Legendary

Rayman Legends is a “hey, come in here and look at this!” game. It constantly surprises and delights. It coaxes forth smiles. It’s alive and generous, full of movement and joy and landscapes like paintings instead of landscapes like videogames. You discover a hidden area and an invisible audience murmurs “ooh!” in admiration. You slice your way through cakes. You explore a steampuckish undersea city. A fat dragon like a bumblebee or an eager dog flaps clumsily after you. You jump off a raft and slip under the water into an impossible kaleidoscope of little fishes. As if that’s not thrilling enough, they then start singing to you. With your feet on the air and your head on the ground.

After the jump, try this trick. Spin it.

It would be a mistake to write off Rayman Legends as just another good platformer. It’s more than that. It’s a celebration of how far the genre and its traditions have come, of the stunningly imaginative artwork that graces Michel Ancel’s series, of speed and leaping and packing joyous activity into little vignettes and merry collectibles and player progression and tests of skill or just moments of discovery. It’s not just another good platformer. It’s The Good Platformer.

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It reveals itself as a collection. A gallery or a museum, with a menagerie in one of the back rooms. A Mario game shows an overworld map, adorning it with stars and flags as you finish the levels. But Rayman is your own intimate gallery of paintings, each with a world inside where tiny big-nosed creatures called teensies have been imprisoned. Regular levels have ten teensies. Two of them are royals hidden inside secret puzzle chambers. When you rescue a royal teensy — the teensies are a monarchy, and the recurring villains are some sort of teensy anarchists — he or she gives you a kiss that lets you survive one hit. I’ll take a kiss from a teensy over a mushroom any day. The liberated teensies are waiting at the end of the level to throw you a party. Now, when you pass the painting, the rescued teensies are clustered underneath, cheering in gratitude as you pass. Your gallery is gradually filling with enthusiasts.

This is how you do collectibles. Bring them to life. Make them expressive. Stars and coins are fine. Teensies and fairies are better. A party is best. A party with cute little things is even bester. Remember all those little animals hopping merrily out of Dr. Robotnik’s metal contraptions at the end of Sonic levels? Rayman creator Michel Ancel sure does.

It’s all so playful and whimsical, even childlike, but in a way that doesn’t have to resort to the usual Fisher Price candy-colored scheme that marks most childlike worlds. It’s even a little coarse. At the end of each world, when you catch up with the villainous anarchist teensy who has kidnapped a lady teensy and rudely honked her nose, he tries to get away in his anarchistmobile. It gets stuck. You wind up your attack and punch him out of the world. Literally. The punched anarchist flies out into space, soaring into the stars and disappearing into the star that marks the butthole of a happy pig constellation. That’s right, the butthole. I just said that. Me, a grown man, giggling at that.

The anarchist lands head first in the crater of a small moon. He’s stuck. Little demon aliens with pitchforks tentatively poke him in the butt, playing a simple tune. It is his just punishment for honking the lady teensy’s nose. Honk and ye shall be honked. Later the other anarchists you defeat end up here and the simple tunes turn into a symphony played out on trapped anarchist teensy butts. Go ahead and pretend you think it’s not funny. Go ahead. Karmic butt poking in distant cosmic buttholes.

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Legends was originally developed for the Wii U, and it’s as much of a showcase for the unique selling points of the system as anything made by Nintendo. But it was clumsily extended to pretty much every other platform for reasons green, rectangular, and myriad. I shouldn’t complain, since it means more people can experience Rayman Legends. But it’s awfully forced to play some of the touchscreen levels by simply mashing a button to get a weird little bug to do the touchscreening for you. This is a game for the Wii U. Or the Vita. It’s a game that invites direct contact. Sure, it’ll work on other systems. But it takes a Wii U or a Vita to really make it sing under your fingers.

Lest you’re worried that this is a gimmick game, it’s not. It’s a mostly conventional platformer — albeit very very slick and very very polished and very very smartly laid out — with discrete use of occasional gimmicks. On certain levels, a globox named Murfy actually plays the level for you. Do you not know what a globox is? You will. Murfy does the running and jumping and whatever else is part of the level design, and he’s perfectly good at it. Your job is to tinker with little interactive bits of the level to clear his way. These levels are ideal for playing co-operatively with less experienced gamers who might want to be a part of the action; let them clear the way on the touchscreen while you use a controller to play Murfy.

The Murfy levels appear only sparingly and they’re a great change of pace from the regular platforming. This is true of a few other gimmicks in Legends, such as the flying levels or the rotating rooms and the thankfully rare boss battles. On the off chance that any of these is annoying — I can’t imagine anyone not getting caught up in the enthusiasm behind these gimmicks, but maybe you have a lower threshold for changing up the gameplay — it will be over soon enough. Or, heck, just skip it and dedicate your completionist tendencies to a more conventional platformer. Rayman Legends is never going to present you with a dead end. Within the levels, it will let you attempt a jump as many times as you like. There are no limited lives and the levels are liberally adorned with checkpoints. There will quickly be at least a half dozen levels you can play. Probably more. One of the defining characteristics of Rayman Legends is its breadth of content.

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For instance, daily and weekly online challenges compare your playthroughs of a rotating series of levels against other players, identified by their country. Nothing feeds the drive to compete quite like a national flag. Just ask soccer. Is it any surprise that Rayman is a French invention? I may not care about beating playername8265, but by golly I’m not going to let that German flag sit two places in front of me. What’s a little friendly nationalism between Rayman players?

Legends even includes dozens of levels from the previous game, Rayman Origins. For all I know, the entirety of Origins is tucked behind the lottery tickets that give you random rewards. It’s ridiculously generous, and it’s also a great way to appreciate the level design in Legends. The Origins levels are no slouches, but you can see how far Ubisoft’s Rayman team has come as you alternate between playing your unlocked Origins levels and progressing further into the new Legends levels, clustered into vividly realized themes. The older levels can get tough, and sometimes frustratingly so, and they’re sometimes a touch too long or a little too slow. But the latest Legends levels are thrilling, fast, remarkably satisfying, and so amazing in so many different ways. I wish I could be there when you get to Castle Rock at the end of the first world, and then realize that every world ends with a similar twist. Why close out a perfectly good world with something so prosaic as just another boss battle when you can instead do what Rayman Legends does?

And in case you like Rayman Legends enough to play it like a completionist, there’s no shortage of carrots to keep you moving forward. You unlock playable characters and alternate skins (you never have to actually play as Rayman if you don’t want to). You level up based on the awards you win from gathering fairies on levels, winning rewards, and playing the online challenges. Win sets of uniquely named collectible creatures that live in a menagerie you can visit for extra loot. Some levels unlock brutally difficult timed challenges that you will love to hate. But the most ubiquitous measure of your progress is how many of the 700 captured teensies you’ve rescued. The little guys are everywhere, waiting to thank, cheer, celebrate, and kiss you. For the sake of the freedom of these 700 teensies; for all the content; for the sheer amount of joy and enthusiasm and butt poking; for the sea and sky and swamps and castles; for how well these worlds and their levels are imagined, adorned, and realized, this may very well be the last platformer you ever need.