Rayman Legends was the great 2013 follow-up to 2011’s good Rayman Origins, and it is the best side-scrolling action game I’ve ever played. Actually, it’s the only side-scroller I’ve ever really gotten into. Atmospheric indie fare like Limbo and Braid never satisfied me and though I can hold my own in any twitch-shooter, somehow I’ve always been garbage at Mario. So why did Rayman Legends hook me where others had failed?
First there’s the art. I had never played a Rayman game before and knew only that he was the guy with floating hands and no arms or legs. Despite that, I was immediately charmed by Legends’ vibrantly colorful, cartoonish, and capital-F Fun art style. The game’s levels are spread across several themed worlds, beginning in a monster-filled medieval castle siege and continuing through a windy desert strewn with giant musical instruments, a culinary day-of-the-dead landscape full of huge vegetables and mariachi music, an underwater spy world complete with James Bond-esque tunes and laser grids, and more. Every step of the way is perfectly accompanied with a fantastic soundtrack that has a lot of fun twisting its common motifs to match the theme of each world.
Then there’s the gameplay itself. Controlling Rayman (or one of his many unlockable friends) is an absolute joy. In addition to the standard jump, you can run, glide, punch, ground pound, wall jump, wall run, and more. Every action feels kinetic and responsive, and the mostly brilliantly-designed levels continually find new ways to flex and test your traversal abilities to propel yourself through absurd, vibrant dreamscapes. It’s also very worth noting that Rayman Legends is a blast as a two-player co-op experience.
Okay so it’s a good side-scroller, but nothing revolutionary so far–you take your character from left to right, collect shiny things, and get to the end of the level. What really allows this game to transcend the rest is the chase levels. After a few levels of traversing the screen at more-or-less your own pace, you will be confronted by a level where time is of the essence, where every jump and every landing counts, because there is a giant angry luchador chasing you down and if you miss the guacamole platform over the pit of fiery salsa, he will catch you and eat you–or, you must catch a Dark Wizard in a bicycle-powered flying machine before he gets away–or the Greek labyrinth that you were exploring is now flooding its halls with fire and you must make the exit.
These timed levels move at essentially one speed, and there is almost no room for error as you nail every jump, punch, or swing that will propel you away from danger or toward your goal (or both!). Failing repeatedly can cause head-banging frustration, but the feeling of nailing each beat and following the flow of the level perfectly is worth it. Eventually you learn to recognize the physical language of the game and spot more quickly where you are supposed to jump, which wall you are supposed to vault off of. Each of these points is as fixed and precise as the notes on a musical score or a glowing circle on a Guitar Hero chart. Once you learn Legends’ language, playing a new chase level becomes like sight-reading, and completing them can take the same practice and mastery as playing a piece of music.
This parallel ideology of music and level design is taken to its logical conclusion in the musical bonus level at the end of each world. These are precise chase levels where every beat of gameplay is perfectly synced to actual beats of a song–mostly silly, fun covers like Black Betty sung in monster-gibberish or a mariachi version of Eye of the Tiger. Playing these levels was hands-down one of the best, most feel-good experiences I’ve ever had in a video game. I wish I had an entire game with enough of these levels to fill a Guitar Hero set-list. Unfortunately Rayman Legends, despite very positive reviews, didn’t do well enough to merit another entry in the series so far, but if you’re a fan of Fun Video Games at all, you owe it to yourself to check it out (on PC, Xbox One, PS4). It’s also coming out on the Switch, so everyone buy it so they’ll make a sequel! Enjoy: