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Review: Rayman Legends

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Beyond Good & Evil creator, Michael Ancel, returns to his Rayman roots to put on a 2D platforming clinic. Wii U owners of the free (and now non-supported) Challenges App are going to be familiar with the early levels of the games.  The freebie demos used to appease the Wii U adopters thankfully only scratched the surface. The experience that awaits the gamer forking out $60 takes you deep down the rabbit hole and stimulates your gaming senses unlike any other platform game.

TECHNICAL: A+

Graphics

Rayman’s art style hasn’t changed since his gaming birth in 1995. The lush and fertile locales have been updated in native 1080p HD and implemented the weirdness found in animated Tim Burton films mashed with a bit of Earthworm Jim and Toe Jam & Earl quirkiness.  The cel shaded style has evolved with added horsepower to seamlessly integrate 3D effects that rival big-budget animated features.  The animation is silky smooth as the 60 frames per second oozes out of your TV/GamePad screen, which is impressive considering that the title runs in 1080p. The frame rate also doesn’t dip, even with screen-filling special effects sequences at every turn. The character design is exceptional, allowing you to emotionally attach yourself to the variations of Rayman, Gleeblox, Murfy, and an axe-wielding female character with names like Barbara and Chelsea.

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Interface

The menus and worlds are set up in a museum style…allowing you to access various galleries and levels by jumping into paintings like Super Mario 64. Worlds and selection screens are organized into painting galleries as you move from left to right by the order of Teensies needed to unlock each level.  The gallery interface is artistically structured and is very well laid out for the gamer to navigate.

Level Design

Each level is a work of art.  The variation between levels and their load screen areas are beautifully crafted and fresh to keep your inner-graphics whore satisfied. Environmental effects are beautifully integrated, whether it’s wind, water, and fire. Where the level design truly stands out is making sure that no two level experiences are similar.  An especially awesome experience are the Platform Hero levels that end every world in the game.  These levels are tailored to the music where jumping, zip-lining, and enemies all lend a hand in the drums, guitar rifts, and vocals. These levels guarantee face melts and living room high-fives to those who play and witness their pure genius.

Sound Design

The music in Rayman is very-well planned.  The arrangements match the mood of each locale and there is a lot of diversity of sounds.  The developers at Ubisoft Montpellier also sample familiar tunes for the action-packed Platform Hero levels. The in-game effects are very ear pleasing, as collecting Teensies, tickling enemies, and wind blowing effects project themselves brilliantly and are crisp and clean.

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GAMEPLAY: A+

Mechanics

Aside from the running and jumping buttons, the basic moves are attack, hovering, and a dedicated button for dashing.  If you’re a platform fan, you’re going to jump right in and feel right at home, especially if you’re a Mario and Donkey Kong Country veteran.  There’s not a lot of variation in character physics as you switch between Rayman, Gleeblox, Murfy, and the axe-wielding female character. Differences are less pronounced than it is with Mario and Luigi in the NSMB franchise.  It’s not a bad thing as significant physics differences may lead to an unenjoyable multiplayer experience especially when explosions and foreground and background special effects are all happening on the screen at once. The only nit-picking issue I had with gameplay is the tracking your character in multiplayer mode.  When you power-up to use the blue projectiles, all the characters are covered by the blue projectile weapon and the differences between controlled characters are masked.  The result is a tracking issue as you can’t distinguish your own character from two to three others in the game resulting in unnecessary death.  It would’ve been useful to have the players tagged somehow, especially when the screen zoomed out so far away that your characters are small.

Multi-Player

New Super Mario Bros. on both Wii and Wii U are well known for their 4-player and 5-player experiences respectively.  Rayman Legends one-ups NSMB by making it less painful to enjoy multiplayer as anyone can pick up a controller and jump right into a game. No need to select it from a menu prior to play. Multi-player also follows you into the galleries interface, rather than just the lead player in an over world. This inclusion makes your fellow living room gamers feel like part of the experience from soup to nuts as opposed to the second, third, or fourth wheel in a game. It’s a subtle touch that will keep the other players tuned in.  Nice move.

Legends also one-ups NSMB with the added mini-games and races, as well as the selection of many variations of the characters you open in the Heroes gallery. Ubisoft Montpellier’s obvious parallels with NSMB even allow for an homage to the famous plumber and his brother as Rayman and Gleeblox can be played in the game with Mario and Luigi costumes.

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Smash-Mouth Soccer

The game immediately allows you access to its Smash Bros. meets Superstar Soccer mini-game called Kung Foot.  It’s an easy pick-up-and-play 2D platforming soccer game that will suck you right in. It is simple in design, but will have you and your friends playing it hours at a time…especially since there are some strategies, a goalie perhaps, that can mean the difference between victory and being skunked. The frenetic pace and the fact that you can wail on each other during the match feels like a Smash Bros. game as everyone is chasing a soccer ball like it’s a Final Smash. I can’t help but think what a great mini-game this would be for Sakurai’s baby. Another time, another article perhaps.

Other impressive mini games that you can open up are the races to save three Teensies strapped to rockets with timers attached to them.  Gamers can race each other across numerous moving obstacles and enemies to rescue the Teensies before they’re launched into the Rayman galaxy. One small hiccup and it’s time for a restart…just the way I like it. Online leader boards are available for you to capture and boast your scores, as well as the link to Miiverse where you can share your personal triumphs with others in the Rayman Legends Community.

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The Murfy Touch

As a hardcore platforming fan, I loathe the use of a touch screen.  I can’t stand the controls of a platforming game when I use my iOS devices (e.g., Max and the Magic Marker) as button-pressing simply can’t be replaced.  Ubisoft Montpellier realizes this and instead opts to make the touch screen functionality more an integral part of the game by integrating timing mechanics with movable platforms and walls.  It’s doesn’t feel gimmicky and actually makes the second person assisting you on the GamePad feel like they’re not just pinning enemies down and making platforms accessible. Moving walls for added wall jumping require timing and multiple repeated attempts that require coordination between both players. To say this is the best use of touchscreen in a platforming game is an understatement.

Exploration

In mascot gaming, there are annoying collect-a-thons or games that ingeniously integrate these collected items into hidden areas in a level.  Examples of the latter include games like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, the 3D Mario titles from 64 to Galaxy 2.  Rayman Legends is a part of that group with cleverly hidden passage-ways and corners to conceal paths that lead you to find all of the Teensies. Much like 3D Mario titles, you’ll be trolling past levels to ensure that you’ve collected all the Teensies.  You’ll even play a level multiple times and realize where they hid the Teensie. When that light bulb goes on in your head, you’ve found another reason to toast the design of this game. Also, the difficulty of collecting Teensies will increase as you progress, but is amply satisfying as you may find yourself repeatedly sacrificing lives to collect that hard-to-reach Teensie.

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OVERALL: A+

A Familiar Feel

Rayman reminds me of another platforming experience I had 16 years ago with Rareware’s Donkey Kong Country 2 for the SNES.  At the time, DKC2 featured a hovering Dixie Kong, flight levels through a thorn-bushed area, ambient sound effects, and the best music and graphics in gaming.  The CG-generated visuals made it pretty, but underneath its coat of paint was an unforgettable platforming experience.  Rayman Legends has accomplished all those things in today’s much more robust gaming world…it brings the pretty and the ‘badassery’ all in one package.

Love is All Around

After delaying Rayman Legends in favor of a multi-platform release, this gem has finally arrived into the eager and twitchy hands of fans. Ubisoft’s limbless mascot is not only looking to be the best platformer in 2013, but also a serious contender for Game of the Year. The final product is a AAA title that should be an instant purchase into every platforming gamer’s library.  Gaming guru, Michael Ancel, and his crew at Ubisoft Montpellier put a lot of love into coding this masterpiece…and you can see, hear, and feel it in every nook and cranny of this game. Reciprocate the love and pick this up…you’ll find yourself in 2D platforming nirvana.

 

 

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Images Source: Miiverse for Island_Gamer (Follow Me!)

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