Sunday, 16 November 2014

Video Game Review: "Rayman Legends"

Well, it's been a while since I've done one of these...

Over the past month or so, rather than the vast collection of games which I SHOULD be playing for review work, I've been playing the two Rayman games that Ubisoft have released in the 2010's, 2011's Rayman Origins and 2013's Rayman Legends. And I do have to say that both games are really good, but tell me to pick a favourite and I will not hesitate in saying Rayman Legends is the better game...but that doesn't mean that I think it's perfect. Let me try and break it all down for you.

Rayman is one of those icons from the console era of gaming to surprisingly buck the trend a bit in that, instead of being popular on the Sega Genesis (or the Sega Megadrive in some aspects of the world) like Sonic The Hedgehog was or on arcade systems and on handheld systems like Mario (originally under the name Jumpman) was, he came around when the Atari Jaguar did (although he did come out on the PS1 around the same time) in 1995, which arguably makes Rayman the youngest of the iconic console gaming heros. Now, Rayman was a REALLY difficult game: I think it took me a few years on and off before I finally managed to beat the game, and I still had to cheat a bit by using the internet to help me find some of the hardest ones just because I never could find them! However, it was a very rewarding game as well, as it felt great to finally beat the last level and it kept me entertained for many years, so I guess one could argue that it is mission accomplished for that game. My only question is what happened to Betilla after you defeat Mr. Dark, as I don't think I remember that ever being answered in the game itself...

Anyway, I surprisingly missed a lot of the games that came out after Rayman did. I did hear about Rayman 2 and kept meaning to pick up a copy, but I didn't manage it until earlier this year, so my next encounter with Rayman was with Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc, which I found...well, I didn't dislike it at all, but the Knaaren levels had me creeped out for a long time (and they still do, in all honesty) and playing the game, while fun, didn't feel as rewarding as Rayman did. It felt like it was lacking something which made Rayman so great. I loved some of the touches in the game, though: the power ups were really nice, the villains were all really memorable (Razzoff springs to mind at the minute!) and the level design was all rather good. I also quite like the music from it, the humour in the game itself did get a few chuckles out of me and the "tutorial lessons" on how to kick Rayman all got a good laugh out of me (with my favourite ones being when the hoodlum instructor gets HIMSELF killed instead of "Rayman"!). My next experience with Rayman was with Rayman Raving Rabbids...which I thought was disappointing. I liked the music mini-games and the shooting mini-games and found the costume variety to be really great, but most of the rest of the mini-games didn't grab me much or just struck me as uninteresting. I'll admit, I'm interested in seeing what Rabbids Go Home is like now, but, after playing through Rayman Raving Rabbids, I just found myself going "When is the next proper Rayman game coming out?"

And then the PS3 came out and, being stuck with my PS2, I forced myself to accept that, with my copy of Rayman lost to the mists of time, the only Rayman games I would be playing would be Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc and Rayman Raving Rabbids.

Disheartening to read that, isn't it?

Well, this is where my best friend comes into the equation. See, in our last few months in college, he was selling one of his two PS3's (his dad and him had separate ones) and he offered me it. I took him up on that offer and, to cut a long story short, I've now played Rayman 2: The Great Escape and the two Rayman games of the 2010's. I've not yet re-picked up Rayman yet, but I probably will do that once I've finished writing this review. And I might see what other Rayman games are out there which I missed...

The point of all of this? Well, Rayman, to me, is just one of those icons who I loved from my childhood (I'm not going to lie, there were times that I wished I WAS Rayman!) and being able to finally catch up with him after years has honestly been really great. Yet, if I'm totally honest, I feel sad about it because I now realise that there has never been a definitively perfect Rayman game. Rayman suffered from ridiculous difficulty that, while fun, could be off putting if you weren't used to it (and, even if you were, there were more than a few points which would have been incredibly frustrating) and didn't really have a plot (although, in fairness, most games from the 90's didn't have a lot of plot), Rayman 2: The Great Escape has graphics which don't stand up well now and suffers from rather awkward controls, Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc got a bit too caught up in poking fun at itself and felt like it was lacking something to make it truly great and the less said about Rayman Raving Rabbids, the better. The 3D addition to the Rayman series arguably hurt the series because it stopped playing to its strengths and tried to be something that Rayman wasn't. Now, I'm not saying EVERY 3D Rayman game has been bad, but, like with Oddworld: Munch's Oddysse and Sonic Heroes (although I did actually like that one), the 3D addition to what had previously been a very successful 2D platformer just didn't work for me. Maybe it's because most of the games I loved as a kid were 2D platformers (and I will admit that a 2D platformer is still like catnip for me now, even if it's on the premise of being 2.5D) and shooters only took over that spot because so few people seemed to bother making them on a noticeable scale, but, in my mind, a 3D platformer usually tends to mess up on the fact that what made a platformer fun was the fact that it didn't need a complex plot. What made them good was that getting through them properly took skill (...well, assuming the controls were fluid and responsive, of course!) and that what helped to sell it was the visuals: if they were really good to look at and were creative, then the lack of a proper plot didn't really matter. In the 3D age, however, games seem to need a plot, and that rarely meshes well with platforming games for me. I don't need to know that I'm chasing a guy down because he blew up my house, murdered my wife and ate my sandwich (although it certainly is nice to have context if you wish to provide some...), just give me a fun game to play and I'll be happy!

That's why Rayman Origins struck a chord with me when I finally got to play it: it was fun to play, had great artwork and didn't force a story onto me that I wasn't interested in. The characters were all great, so unlocking them felt like a great experience, the mosquito levels were great fun and I liked the challenge of the game. HOWEVER, I still had issues with it: some of the cages were a pain to find, a distressingly large amount of the challenge felt a bit too much in the vein of Rayman, the replayability of the game feels a bit forced due to having to reply levels just to unlock the final level and the teeth levels...let's just say that I've never bothered to replay those levels since I beat them the first time. I also cannot escape the feeling that Rayman Origins was made in an attempt to see if Rayman still had any appeal in today's gaming scene, as, though it was good and clearly had effort put into it, I still felt a bit like the game was treading water. It felt like Ubisoft weren't sure Rayman had the potential to be viable today in the same way that Mario and Sonic are, but still were willing to give it a go just for the sake of the fans like me who longed for a return to the 2D platforming days of the character's early life...and, while I certainly commend them for their hard work and thank them for it, I still cannot shake the feeling that they weren't completely confident in the game.

No such doubts see I in Rayman Legends. This is the work of a games company who knew they had it in them to make a great game and worked their hardest to make it the best game they could. And I think they did it perfectly, to the extent that I would not be afraid to say that Rayman Legends might just be the best Rayman game ever, if not the best Rayman game since Rayman itself! Yes, it still has issues, but, in the vast majority of them, I consider them nitpicks.

Let us start with the visual style of the game. It's just beautiful! I imagine that, even if you're a member of the Glorious PC Master Race and, as such, think 30fps is unplayable, you'd struggle to disagree that the art style for Rayman Legends is still one of the most artistically stunning styles that has been seen in a video game for a good while, and it certainly casts doubt on the accusation that video games cannot be art! The overall effect can be summed up as making the whole game look like it's been painted, which gives it a very interesting effect that is similarly retro and unique, with some impressive lighting effects work that would put many 3D games to shame! Rayman Origins certainly looked good, but I think that Rayman Legends actually looks better than it does...and I thought Origins looked pretty damn good in and of itself, so let that speak for itself!

The overall controls are really great. They're pretty fluid and responsive, in addition to being fairly intuitive if you've played a platformer before now. I do have one point of contention, however: you don't seem to move towards the ground quite as quickly as you'd expect that you should. It's not a serious issue, but it does mean that there will be occasions where you'll overshoot a jump by a tiny bit because you take longer to land back on the ground than you think you will. I adjusted to this fairly quickly, but I would recommend that you not play this game immediately after you play another platformer, as this will throw you off a bit until you've mentally adjusted to it. This is an issue which has carried over from Rayman Origins, so it could be argued as being a stylistic choice for the games, but I think the games could have done with being a bit stronger with the gravity, as it feels a bit like Rayman is on Uranus (which is VERY close of the gravity of Earth, but is a bit less stronger than it).

Yes, I know, Uranus is funny when said out loud, now can you please stop giggling at the inevitable assortment of immature jokes that you've come up with before I have to tell you to stick them somewhere that the sun doesn't shine?

...Wait, that didn't help at all, did it?

Anyway, the number of characters in the game is pretty impressive. I've not made an overall count, but I know that there are ten princesses in the game who can be unlocked simply be rescuing them (there's two per world, with the obvious exception being the final sixth world) and you start the game out with six characters...and there's MORE than that which can be unlocked simply by collecting enough Lums, with one available if you rescue all 700 Teensies. I mostly stuck with the princesses because I thought they all looked badass, but, as all of the characters play the same, there's not really a lot that needs to be discussed with them.

I didn't get a chance to play the game with anyone else and I was playing on the PS3 version of the game, so I can't talk about the multiplayer very well in the actual game, but I can talk about the challenge mode...and it's a HUGE amount of fun! While I personally liked the story missions more than the challenges, there was a lot of variety to them and they are varied in terms of challenge: you've got the standard daily challenges, the standard weekly challenges, the extreme daily challenges and the extreme weekly challenges, and all of them are addictive in just how fun they are! I will say that having to unlock each challenge mode is arguably a bit of a moot point (I'd have personally said having them all available from the start would have been a better idea), but the requirements to unlock them aren't too tough, so it's only an issue if you've not got a lot of free time or you're speedrunning the game (which isn't as easy as you'd think it is: all of the worlds aside from the first have minimum Teensie requirements to unlock them, with the final world requiring 400 of them, which is pretty much all of the ones available in the main game without playing levels from the remade levels mode!).

The overall level design is great! While I do feel disappointed that there are no new mosquito levels in the game, you do spend two levels playing as a duck (yes, really!) and the music stages are really great: definitely some of the best levels of a game that I've played in a long time, as they're great fun and challenging enough to make you feel epic for beating each stage without dying once! There are also some challenge levels (noted in the game as invaded levels), which are races to rescue Teensies from being killed via firework and (in a VERY nice move that makes me feel nostalgic) being chased by a shadow version of Rayman which kills you upon contact (people who remember the final world of Rayman will be going "Hey, that sounds familiar" and getting nostalgic, I imagine...). They're all pretty challenging, but their unique level designs prevents any accusations of lazy design: none of the challenge levels are lifted from the levels and getting the golds on most of them is one of those frustrating challenges where, instead of wanting to throw the controller away, you find yourself gripping the controller tightly and gritting your teeth...although I REALLY don't like one of them just because the timing on it is so tight on it! That's not to say that the actual levels outside of those are dull, though: they're all seriously great, with each world having a very interesting theme to it. My personal favourite has to be the fourth world, 20,000 Lums Under The Sea, due to it basically being an extended reference to Jules Verne and his novel 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (which I have actually read! Great novel, highly worth checking out if you like novels from the 19th century!), but my favourite level overall would probably be the music world from the third world.

Why, I hear you cry? How does the thought of mariachi version of "Eye Of The Tiger" sound to you?

Absolutely hilarious? Well, that's the background music for that level...and it's coupled with some AMAZING level design to boot! In fact, I'll go one step further and say that ALL of the music is absolutely great for the game! While some songs are clearly taken from Rayman Origins (the music you get for getting a gold medal at the end of every level is the disco music you hear when you get a medal in Origins), the music overall is still brilliant!

What about the plot of this game? Erm...about the closest you get is sending the villain of each world into space at the end of it, but you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole game has no plot. I'm not too bothered by this personally (it's a 2D platformer with occasional 2.5D moments, so long as the game plays great, I'm happy!) and this was something that was admitted as being the case in pre-release promotion for the game (with the guy who first created Rayman, Michael Ancel, even saying that the plot was like that of a porno: going straight for the important part without worrying about the context of it), but I can imagine that some people will find the absence of a real plot kind of frustrating!

Now, all of this sounds really great, I imagine...but I do still have some sticking points. I feel that the final world being mostly made up of 8-bit remixes of the previous music levels, only with additional (and annoying) screen effects to make the levels even harder AND the absence of checkpoints (which can make the fifth world's remix particularly frustrating!) do make me feel that the development team ran out of ideas about then. I also feel that, for the most part, the challenge of the levels is a bit too easy. If you're patient, don't mind taking your time and you're willing to check a few things that you'd normally go right past, it's not too tough to find most of the Teensie cages and, in most of the levels, there's more than enough Lums for you to get a gold medal without too much extra effort than what you'd usually put into getting through the level. Now, this isn't to say that all of the levels are easy, but, for most of the game, the challenge doesn't really feel like enough for me to feel like I'm being challenged by the game...although I DID manage to beat "The Land Of The Livid Dead" level from Rayman Origins with far less difficulty than you'd have thought I'd have managed it in (the only real challenge for me being the boss of that level!), so I'm probably not the best person to judge the difficulty of the game! I also think that the absence of new powers to be unlocked during the game, while a sensible decision, does mean that it's a bit too easy to get 100% completion of the main game. My last issue is that, if you're going for 100% completion (read: unlocking every character and attaining the highest level of Awesomeness), you're going to be playing the game for a LONG time: beating the main game only just got me about 100,000 Lums, (with about 20,000 of them coming from lucky tickets) and 440 Teensies (a few of which from lucky tickets). While I've not played the Back To Origins levels yet (so I could feasibly get all 700 Teensies), getting a million Lums and the eleventh level of Awesomeness are probably going to be out of my range for a while now, so, if you're a person who likes to get 100% completion on stuff, be aware that you're going to be in for the long haul!

That said, the only ones that I think drags the game down are the last world being remixed versions of the music worlds and the huge amount of time and effort required to attain 100% completion (and the second one will ultimately depend on what type of gamer you are as to whether that's a bad thing or not). So, while it's not a perfect game, it's certainly a fantastic game that is really worth playing! If you've not played this game yet, then I would suggest remedying that, as this is a game which is truly worth playing. With this game, I feel that Rayman is finally in a position to reclaim his oft forgotten place as an icon for platform gaming, and it's truly a shame that the game (and Rayman Origins) didn't get the sales that such a titan of platform gaming deserved, as it is a game which could prove that platform gaming is not dead to anyone who has played it.

So go play it if you haven't yet, and see why I consider this game to be a missed classic of the modern games industry and probably the best Rayman game to date. I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed!

Final Rating: 8.5 Out Of 10

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