by Matthew Thompson
(I am counting down my 25 favorite games of the last console generation. I explain a little about how I put the list together in this introduction. And you can see a collection of all my articles on the Best of 7th Gen compiled here.)
My experience with the Rayman series was pretty minimal before they brought the limbless hero back in his two-dimensional form, but I quickly fell in love. The resurgence of 2D platformers over the last decade has brought about some real gems, but none were better than Rayman Origins and its sequel Legends. This is top of the line platforming and level design married to art direction and visuals that remain among the finest in gaming even years later.
I have two really great examples from Legends – which I give the slight edge over Origins for this spot on my list – of the overwhelming talent and creativity exhibited by the developers when creating these games. The first is something I bring up every time I talk about Legends: the 20,000 Lums Under the Sea world. I have learned many things in my gaming career. One is that water levels are hard to pull off. Even when done right, it is rare water levels are on par with the more traditional levels in a game. Another thing I have picked up over the years is that stealth sections in non-stealth games are a dicey proposition at best. In 20,000 Lums Under the Sea, Ubisoft Montpellier incorporates stealth elements into a water-based world and somehow makes it into one of the series’ best sequences. They do so by using both of these elements smartly – and somewhat sparingly – to accent the core platforming while crafting a world that incorporates equal parts Bioshock and Splinter Cell. They even snuck in a nod to Ocean’s Twelve. The whole thing is really quite brilliant.
And then there are the music levels. Here they take the nonstop runner concept of Origins’ tricky treasure levels and add a rhythm game element to the affair. In these stages, your actions sync up with the musical tracks which include takes on “Castle Rock” and “Eye of the Tiger.” Seeing the way these came together, I couldn’t help but once again be impressed with the minds behind the game.
As I mentioned earlier, the art direction and visuals are absolutely top-notch and I think you see that come through in all aspects of Legends. The level themes are brought to the screen in such amazing fashion from the aforementioned underwater structures of 20,000 Lums Under the Sea to the fairy tale-inspired beanstalks in Toad Story to the classical architecture of Olympus Maximus. I remembering being unsure of Legends’ addition of 3D elements to Origins’ pitch-perfect 2D look, but they made that work as well. And I just adored the new princess designs. I pretty much never use alternate costumes or characters on my first playthrough of a game, but I made an exception for the hilarious and badass ladies you can unlock in Legends. I love the whole lot of them, but I think Ursula and Olympia were my faves. The art for both levels and characters showed these devs were at the top of their game from an artistic perspective as well as a gameplay one.
I was delighted to see 2D platformers come back in such a big way over the last decade. That included fresh takes on the genre like the UGC-focused LittleBigPlanet. It included excellent new entries in storied franchises like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Country who thrived in the 2D arena so many years ago. But Rayman’s recent outings topped them all, delivering the best 2D platforming experiences of the last 20 years and landing Legends a comfy spot at number seven on my list of last gen’s best games.
A few more things:
- If it wasn’t obvious from the text, I love both Legends and Origins. They both have their advantages. I prefer Legends’ world themes, the fact that it gives you all of the abilities from the get-go and just think the general level design is a bit better. But I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed by the lack of challenge when compared to Origins. I missed the time trials and Night of the Livid Dead levels from Origins too. The replacements in Legends aren’t as good. Still I give Legends the slight edge. They are both absolute must-plays though.
- This is very much a cross-gen game with the current-gen consoles, but I played it on PS3 first which makes it feel like a seventh gen game to me. I also prefer the non-touch controlled versions of the Murfy levels especially as primarily a solo player.
- For any newer readers that may not have seen it before, I did a Rayman Jack-O-Lantern/pumpkin carving based on Origins a few years ago. You can check some pics out here.