I must admit, I almost didn't buy this game new. I remember trying to buy this as soon as my local *cough cough* opened on its original release date in February only to be turned away. The story is well known by now: rather than release the COMPLETE Wii-U version first and then port it to the other systems later, Ubisoft decided to make us Wii-U owners wait so they could port (again, I emphasize) a COMPLETE Wii-U game to the other consoles, which I (and apparently the vast majority of people on the internet) thought was poor form on Ubisoft's part. However, Michel Ancel, the genius behind masterpieces like Beyond Good & Evil and the creator of Rayman, and the rest of the development team who worked on this have been a real class act in this situation, and they do deserve support, so I broke down and bought this game right away. After all, I loved Rayman Origins so much, surely this game must at least be as good, right? Was it worth the extra 8 months of sitting on my hands to play this game (and nearly 12 months of delays overall)? You better believe it, and to be honest, I'd say an 8-month wait while being beaten with sticks would have been justified by just how incredible this game is.
Rayman Origin's story was minimal at best, but it set up the action well enough, a flimsy but hilarious premise though it was. Rayman Legends isn't much deeper, but I actually find its plot set-up even more zany and even strangely epic. You see, Rayman and his buddies have been in a deep sleep for well over a CENTURY, and during that time, the great creator of Rayman's Universe and close chum to Rayman and co., the Bubble Dreamer, has had terrible nightmares that have sprung to life and kidnapped most Teensies and terrorized the world in a genrally terrorizing fashion. Rayman, Globox, Murphey, the remaining Teensies, and now a new viking character named Barbara, take it upon themselves to travel to the different worlds via magical paintings (ala Super Mario 64) and put an end to the havoc the Buddle Dreamer's nightmares are causing. It's bizarre, it's epic, and it works at giving context to the gameplay, which is delicious beyond words
As far as the art design and visuals goes, Legends continues in the same vein as Rayman Origins, that is to say, indescribably imagination fueled/fueling and absolutely gorgeous. The settings you visit in this game range across the thematic spectrum of fiction and time periods, from an epic fantasy setting (complete with dungeons, castles, magical forests, etc) all the way to a bizarre combo of a chef land of gourmet delicacies and fancy deserts meets a "Dia de los Muertos" aesthetic. Talk about a joy to take in. Character art and animation for all characters is once again top-notch with tons of hilarity and charm, channeling the classic animation styles of yore where the drawings were joyous, funny, and zany. The sound design is just as charming, with tons of fantastic music from the same composer as Origins. For example, the fantasy levels feature plenty of Celtic infused music, complete with bagpipes, and it is just awesome to listen to. Plenty of humor injected there as well. This should not come as a surprise to anybody who played Origins. That trademarked Rayman pig-latin gibberish returns as well. Everything in the presentation of this game is guaranteed to slap a big doofy grin on almost anybody's face.
Much like Origins, the platforming in Legends is once again top-notch. Level designs are innovative and challenging. Existing gameplay ideas are brought to new heights and are as fun as ever, while new gameplay concepts are interspersed evenly throughout the game, making the whole experience feel fresh and helps to keep any sense of staleness at bay (and this is a big game, so that's even more impressive). The control mechanics are so tight you could bounce a quarter off the game and make change. This is about as good as it gets when it comes to traditional "flatforming," although the game does feature some new 2.5-D moments that have you rocketing to the foreground or toward the screen, which are visually dazzling and fun to play through as well. The balance of challenge vs. accessibility is perfect in this game. Make no mistake, this is a very difficult game at times, full of challenge, but lives are unlimited and respawn locales are very frequent, making this a VERY rewarding game to play overall, with minimal frustration. Bravo developers! Boss fights are also incredibly challenging and super fun to play through (most of which also implement 2.5-D really well), not to mention super epic. Fighting a dragon while an entire kingdom burns around you is pretty sweet.
The new "music" levels are downright amazing and deserve special mention by themselves. In these sections of the game, delightful and exciting music plays out and the game takes on a rhythmic quality in which the music perfectly syncs up with your tight speed-run platforming through the levels. In fact, you contribute to the music. In one rock-n-roll stage, Rayman punches a obstructing barrier or an enemy who is in the way, prompting a loud drum flourish, or he'll slide down a long chain, unleashing an epic guitar solo. These levels are simply amazing, and if your heart is not running overtime during these sections, you may want to check if your heart is working at all. Talk about goose-bump inducingly awesome.
One feature that helps make the Wii-U the definitive version of the game to get is its use of the gamepad. The touch screen is used to control Murphey exclusively, and in many ways. You can attack enemies (or if they're bigger, tickle them until another player takes them out), move platforms around to help the other players, get rid of obstacles, you name it. Some sections require the player to tilt the gamepad, using the gyroscopic feature to tilt or move sections or platforms to help the other players get through puzzle-like sections. Even when not in levels, the gamepad is utilized excellently as a sort of central hub, always showing you new things you have unlocked. To be honest, I have not seen many games to date that utilize the gamepad this well. It really helps show off the potential of the Wii-U's most distinguishing feature and is a better game because of it rather than in spite of it. Legends acts as an excellent showcase for the system. Bravo development team!
I know this is a long review already, but to be honest with you, I have barely brushed the surface of this amazing game. I haven't even mentioned how awesome co-op in this game is (and any game that I can have so much fun playing with my wife always gets bonus points from me), how long the game lasts (120 stages with 40 bonus remixed stages from Rayman Origins!) plus its amazing replayability and what a good value it is, the online features and challenge modes that adds even more replayability to the game, or the sweet Mario and Luigi costumes that are exclusive to the Wii-U version of the game. I mean, seriously, Legends has everything you could ever want from a 2-D platformer, and I can only think of one or two platformers in the last decade that comes close to the quality of Origins and now Legends. Amazing.
In short, Rayman delivers yet another masterpiece. Much like Origins did, Legends just embodies the very essence of what has always made video gaming such a joyous, imaginative, FUN entertainment medium that people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy. It's so full of charm, innovation, and brilliant execution, I cannot think of a better game to buy for the Wii-U at the moment. It is easily the #1 or #2 game for the system as of this review and, in my opinion anyway, it is easily a game-of-the-year contender across all platforms (of course it won't get the recognition, and Ubisoft's foolishly releasing it within a week or two of what will probably be awarded game of the year virtually guarantees it won't get the success it deserves). Under no circumstances should it be missed by anyone with a Wii-U. What's even better, is that the definitive version of the game with the most unique and innovative features, is without a doubt the Wii-U version. So disillusioned Wii-U owners out there, take heart, this game will rock your socks off. So buy it, wake up to a dream world that needs saving, and get lost in indescribably amazing video gaming perfection.