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Rayman Legends: Definitive Edition (Switch) artwork

Rayman Legends: Definitive Edition (Switch) review

"80% of success is showing up"

Once upon a time, platformers were king, and every company needed to have one. Then 3D came and, well, you know the rest. Nowadays, the 2D platformer primarily survives through indies, but they have changed the genre to one of hardcore, ultra-challenging gameplay like N++ or Meat Boy. But somehow, for some reason, Rayman still survives. It started as a mediocre 2D platformer, caught the 3D bug, then the party-game bug, but finally returned to its roots first with Origins and now Rayman Legends. An approachable 2D platformer with a big(ish) budget is rare enough these days, so why not check it out?

Rayman Legends is the typical tale of bad guys taking over the world and the cartoonish hero stepping in to stop them, no different than any other platformer of the last 30+ years. Here, our titular hero pops through paintings (nice homage there...) to various levels in order to rescue the cute little oppressed Teensies. These Teensies represent the major collectibles in your otherwise linear stages; there's either 3 Teensies on shorter, direct levels or 10 of them on the larger, winding stages. They can be out in the open and simply require a risky jump or two, hidden in secret areas, or (for the larger stages) 2 of them are hidden in special ministages requiring you to complete a more complex obstacle. The more Teensies you grab, the more levels get unlocked. Fortunately, much like the 3D Marios, you don't need to collect them all; only about half are required to unlock the final levels. You also need to grab Lums (much like coins in Mario) to unlock scratch off tickets, which then unlocks levels from Rayman Origins. But ultimately, the games are your typical linear fare: get to the end of the stage by running and jumping.

The level design is simple, but reasonably effective. In general, enemies are meant to be mere obstacles rather than challenging duels, meaning the focus is more on environmental hazards than action and combat. Because of that, you're constantly moving, keeping your engagement up (a necessity for any good platformer). Levels are instead focused around making precise jumps, often several in a row while keeping an eye out for secrets and disposing of minor obstacles. But there's plenty of forgiveness in these jumps (remember that comment about approachable?); for example, hitting a trampoline, regardless of your angle or where you are on the trampoline, is guaranteed to bounce you in the right direction. Lums are often helpfully placed right in a row to show you where you should jump, and thus you'll get a satisfying feeling when you grab them all in the right order. And there's a nice variety to the stage design, whether they be normal levels or scrolling ones or underwater or stealth or mazes or getting your character randomly turned into a duck for some reason.

Perhaps the best aspect of the game is that there's often a strong feeling of flow throughout the level. There's a lot of auto-scrolling levels and even auto-scrolling segments within normal levels, but they usually aren't annoying like what often happens in other games. They provide multiple smaller challenges, but without any pause in between to keep your blood pressure and your concentration up. And unlike some other games, these autoscrollers often move at full speed, meaning you have to run through it all, feeling like you're always on the edge of losing... but it's still within your ability to finish. There's also lengthier segments without autoscrolling, but still with no real area to pause for a breath due to constant danger. Not "difficult" danger, but a constant, steady stream that is doable but still feels noteworthy for conquering it.

This is most notably shown in the innovative and fun bonus musical episodes at the end of each world. They basically act as high-speed auto-scrolling levels mixed with a rhythm game. All of your jumps, lum collections, etc. are timed to be in tune with the music. Sure, you could be slightly off and still survive, but a perfect run through the level will have the sound effects match perfectly with the music. And it's just so darn satisfying when that happens. It makes the level flow, the musical clues help you prepare for your jumps (since its a high-speed scroller, you don't have much warning), and it ensures each jump and kick have meaning. It's so obvious that this was a good idea that they even included several bonus remixes of these levels!

One nice thing about this game that lower-budget indies can't get is that the graphical qualities enhance this feeling of flow. For example, in one of those musical levels, you are constantly being chased by evil thorny vines, which wrap around the edges of the screen as you move forward. Sure, intellectually, we know that they are mostly for show; the vines are never in the area where you are supposed to jump. But emotionally, it feels great to always be one tiny step ahead of the thorns and to reach the final goal juuuussst as the vines surround you.

And as an aside, it's more satisfying to hear a crowd going "oooh!" when you find a secret rather than a random jingle. I guess it'd be annoying in every game, but I liked it here.

But while there's plenty of good points, I'm not gobstruck by the game. Sure, you can find plenty of levels that have this excellent feeling of flow, and I loved them. But there are plenty more that are merely adequate. There's an entire world focusing on gliding with wind updrafts, which honestly isn't challenging nor exciting. There's another world focusing on stealth by avoiding light-based sentries, and that one certainly is more challenging... but it's also very slow moving and therefore kinda boring in a platformer game. Yeah, it's not a chore to play these levels, they're still OK... But I don't want to give the impression that the entire game has this awesome zen level design where everything flows so smoothly and natural and a pinnacle of platforming experience. Those levels do exist, and they're great fun, but it certainly isn't ubiquitous.

And then there are the Murfy levels. A relic of the initial WiiU design, these are meant to be played in a collaborative manner, where one person uses a touchscreen to manipulate platforms in the level while the other plays the game normally. But now, it's simply pressing a button to have all the level manipulation happen. And all that does is slow down the game. The problem here is that there's rarely any platforming challenge involved. Sure, sometimes there's minor puzzle solving to do things in the correct sequence to make sure a Teensie can be saved, and on later levels there's some places where you simultaneously need to do a series of wall jumps while moving the walls along with you or whatever. But a lot of the early Murfy levels just end up being move platform, jump, move platform, jump, repeat ad nauseum with no danger. The Switch version also gives you the option of playing versions of the levels with an AI character and you control Murfy with the touch screen, but that was quite boring and frankly not worth my time.

They say 80% of success is just showing up, and, well, I guess that's 80% of my recommendation. There's a grand total of two (soon to be 3) high-budget platformers on the Switch (and all of them are WiiU ports!). Because of that, Rayman Legends is worth a look based on the lack of competition alone. It's got some of the best auto-scrolling levels I've ever seen, so it does have that going for it. But there's also slower moving, weak levels such as the multitude of Murfy ones. Hey, the good still outweighs the bad, and it can scratch that classic platforming itch if all those Indie ones look too daunting for you. And hopefully Ubisoft will make a new Rayman soon that can capture what made this one great without its flaws.


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Community review by mariner (September 26, 2018)

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