Raising the bar.
The Wii U is the first console in quite some time that I've had the time and money to stay on top of in terms of software. My "Games to Get" lists for GameCube and Wii are depressingly long, so it's good to know I'm staying on top for at least something.
I picked up Rayman Legends the day it came out. I made a point to be sitting in the parking lot, waiting for the store to open. After enjoying Rayman Origins immensely, as well as the Rayman Legends Challenge App, I knew this was a platformer I was going to love. In just five days, I absolutely devoured this game 100%. Considering I was also working those five days, I'd say it's a pretty impressive feat. And looking back, I am so glad I did.
This game delivers. The level design is practically unsurpassed on any front. The controls are tight, the sound glorious, and the visuals teeming with character. The amount of content blew me away. I was expecting a lot (especially since the game has been delayed for half a year), but it still surprised me.
The stages are so refined. Everything flows along so smoothly, and it just feels right. The stage layouts themselves make every action you take seem so natural. I was impressed at nearly every turn. The few issues I had with Rayman Origins were considered, addressed, and eliminated. Granted, the difficulty factor was toned down quite a bit, but after experiencing the finished product, I think it was for the best.
The stage variety was very much appreciated. Standard left-to-right exploration platforming is broken up by touch-screen, sprinting, chase, and music-based stages among others. Rayman Origin's story-focused gameplay is discarded for a more consecutive stage approach, where the player is free to explore and re-explore any stage (set up as paintings) whenever they want in a gallery setting.
The touch-screen stages put you in control of Murphy, who assists an AI character who is making their way through the stage. As Murphy, you cut ropes, distract enemies, raise/lower platforms, disable traps, etc. The most interesting part of this is that you do it using the GamePad using only your finger/stylus. Obviously, the dual display is perfect for this, as both screens are displaying the same thing.
You can play this game with multiple people, but I prefer 2D platformers by myself first, so I relied on the AI character not to be an idiot. Refreshingly, the AI nearly always did what I wanted them to do. The touch-screen stages were a pleasure to play. With poor implementation, they easily could have tarnished an otherwise well-polished game.
Many stages involved some sort of urgency, such as a fire wall threatening to catch up to you, or a tower collapsing into the ground. Quick reflexes are a must, but the game doesn't punish you for not having them. Just as in Origins, death means your respawn is fairly close to where you died. A handicap heart (for an extra hit) is obtainable in almost every stage during the loading screen. So even though some stages have that one part that seems impossible, it's only a matter of learning when the exact moment was to jump, fall, etc.
The music-based stages are often pointed at as a moment of brilliance by many reviews. While I think they are indeed something great (and a fantastic way to get someone interested in the game), I feel the overall gameplay experience is something I would praise far more, even if it's less noticeable. The stages are given as a bonus of sorts at the end of each world. Each is linked to a song, some created for the game, some in existence already (e.g. Ram Jam's rendition of Black Betty).
These stages have you running full speed the entire way, making jumps and hitting enemies in exact timing with the music. It really is a cool experience, and I can't praise them enough for implementing the idea well.
The music during the rest of the game is brilliant. Christophe Héral has outdone himself. The variety and intricacies consistently match the gameplay, and as standalone compositions, they are quite strong. I read in an interview that he was told to make sure there was a wide range of styles. I'm sure it was one of the easiest boxes to check off during development.
The controls are responsive and tight, the way a platformer should be. All of Rayman's moves are available from the outset, and the game will give you nonintrusive reminders in case you're not already aware. Aside from running and jumping, you can follow curves up walls (eventually running vertically and upside down), float down slowly, wall kick, and perform a number of attacks. It's not overly complicated, and it gives you exactly what you need. Nothing more, nothing less. This is a great approach, because it allows you to focus on the gameplay as a whole rather than superfluous, obtrusive extras.
The visual look of the stages are vibrant, colorful, and full of life. Nothing ever seems too busy, but it's never void of enough material either. Each world has its own style (e.g. swamp, desert) and enemies, so even though the stages are similar, there's more than enough to keep your interest. Notably, there are stages that have been "invaded" by enemies from another world. These "mini-stages" require the player to complete them in less than 40 seconds in order to obtain all trophies. I will say that these stages were by far the most difficult out of the entire game. They are built for speed and precision, and you must have both to earn that gold trophy.
Each stage has ten Teensies that must be rescued. Eight are in the wild, and two are in hidden doors that lead to a mini-game of sorts. Finding all ten yields you your bronze, silver, and gold trophy. In addition to Teensies, you must collect a certain number of Lums (usually 600, but changes depending on the type of stage) to obtain all three of those trophies. Finding all six trophies per stage wasn't that hard (especially compared to Origins), but it wasn't boring either. I only had to go back to three or four stages to find that elusive Teensie. That doesn't include stages I wanted to go back to just because they were a lot of fun to play.
So there's one huge part of this game I haven't talked about yet. And that's the 40 stages included from Rayman Origins. Yes, 40! For people that missed out on Origins the first time around, it's a great way for them to see it in length. The 40 stages chosen are a potpourri of the best. They have been "remastered," which really means the mechanics are altered to match Legends. An example would be the singing Lums being discarded, since they wouldn't fit in this game. I saved playing the Origins stages until I finished the rest of the game, but you unlock them constantly through playing the main game.
You can also unlock a multitude of characters, as well as little monsters that yield Lums every day. Clearing a stage gives you a "scratch card," which you scratch off like a lottery ticket (on the GamePad, naturally) to earn a prize. It could be the aforementioned monsters, Origins stages, or just more Lums. Characters are obtained in rescue stages or by collecting enough Lums.
There is also a mini-game called "Kung Foot." It's basically a 2D soccer field where up to four people aim to kick/punch/attack a soccer ball into their goal. It sounds simple, but quickly became a veritable frenzy of enjoyment. It doesn't really contribute anything to the main game, but I'm glad it was still included.
The Rayman Legends Challenge App, which has provided a daily and weekly challenge months and months before the game's release, is still included as part of the game. Challenges are updated every day/week, and it seems there are still a large number of people participating. Bear in mind these challenges are quite a bit harder than the normal stages. After playing the challenges for weeks on end, I couldn't help but laugh at the ease I was able to clear the main game's stages. The extreme competitive nature of the challenges is also something that sets it apart. You think you did absolutely awesome, and the game informs you that you're on your way to a bronze trophy! Oh.
All in all, the game is wayyyyy easier than Origins. I think it makes the whole thing more enjoyable for the masses, which is a good thing. Any super difficulty I'm looking for is right in the Challenges section.
I cannot recommend this game enough. Regardless of what platform you buy it for, keep in mind the developers have stated the Wii U version is the ideal one to play. If you'll remember way back, the game was supposed to be a Nintendo exclusive. In addition to that, the game was supposed to come out closer to March than September. I wasn't that upset that the exclusivity was discarded, but I was upset that they pushed back a totally finished game by over six months. I know the developers said that the extra time gave them opportunities to fix and refine the game, but it still irritates me.
Bottom line? Get it. Play it. Relish it. It raises the standard that all 2D platformers go by.