The Wii U’s underperformance might finally be a good thing. For it’s meant that the formerly exclusive Rayman Legends has been ported across to machines that people actually play. And let’s make no bones about it – this is great news for fans of 2011’s Rayman Origins. For Rayman Legends has improved upon almost every aspect of its already excellent predecessor.
Indeed, the improvements are reminiscent of the way that C64 classic Creatures 2 took the best part of the original title and made them the main focus of the game. In this instance, it’s the Tricky Treasure levels which were frantic chases across a constantly changing and challenging course. Yet in addition to an increased focus on similar pursuit levels, each main level is now accompanied by an unlockable ‘Invaded’ version.
Rather than being simple time attack versions however, these are completely new levels where you must reach the captive Teensies within a startlingly strict time limit and without taking a single hit. Just reaching the end is difficult enough, but in order to rescue all three of the captives it has to be done in under forty seconds. It sounds maddening but it’s actually enormous fun and hugely satisfying as you shave seconds from your personal best. A mixture of good rhythm and muscle memory will eventually see you through but even when you fail by a fraction of a second or miss that all important last leap, you won’t really mind. Partly because the game is so scrupulously fair that all deaths are clearly your own fault but mostly because you’ll have a massive grin plastered over your face.
Yet that grin will be stretched to Jokeresque proportions when you play your first musical level. Taking rhythmic platforming to its natural conclusion these see you racing across a level whilst pursued by a wall of flame or enemy horde. What’s absolute genius though is that the enemies, the level structure and even your every leap and attack are perfectly in time with the music playing. More forgiving than the later Invaded levels, you’ll nevertheless want to do them in a single run just to keep perfectly in time and not spoil the song. For they are the perfect marriage of platforming and rhythm action, feeling almost like that first time you ever played Guitar Hero. And we challenge anyone not to be humming ‘Black Betty’ for days afterwards, never mind the mariachi flavoured ‘Eye of the Tiger’.
Yet we shouldn’t ignore the excellence of the more standard levels – not that they could ever truly be termed as such. Absolute platforming perfection, gorgeous to look at and never less than riotously enjoyable, these are an absolute feast for the senses. And that’s before you even take into account how startlingly original and varied they are. Indeed, it feels like the game is constantly toying with your expectations. A water world for example recalls the one from Origins right down to the catchy music before mutating into a groovy 70s spy caper in a Bond style villain’s underwater lair within the opening minutes. Here the frantic pace of the pursuit levels is nicely tempered with considered stealth and even a bit of elevator action. Yet this is just one example of the sheer imagination and originality on display. Plus, by wisely eschewing the Samus Aran approach to sequels, all skills and abilities are present from the off. As such, no levels are a chore to complete and you aren’t forced to return to them with new powers to obtain that last elusive secret. Which feels astonishingly liberating when set against other titles and their endless tutorial levels.
It also feels like a huge improvement when compared to the already excellent Rayman Origins. Indeed it actually makes some of the previous game’s levels feel a little dull in comparison. As can be evidenced in the forty Origins levels included as unlockables here. There’s nothing really bad about them but they just don’t have the sheer majesty of the new levels.
What’s more of a problem though is that these forty levels are considered part of the hundred and twenty that make up Legends. They don’t have to be played but without them the game suddenly has an awful lot less content. In fact it actually feels a little lazy in this respect. Yes there’s tons of additional content including daily and weekly online challenges and the ghosts of other players to beat but we’d trade it all for a single extra world. Especially since playing without the Invaded levels you’ll easily see the end credits within a week.
It’s also laudable that the same levels don’t have to be replayed against the clock in order to save up for the final Tricky Treasure levels as was the case in Rayman Origins but it still feels like the fun here is over too quickly. Worse still, there’s nothing here to match the sheer finger blistering insanity of the original game’s bonus Land of the Livid Dead. Instead the final bonus world consists of one new (admittedly excellent) music level followed by chip tune styled versions of those already played. And these have deliberately forced graphical glitches in order to add challenge rather than being, for example, remixed or even mashed up versions of the music and levels. This lazy recycling and lack of content really hurts the game.
And then there’s Murfy. The Wii U’s second screen has sadly seen this nuisance carried over to other versions. As such, you frequently have to keep an eye on what is essentially an on screen cursor in order to press a switch whilst also dashing frantically through a level. It breaks up the seamless perfection of the platforming and feels a little disjointed. Whilst hardly ruining the game, it nevertheless remains the case that you’ll enjoy the Murfy free levels (which thankfully make up the majority of the game) far more. For all that the game puts him to imaginative use, it still feels like you’re trying to do two things at once. It simply would’ve been better if the non Wii U versions had either excised him or made his actions scripted. In fact this could have added an extra element of spice to some levels as you leaped to platforms yet to even appear…
This admittedly minor flaw when coupled with the feeling of being short changed in terms of content sadly serves to undermine Legends’ genius. For despite being in almost every way the most perfect of platform games, it just feels like the party’s over too soon. A little more original rather than Origins content would’ve gone a long way to helping. It’s still highly recommended but it could and should’ve been more.