A breathless masterpiece from Michel Ancel

Jon Mercer
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Rayman Origins
PS3, Xbox 360, WiiU, PC, PS Vita
It was two years ago, this fall, that legendary French game director Michel Ancel once again seized control of his most famous creation, Rayman, and sent him rocketing back into the gaming limelight with 2011’s “Rayman Origins.”

Now, nearly 24 months after the fact (and one seven-month delay to port the game from the WiiU onto every other peripheral powerful enough to contain its lunacy), a followup has been unleashed in the form of “Rayman Legends.”

Any gamer who played “Origins” can already tell you that this should be a great game, but what they can’t tell you is that Michel Ancel and the crew at Ubisoft Montpellier haven’t just built upon a solid foundation — they have dropped a glimmering pillar of greatness onto it that towers beyond sight into platforming nirvana.

I (along with many others) always say that there are excellent platformers, and then there’s Mario. Well, the chubby, mustachioed Paisan just got served his papers by Ancel’s limbless wunderkind.

On the edge

I’m not kidding, or flinging hyperbole around like so much piñata candy when I say that “Legends” takes the formula displayed in “Origins” and injects pure rocket fuel into it. That’s exactly how it feels to play this game.

Always on the edge, always at colossal speed — leaping, dashing, spinning, swimming, scaling, exploring, tumbling and crashing. The characters on screen; in fact, the players themselves move through the game world like they’re powered by twin turbos. Failure at any given challenge can always be attributed to stiff reflexes, or out and out panic. Either way, you’ll have earned that brief setback and will do better next time.

Whether you’re hightailing it away from an enormous fireball, gliding on gusts of wind in search of hidden doors in a castle in the sky, or doing battle atop a lake of fiery jalapeno sauce against a mammoth luchador; this is a game that pushes its gameplay to the very limits. If you’re at all a fan of old-school platformers (lots of running and jumping, with emphasis on timing and reflexes), you’ll be hard pressed to find a better title.

If I hit a single, stumbling snag while I was playing “Rayman Legends,” I’d have to take umbrage with the “Murfy” levels.

You see, this title was originally conceived as an exclusive for Nintendo’s WiiU, and Murfy was meant to be featured as a way for another player (even if there are already four playing) to jump in as the goofy green fairy with the giant grin, and affect the game in positive ways. Most of the time it would merely be by slapping enemies out of the way; however there are several levels (that mercifully decline in abundance as the game progresses) where Murfy interacts with the stage, moving platforms and disposing of traps.

It doesn’t matter if you’re playing with the WiiU’s tablet, The Vita’s touchpad or a normal controller on any other platform — it always results in typing fingers in knots and feels like a shameless gimmick.

Fortunately, the rest of the game is nothing short of astonishing in scale, pace and design, so what could have been a debilitating blow becomes as minor an irritant as a fly bite.

Washing the bitter taste of the Murfy misfire is the staggering variance of gameplay between each stage as the game progresses further and further. Unlike “Origins,” new abilities aren’t doled out over a period of time. Outside of character skins, players will have all of their tools right from the starting gun.

Yet, “Legends” constantly blossoms with new ideas, with new core concepts to wrap levels around. This is a game that is as directly focused on exciting, on stimulating that intangible desire within a gamer to play something new, to discover another joy, no matter how brief — “Rayman Legends” wants to dole out that same feeling deep into its third act as readily as it did for the first hour in which we played it.

And hey, if you want a little bonus — “Legends” is altogether gorgeous. It’s got that same buttery smooth animation as “Origins,” but with a visual style that makes every moment like a particularly gorgeous concept painting come to life. You could pause this game at any individual frame of your choice, frame it and hang it on the wall. Period.

I could, quite easily, jabber on and on, far beyond the limitations of my column and the patience of my editors with reasons that any gamer could pick up “Rayman Legends” and have so much fun that Michel Ancel should be donated to science and vivisected to see if his body is comprised of rainbows and music.

There is so much here I want to tell you about that I just could not do justice. Escape stages based around the rhythm of the instantly recognizable background music; the stuff with The Swarm;  daily and weekly challenges for bonus points to unlock extras; the fact that 75 per cent of “Rayman Origins” has been remastered and reproduced as bonus levels.

But enough from me. Go out, right now. If you own a gaming console that can play this game, buy it, take a breath and dive in.

Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, WiiU, PC, PS Vita (360 version reviewed)

Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: Sept. 3, 2013

Rated: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up

Organizations: Nintendo, The Swarm

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  • Gerry Coombs
    September 14, 2013 - 09:41

    Very entertaining and informative review! Rayman Origins has been getting some decent play at our home, so maybe Rayman Legends will have to get some looking into as well. Thanks Jon!