When it comes to the world of media and videogames, I consider myself a very lucky chap indeed. I often find myself having lengthy discussions with friends talking about how we were always the ‘right’ age as youngsters for things like the invention of the internet and Harry Potter – how we’ve been blessed enough to subsist alongside titles like the original Sonic and Tetris but have also been the right age to enjoy the rapid evolution of gaming to the quasi-realism boundaries it pushes today. For me, no other series epitomises that journey more than Ubisoft’s timeless Rayman.
Rayman on the original PlayStation was a delight. A family-friendly, totally immersive, groundbreaking platform title. The art style was so well realised by the genius of Michel Ancel, I can still remember all the loony iconography to this very day. Then things moved up a notch, I was gifted a Nintendo 64 for Christmas and before I knew it, out came the next groundbreaking production – Rayman 2: The Great Escape. Darker, more adult in tone yet still as addictive as its 2D predecessor – Rayman just knew how to do everything with heart and sincerity. It wasn’t until the third entry came out on the PlayStation 2 that I began to lose interest in my childhood hero – it wasn’t necessarily a bad game but the competition was so fierce around it I found there were better games out there with better visuals and better storytelling. So when Rayman Origins came out in 2011, complete with its retro approach and return to a classic art style, I knew I was in for a treat. The 3D Rayman games have generally struggled to compete for their place in the marketplace, the genius of the series really becomes evident when everything is stripped back and the genius of the puzzle solving and the animation comes to the forefront. Now we’re acquainted with Rayman Origins, let’s have a look at the next title in the UbiArt catalogue – Rayman Legends, and how it holds up on the next gen.
The plot is generally as barebones as one would expect – Rayman and his pals have been sleeping for a century and over the course of that time a new threat looms. Murfy, the Rayman equivalent of Navi from Ocarina of Time, tells Rayman that he must set off to defeat the new threats and rescue the 10 princesses of the land. That’s where you, the gamer, take over. The Rayman games (aside from 2 and 3) have rarely been narrative-heavy; moreover they encourage the gamer to create their own mini adventures in the universe that they have created. That’s why a simple set-up like this is so important, any heavy exposition or a Star Wars-esque back-story fading into the night sky would just be superfluous.
The gameplay is the cream of the crop here and definitely improves upon most aspects of its Origins predecessor. Players start out with the most basic of abilities, such as running and jumping, which then develop over the course of the game until you’re a mini-super soldier tackling all sorts of obstacles with grace and style. It’s a pleasantly smooth learning curve that was once inherent in arcade games of the early 90’s and it works incredibly well here for gamers of all ages. An area where Legends surpasses Origins is in its requirement for swapping characters to max out during certain levels. Origins had a wide variety of playable characters available to the gamer but unless you were a hardcore Globox or Teensie fan (which I’m sure you probably weren’t) you most likely found yourself embodying Rayman for most of the adventure. That was fine, however now there’s more of a reason to have that selection as different characters will give you significantly different boosts. The level designs are as intelligent as ever and you’ll be kicking yourself over and over as one wrong jump or one mistimed hair-licopter spin inadvertently ruins your Parkour-esque fluid run. The game looked great and ran smoothly before on the last gen, which left me very suspect when I heard the game would be announced on this next generation of consoles. So what additional content can you expect for your re-purchase?
Well, generally, not a whole lot. Small bonuses are there but you could be forgiven for overlooking them entirely. I’ve compared the two games side-by-side on dual screens (360 & XOne) and at a push I guess I could admit the Xbox One counterpart looks a little sharper and brighter, that said it’s a very minuscule improvement. As we’re dealing with HD 2D images – this isn’t necessarily criticising the next-gen release, more-so congratulating the 360 and PS3 versions for their incredible quality. As a hardcore fan, I immediately noticed two additions to the next-gen versions – one of which is a new camera mode that allows you to take a snapshot of a special moment and share it; the other is a new scratch card concept. Because the load times on the next-gen are significantly faster (clocking in roughly 3 seconds or so) it doesn’t give the player that last-gen chance of earning an additional heart to make their level easier – therefore at the end of each level you can now earn a scratch card which, when scratched, unlocks certain bonuses. It’s a neat feature made even better on the PlayStation 4 version where you can use the somewhat superfluous touch pad to scratch away as if you’re some gambling addict in a Costcutters car-park.
Visually the game looks as good as it could ever be. The environments are varied and constantly move giving the illusion of a living, breathing world; the character models are well crafted and the boss designs are so grandiose it propels the player to keep gliding through to encounter the next one. Audio has always played a key part in this reboot, from Origins to the fantastic ‘Jungle Run’ on iOS devices, and while a lot of the same iconic tunes resurface here (such as the wild west-inspired ditty that plays when you’re being chased) it’s definitely a welcome return. Rayman Legends on the next generation is retro gaming at its finest, albeit with a significant lick of HD paint, some beautiful art design and a local co-op system which has brought myself and my girlfriend together more times than a Breaking Bad marathon.
In conclusion, Rayman Legends is fantastic value for money – even on the next generation of consoles. For hardcore fans of the franchise, there’s plenty of fan service in this one (not only is Murfy a playable buddy, you also get to return to Rayman 2’s greatest and spookiest level – Land of the Livid Dead) and for casual gamers you’re equally rewarded with a well-crafted, gem of a game. It’s not the most groundbreaking of titles, that’s granted, and a lack of online co-op permits Legends from being one of the truly greatest current-gen platforming titles – but if you want a game on your shelf that you can return to time after time with any friend, no matter of their age or gender, then Rayman Legends is the game for you.
Last gen or current gen – do you own the game? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments below!