There's a special place in my heart for platformers that recall my fondest gaming memories. Two years ago, I didn't think anything would knock Rayman Origins off the top of that warm, fuzzy heap – and nothing has, until Rayman Legends.
The hand-drawn visuals are in every way improved – crisper, cleaner and more charming. Unlike Origins, you have all your core abilities from the outset. Gliding and swimming provide more freedom of exploration in early levels and this has prompted Ubisoft to come up with more interesting ideas as the game goes on.
Every level has something new to do or explore. What begins as familiar run-and-jump platforming quickly evolves into Guitar Heroesque rhythm challenges, or stealth levels where you're weaving between security lasers and evading electrifying sentries. You can't go ten steps without finding an alternate route to the finish or a secret hideyhole concealing a challenge room. But Legends is at its best when you're forced into a frantic dash through impossible-seeming obstacles.
In Quick Sand, the ground is constantly gobbling up the patchwork scaffolds that serve as your only escape route. Standing at the base of a tower that takes up the entire screen, I have to swing and wall jump my way up as it rapidly descends into the hungry earth. Just when I think I'm safe, the top half of the tower falls over, turning the dizzying climb into a race over the tops of other sinking scaffolds to avoid being crushed. The sprint culminates inside another tower that's sinking diagonally, so I have to keep moving right and up at the same time. Nearby towers crash into each other, altering the path just two steps ahead. Nabbing all of the collectables without dying in a single run is about as satisfying as platforming gets.
Legends supports local four-player co-op, which is great albeit a little chaotic when you're trying to distinguish who's who. Friends can hop in at any time and play the entire game alongside you. There's also a fun two versus two football minigame where you attempt to punch and kick a novelty-sized ball into your opponent's goal, and stop your friends from doing the same to you by beating the tar out of them. With a crowd of friends around your PC, it's stupidly entertaining.
If you collect enough Lums (the game's currency) in a level, you'll earn a scratch-off ticket that randomly awards more Lums to spend unlocking playable characters, Teensies for unlocking new levels or, my favourite, one of 40 remastered levels from Rayman Origins. They're just like I remember, but with Legends' improved visuals. Rayman Legends would be a generous enough package without them, but between these additions and the diabolical challenge stages, there's enough to keep you happily occupied for a long time to come.
A charming and inventive platformer that understands what makes the genre special, and never rests on its laurels.