In a week that's already given us a terrific 2D platformer in the form of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, it's interesting to get the opportunity to reappraise a game like Rayman Legends. Not least because it offers a rare chance to directly compare two entries within the same genre at close quarters.
What's most fascinating about the two is that, beyond similarities in how they control - the momentum-based movement of their avatars making them both initially tricky to get a bead on - and a similarly dynamic approach to level design, they're radically different propositions. Here are two takes on the same genre in the same week that are almost polar opposites.
For starters, both games have a very different sense of weight. DK's a heavy brute and Retro Studios' game captures that physical power. Rayman, by contrast, is limbless, and so it's fitting that he's as floaty and lightweight as he is, bounding across platforms with a joyful, energetic skittishness when you squeeze the trigger.
It's no surprise that he's capable of remaining airborne for a second while you jab the attack button for a mid-air punch or kick. He can float, too - while Diddy Kong's jetpack is eventually brought to earth by DK's weight, if Rayman has an updraft he can keep hovering for a good while, though the flying sections are among the weakest in Legends' armoury, with airborne movement somehow never feeling entirely natural.
Finally, where Tropical Freeze is steadfastly traditional in feel, Legends plays fast and loose with platforming convention. Take the way it handles death, for starters. Perish here and you'll instantly return from whence you fell, or got crushed, or burned, or pricked, or whacked. There are no lives, and as such Ubisoft can ramp up the difficulty without increasing the frustration. It does have a side-effect of making everything feel a little inconsequential, and loses a little of the tension of a lives-based system, that knife-edge thrill where you're one errant button press between death and glory - one area where DK has a definite advantage.
But that thrill returns in the myriad challenges - daily or weekly, regular or extreme - and in the musical-themed levels where a perfect run is desperately sought. The latter might be easy enough to finish - with the trigger held down to keep Rayman in a perma-sprint these stages play out like a rhythm-action auto-runner - but the satisfaction in completing a Mariachi-themed take on Survivor's Eye of the Tiger without missing a beat (or indeed a Lum) is hard to beat.
Its defiantly unorthodox method of progression is an undoubted plus. Sure, occasionally you'll need to beat one level to unlock the next, but frequently you'll be given a choice of worlds to dive into at any one time, so if you're stuck on a particular level - unlikely, but possible, especially towards the end - you've got the option to take a break, try something else and come back to it.
And if you're bored of the regular stages, you can always tackle one of the returning stages from Rayman Origins, or a quick challenge, or even a game of Kung Foot, the gloriously silly multiplayer football game that only gets funnier and more chaotic the more players you have.
Legends bucks established standards with its approach to collectibles, too. You're encouraged to rescue all the Teensies on each stage - the invisible audience cooing in surprise every time you find a hidden area is a consistent delight - and yet you won't find yourself grinding earlier stages to unlock new ones. Some stages are gated off until you've achieved a certain number of Teensies, but you'll find enough to open most of them up without really trying, such is the game's generosity.
Meanwhile, if you're just short of the gold cup tally for Lums collected, you're given the reward of a scratchcard, which can give you a range of prizes, from extra Lums - used to unlock new costumes for your heroes - to creatures which also drop additional Lums every day you return. Along with the rewards for the daily challenges, you've got plenty of extrinsic incentives to keep coming back.
Perhaps, however, that says something about Legends' core platforming being less rewarding on its own merits than some of its peers. That isn't to say it's not reliably entertaining, nor that its level designs aren't inventive and interesting, because it is and they are. But the occasional imprecision in its controls and the lack of any truly exciting secrets - wherefore art thou, hidden exits? - mean that most players won't have any particularly strong desire to return to a stage once it's beaten, even if they haven't found everything within it. Excluding the Castle Rock level, that is - if anyone completes that and doesn't immediately want to play it again, I'd be inclined to distrust them forever more.
"Beyond improved loading times, there's little to recommend the new games over the old ones."
Then again, you sense Ubisoft Montpellier's heart isn't really in tucking away secrets anyway. It simply wants to offer an array of sights and sounds that you've never really seen in a platformer before, and it's that desire to see what comes next that compels you to play on. Each level offers an array of rare visual pleasures.
Legends takes great pride in ignoring the tired tropes of the past - the ice/fire/jungle worlds we've seen so often before - and instead offers a series of fresh environments to discover. It shrinks you and grows you, turns you into a duck and asks you to negotiate falling chorizo sausages and cut through layers of sweet, sweet cake. And even when it appears to fall in line with genre expectations, it offers a twist of its own: its most miraculous achievement of all might be making underwater stealth not only functional but fun.
Talking of aesthetic joy, it's time to examine what the new generation versions bring to the table. From a graphical standpoint, there's not much to say: Legends already ran at 60fps at 1080p resolutions in its last-gen incarnation, and it's hard to see any kind of visual upgrade here. It's still mesmerizingly pretty, of course, but is it so wrong for us to want even more? A definite plus is the near-instantaneous loading on Xbox One and PS4 - you'll enter a painting and be playing within a couple of seconds.
Beyond that, there's little to recommend the new games over the old ones - on Xbox One you get skins for Rayman and Globox based on Far Cry 3's Vaas (which it really would be the definition of insanity to upgrade for) as well as ten time-limited challenges, which strikes us as being the game equivalent of posting 'first!' in a comment thread.
PS4 owners get the marginally better deal of the two. There's an exclusive Rayman skin based on Assassin's Creed IV protagonist Edward Kenway, but more notable is a pair of touchpad features. The first is a camera mode which allows you to take your own screenshots - complete with a zoom-in feature to really get all the detail in those glorious backgrounds - while you can also use the pad to scratch off the foil from your lucky tickets. A gimmick, yes, but a satisfying one. Remote Play might just seal the deal for those with a PS Vita, but otherwise everything's the same as it was before.
Which, if you needed further convincing, is a good thing. Rayman Legends remains a mighty fine platformer whichever hardware you play it on. Occasionally ramshackle but frequently entertaining and consistently dazzling to look at, it's a great game, but if you already own it - and you've still got your old console to play it on, of course - there's little reason to double-dip.
A tremendous platformer with a handful minor flaws that won't affect your enjoyment too much. New-gen features aren't worth upgrading for, though.
- Exceptionally pretty
- Generous and inventive
- Near-instant loading times
- New skins aren't too exciting
- Controls still a touch skittish