Despite being around since 1995, Rayman has never gotten the same recognition as his fellow gaming icons, Sonic the Hedgehog and the Mario Brothers. With Rayman Legends, he has surpassed Sonic in the modern era and can certainly be in the discussion with Mario when it comes to kick-ass mascot protagonists.
The two most important things in a platformer are having tight controls and great level design, and Legends delivers on both fronts. I always felt in complete control of Rayman, or whichever of his buddies I chose to play as. They all control the same, but have nifty little differences in the way they traverse the world. Rayman ducks under tight spaces: Barbara does the splits and boogies through them. It's cosmetic, but a nice touch.
Like most platformer-style games, Rayman is practically devoid of narrative. That's okay, because developer Ubisoft is notoriously bad at delivering a good plot (See Far Cry 3 and Assassin's Creed). The point is to keep moving through increasingly insane levels of obstacles and enemies to get to the end.
There are tons of levels, and Ubisoft did the right thing by eschewing the stale "Ice stage, fire stage, water stage, etc." formula. You're dodging balls of electricity one minute, then having your frog fairy friend (yeah, there's loads of weird stuff,) eat through cake to clear you a path. Some of my favorite levels had me sliding down big melting sticks of butter while commanding my friend to open the next door for me to jump through, all at breathtaking speed. All of that after my nemesis had turned me into a duck for some reason. It didn't affect the play, it was just delightful wackiness.
There are a few problems with Rayman. I've never said it before, but it might have TOO much content. There are thousands of collectables and hidden areas to find. There are over 100 levels to play. That's all well and good, but Legends never delivers any large scale graphic eye candy to go with the sweet gameplay. I would have traded some levels for more story and more big set pieces. Ubisoft should take some notes from Insomniac, the makers of the Ratchet and Clank series, to address these issues.
The other problem I had was that the best stages by a long shot, where you manically go through dozens of obstacles to the beat of a song, are extremely few and far between. Jumping, punching, and hitting switches, all to the beat of "Old Black Betty" with the lyrics replaced by Rabbid nonsense, while being chased by a wall of fire, is one of my fondest memories from a game this year. I wish they had done more of these instead of the regular levels.
Rayman Legends is a diabolically addictive platformer that can be played by up to four people at a time. I tried playing two-player with my friend Danny, but it just messed up the experience for me. However, I'm sure kids will love the ability to screw over their friends/siblings when near the end of a level. It's worth a rental at least, and if you have any young people to buy a video game for, or you're an old-school platform fan like me, pick it up at the store. You won't be disappointed, especially with the seemingly endless amount of things to do.
-Review by Tom McDaniel