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During the Wii’s lifecycle, Ubisoft did something that was pretty unprecedented - they resurrected Rayman… twice. The first time was during the Wii’s launch when one of the budding system’s best games came from Ubisoft with Rayman Raving Rabbids, a fun and hilarious party game that really took advantage of the new motion-controlled Wii Remote. Raving Rabbids did so well it became its own IP with numerous installments, it accidently created another Ubisoft gold mine based on one of its minigames with Just Dance, and it has reached new mediums with a recently launched TV show on Nickelodeon. Ubisoft did it again in 2011 with Rayman Origins, which as the names implies, brought Rayman back to its platforming roots complete with co-op, great controls and brilliant level design. While it didn’t strike gold like Raving Rabbids, it did however hit it off with critics and gamers alike while still profiting. That wasn’t enough for Ubisoft, who has taken the limbless hero to new heights yet again with the ambitious sequel to Origins, Rayman Legends.
Like Origins before it, Rayman Legends is solely about perfecting the running, jumping and smacking mechanics to blast through its unique and incredibly beautiful worlds. Being weak in any of these categories may result in doom for your character or a missed opportunity to collect valuable Lums (which grade your performance) or save one of the kidnapped Teensies (the object of the game). While the sequel still has a few niggling trial-and-error moments, it’s not as bad since the checkpoints are much more frequent than they were in Origins.
When I started up Legends and plowed through the first world, I thought that I’m just going to experience more of the same from Rayman Origins. While that’s not actually a bad thing since Origins was fun in itself, everything changed when I dove further and further the game. The amount of variety that Ubisoft Montpellier threw into this game is nothing short of astounding. From stealth mechanics to rhythm-based stages to awe-inspiring boss fights to even remixed Origins stages, let me say that with upmost glee that Legends’ upgrades raise the bar for future platformers.
And all of this platforming nirvana gets even better when enjoyed with friends. On Wii U, up to five players can team up (offline only) to explore the worlds together, and Legends supports a mix of nearly every other Wii U-friendly controller configuration for players 2-5. This allows the group to uncover secrets more efficiently as well as allow the touchscreen-heavy stages to flow faster. Unlike Origins, one player must often swap in and out as Murfy, who guides other players to the end by tapping enemies, moving platforms, cutting ropes or tilting the entire stage. As long as the Gamepad user is okay with this asymmetrical multiplayer, this adds a whole new way to experience a platformer. Also worth mentioning is the multiplayer-only Kung Foot minigame, which uses Rayman’s slaphappy gameplay in a game of fun and chaotic soccer.
Returning from the Wii U-exclusive Rayman Legends Challenge App are daily and weekly challenges. For those who didn’t download the free eShop app, these challenges award players who score well in various objectives such as speed-collecting Lums, clocking yourself in time trials or endless levels designed to see how long you go without dying. Leaderboards show who is king of the mountain, and you can get knocked down a peg if others end up outmatching you.
As good as Legends is, its development wasn’t free from controversy. The formally Wii U-exclusive game got delayed at the last second so it could also hit the Vita, PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3; and after messing around with the 360 version, I ask Ubisoft why they’d even bother with the other consoles. Like I said before, Legends doesn’t play like Origins all the time and you can see that these new features weren’t meant for the traditional controller. If you are playing alone, you play as Rayman and Murfy at the same time, with you doing plain button presses to replace everything you’d normally do with the Gamepad’s screen. It’s even worse with co-op when every player controls Murfy. The Vita version however is just as good as the Wii U version with the same touch control scheme and all the content after a post-launch patch, though its co-op is limited to only two players.
With Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze releasing later this year, all I can say is that Retro Studios have better bring their Metroid Prime-grade A-game because Rayman Legends is slated to be the primo 2D platformer for the young console (it’s already crushed New Super Mario Bros. U and its green-flavored expansion combined). Legends proved that Ubisoft once again out-Nintendo’d Nintendo with sublime platforming execution and some the best use of the Gamepad yet. Let’s just hope Nintendo remembers that the Gamepad exists for just these reasons.