Legends has some big, floppy sneakers to fill - and I'm afraid I can only examine it in relation to its predecessor. How is it?
Legends feels less like a sequel than an Origins expansion pack, with about half of the content - if we're only counting the platforming gameplay. Where Origins had eleven worlds to bounce, dash and bash your way through (including the insanely challenging Land of the Livid Dead), Legends contents itself with six - and the sixth world consists of a single new level and "8-bit" variations on the five musical runs you've already completed.
The levels you replay there are identical to when you first saw them - but distorted with filter effects to make them very, very hard. Every time you get near a jump in Orchestral Chaos, the screen will go blank with static. Castle Rock is seen though a fish-eye lens, and you're unable to view anything more than a few feet in front of your hero. Mariachi Madness and Dragon Slayer begin with some rather pronounced pixellation - which is almost pleasing to the eye, but nowhere near as pleasing as Legends' standard look - and devolves into something almost unplayable.
I could wax romantic about these choices - how it requires the player to know the track so well that they don't need to see in order to complete them perfectly, like a gameplay Zen master (and they must be completed perfectly - a single misstep sends you back to the beginning) - but Legends does not earn such credit for itself. Instead, it leans heavily on the goodwill Origins purchased for it, and squanders it with about half the platforming content, a wealth of minigames and crap nobody asked for or desired in the sequel to one of the best pure platformers of all time, and - most damning - a distressing disregard for the divine design and challenge gradient that made Origins an instant classic.
And then there's Murfy.
Designed as a co-op addition when the game was conceived as a Wii U exclusive (it was then delayed until work could be completed on PS3, Vita, 360 and PC versions), Murfy is a little green thing that would float around the environment as the first player platformed through the level. Another player, controlling Murfy via the Wii U gamepad, would touch the screen to move obstacles, destroy or tickle enemies, rotate the game world and cut ropes.
In the PS3 and 360 versions, an AI Murfy constantly moves ahead to the next object he can interact with, waiting for a button press from the player to act. In the Vita version, you only control Murfy as an (idiotic) AI character repeatedly ignores important side-items and gets himself killed.
You'll do your best to keep him from harm, and he'll do his best to get himself killed. In sequence pictured above, Globox floats on updrafts of wind beneath gouts of lava flow, and you must shield him from the hot stuff. It took about fifteen tries to get through. Not because it was hard, but because when we'd get to the lava, Globox would just kind of stop beneath the sputtering flow as I diverted it - not moving forward into safety. He'd hover in one spot, fluttering back and forth as I cursed his name, and move out of the safety of my shield to get himself killed.
Over and over. Well past the point of being fun. Not that it was ever fun. I didn't purchase Rayman in the hopes of playing a glorified, badly-designed cell phone game. I bought it because I love platformers - and given that about twenty per cent of the game's levels consist of Murfy fare, this tacked-on poorly-implemented mini-game is a major thorn in (at least the) Vita version's side.
It's not all sour grapes.
While Legends is never as uniformly and shockingly beautiful as Origins, it's still - for the most part - a treat for the eyes. Blocky textures on some characters (and the background of the loading screens) are disappointing, but hardly a deal breaker, and while the music isn't as uplifting as it was in 2011, the sounds are still plenty sweet.
When it focuses down to its point and purpose, the game regularly finds itself in the company of the same razor-sharp mechanical brilliance of its predecessor. The below level, for example, is required to rescue the last of (awesome new female hero) Barbara's sisters and cousins, and it's akin to the most challenging sequences in Origins' Land of the Livid Dead or Mystical Pique.
The level appears in the game's last world - Olympus Maximus - which takes place in gorgeous mountaintop ruins and lava-choked underground passages. Why is the brilliant level above in a desert, with assets from Teensies in Trouble, the game's first world?
I have no idea. Probably because someone designed it for the first world, but it was deemed too challenging - so they shoved it to the end of the game where it made more sense for the challenge gradient, but didn't bother to change the art assets.
Rayman Legends offers platforming pleasure that's regularly beautiful and razor-sharp, but it does so in a far less accomplished manner than its predecessor. Either over-confident or simply dismissive of the benefits of a steadily-escalating challenge that tutors the player in the ways of its world, the game never feels cohesive or uniformly pleasurable.
There is pleasure here, to be sure - as there will always be pleasure in dashing across a beautiful landscape to beautiful music - but that's not all Legends offers. With its beauty and fun, it demands you suffer through Murfy. It cuts the content of Origins in half, and in its place it offers virtual collectibles and mini games.
The best parts of Rayman Legends are the musical levels - one for each world - and the remixed Rayman Origins levels you can unlock by taking part in (you guessed it) another minigame, in which you scratch off cards to reveal whether you obtained a Teensie, some lums, a virtual pet for a virtual pet museum or an Origins level.
Rayman Legends is regularly fun, but not reliably so. With about half the content of 2011's brilliant Origins, Legends thins itself out with mini games and "added value" components that do the core game no good.
Its design is fine - regularly so - but even that cannot live up to the stratospheric standards Ubisoft Montpellier set two years ago. It's regularly beautiful - but only when it can't think of a way to remove the beauty and remove the fun, for the sake of a gimmick.
|This is an actual screenshot.|
From an actual level.
When you're meant to be actually playing the game.