Whatever Rayman Legends lacks in original story, though, it more than makes up for in other areas, including the sheer unbridled creativity on display in each one of the more than 50 new levels.
Early stages introduce the basic hop-and-bop mechanics of the game — running, jumping, collecting, etc. But as new elements like wall running or the ability to move objects with an “assist character” named Murfy are introduced, things get progressively more complicated. So expect to die. A lot.
Luckily, Legends is very forgiving. Automatic checkpoints make second, fourth and 40th attempts to beat a level quick and mostly painless.
It’s a testament to the fine-tuned game design that no matter how many times a player plummets to his or her death or fumbles a timed run, the levels never lose any of their manic charm. In fact, if anything, it just makes completing them that much more gratifying.
Although the single-player mode is addictive in its own way, it’s really as a multiplayer experience that “Legends” shines. Up to four people can play at once on the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, five on the Wii U (using the Gamepad to control Murfy), making it a perfect game for families to sit down and play together.
A little surprisingly, perhaps, Rayman Legends also manages to be one of the most beautiful games of this generation. Like its predecessor, Rayman Origins, it features gorgeously layered, hand-drawn 2-D backgrounds that stretch into the distance, giving the sense of a lush cartoon world brought to life in high definition. Certain levels, in fact, put even some of Disney’s best animated movies to shame in terms of beauty and detail.
And the music is no less outstanding. The quirky, eclectic instrumental tracks perfectly complement the game’s colorful visuals and tongue-in-cheek references to things like James Bond movies and medieval fantasy. Some of the most memorable levels in the game, in fact, put the music front and center, turning the side-scrolling platforming action into a hybrid rhythm game where players run and jump in time with remixed versions of classic songs.
A single play-through of Legends might only take around 12-15 hours, but there are a huge number of trophies and achievements to collect, so players will want to keep coming back. As an added bonus, players can also unlock more than 40 remastered levels from the game's equally brilliant predecessor, Rayman Origins, so it’s basically like getting two of the best platformers of the last decade for the price of one.
Altogether, Rayman Legends is easily one of the best releases of the year, and it should be at the top of the list for anyone looking for family-friendly video games.
Game: Rayman Legends
Platforms: XBox 360, PS3, Wii U, PC
ESRB rating: E 10+ (comic mischief, cartoon violence)
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.