Rayman's latest platforming adventure is a joy to behold and play.
As pure side-scrolling platformers go, you would be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable experience than Rayman Legends (RL). I say that confidently without obviously having played every platformer, nor even all of the twenty-something Rayman games that have been released since '95. RL has a sort of magic to it that draws the player in, wows them immediately with with a beautiful presentation, and keeps them playing and smiling thanks to smart gameplay design that is as fun as it is addictive.
There is a story to RL, although it takes a backseat to the action. The gist is simply that dark powers have overtaken several worlds and it's up to Rayman and his pals, including Globox and newcomer Barbara, as well as a variety of Teensies and other heroes you can unlock, to save the day. The main hub or lobby of the game is setup as an art gallery, with paintings setup on eisels and separated into various categories such as Main (where all of the story missions are), Heroes (where playable characters are unlocked), Creatures (another set of fifty or so unlockable creatures that provide Lums), Challenges (offered up daily online), Origins (stages from the previous Rayman make a return), and Kung Foot (soccer-themed mini-game). There are six main worlds, or episodes, each containing at least a half dozen playable stages within them. Each world has a general theme such as castles, nature, the deep sea, and even cake. Your primary goal is to clear all episodes, but it's more than just going from point A to B. Along the way, you need to find and save Teensies -- there are 700 of these out there, with most stages containing around ten, although more stages (called Invasions) get unlocked as you progress and you can also replay levels from Rayman Origins to find more Teensies, too. I have read that 400 Teensies is sufficient to unlock the final episode, although I have yet to reach that mark to verify.
Besides finding and collecting Teensies, it's also worthwhile and inevitably very addictive to go after every Lum you can find, too. These are simple yellow (or purple for twice the points) colored spherical, uh, things. You'll earn tens and even hundreds of thousands of these as you play. These are put towards unlocking other playable characters; you'll need a full million of these to unlock the final character. Besides being collectible and adding even more colors to the screen, Lums are also strategically placed at times to help you navigate the stage.
Actually playing RL is a textbook example of a game being very accessible or easy to start, but difficult to master. That's not to say you need to be a platforming guru to enjoy all of what RL has to offer, but if you're going to pursue all possible avenues in RL, then you'll need significant skills to succeed. Anyway, controls include pressing X to jump (holding X to hover), Square to attack, and Circle to have your little fly buddy assist you by operating objects in the gameworld, such as moving a platform, tickling a big foe so you can punch him while he's distracted, or even eating through mounds of cake. Rayman (or whoever you choose to play as) can wall jump, swing on ropes, wall jump, duck, swim, and run as well. It doesn't take but a hit or maybe two, or a miss-timed jump to die, but you're never placed very far back (literally just a few seconds) and load times are very quick. It makes mistakes a lot more tolerable than if you had a limited number of lives or had to start the entire stage over again with every death. This is great for single player, but it's absolutely essential to have for playing co-op multiplayer, which I'll discuss soon.
Part of what makes RL so amazing is how it takes these simple gameplay mechanics and builds upon them to create increasingly clever and challenging, even if only slightly more challenging, experiences. I have thoroughly enjoyed almost every single stage to this point, with my only reservations being some of the stages in the "Fiesta de los Muertos" episode, but even these were "good," just not outstanding like all of the others. It's few disappointments pale in comparison to the boatload of awesome design experienced in the other episodes, including my favorite, "20,000 Lums Under the Sea." And while your overall goal is to get from A to B, that journey is so full of great platforming gameplay and twists that you can't help but feel captivated and impressed with the creativity and variety on display. I loved the surprise stages like "Quicksand" from the first episode and the almost SHMUP style gameplay exhibited in a few stages in which you get the ability to "shoot" projections of a fist forward towards enemies and breakables. The musically themed stages -- "Castle Rock," "Orchestral Chaos," etc -- are just plain genius. As a whole, this game can put a smiley on even the most jaded gamer.
It's hard to find any significant fault with RL at all, but if I had to nit-pick, I would bring up the multiplayer. Beyond the leaderboards and optional challenges (which add a lot to the replay value), there is no online integration. That may be seen as a missing feature, but I would argue that the real joy of playing RL co-op is sharing, in person, the fun and laughs that are inevitable. I played RL solo for the most part, but I did spend about three hours playing co-op with a friend and we had a hell of a good time. When one player 'dies,' he turns into a floating bubble that can be steered. The living player just needs to smack him by pressing Square to bring him back. Some stages are too hectic and/or require too precise timing to work well in co-op, and I was experiencing that with two players -- I can only imagine how hard it would be with four. So there were a few times where my friend and I decided to let one player sit out a stage and just watch. Nothing really wrong with that, I don't really fault the game design as much as our skills and ability to work together. For the vast majority of the time though, we both marveled at just how great the game was and how much fun it was to play.
With that, let's get to the summary...