Ubisoft's new platforming video game "Rayman Legends" is a vibrant exercise in gleeful clumsiness.
Just as video game technology has made it possible to all but bring action figures to life, kids games can now put you inside cartoons. Case in point is "Rayman Legends," the latest edition of Ubisoft's popular children's platformer, now available on all major consoles and PCs. Though the goofily limbless Rayman has played second fiddle to Nintendo's Mario and Luigi for much of his lengthy history, he finally hits his stride in this excellent new installment, one that parents and kids alike can enjoy.
For those unfamiliar with Rayman lore, there's a story somewhere in "Origins" about the eponymous silly-looking hero and his group of friends, embarking on an adventure to rescue hundreds of tiny little blue creatures known as "Teensies" from hordes of evil monsters. But playing the game, you get the sense that Ubisoft's artists just took "Origins" as an opportunity to put the iconic protagonist into a number of colorful and inventive backdrops, an endearing creative spirit that gives the new game much of its charm.
While the "Super Mario Bros." you can find on the Wii U looks and feels like almost every "Super Mario Bros." before it, with just slightly better 3-D graphics, "Rayman" adopts a uniquely low-fi aesthetic reminiscent of the best and silliest Looney Tunes cartoons of yore, giving even the most difficult levels a lighthearted, goofy tone that keeps you smiling even after you've fallen into a pit of lava more times than you care to admit.
The boss battles that punctuate each of "Rayman's" five main stages are hilarious, invigorating, and surprisingly challenging.
And that's a good thing, because like the best platformers, "Origins" can be brutally difficult. The game's intricate level design turns each jump or chasm-spanning rope-swing into an acrobatic feat in its own right. Each level has a complex network of well-hidden secrets, and hard-to-reach Teensies are concealed behind the most viciously confusing mazes or jumping puzzles. It only gets worse when you try the game's cooperative mode, which quickly devolves into four players on-screen simultaneously groping for the next ledge or surface as they attempt to avoid plunging to oblivion.
Sound overwhelming? It is. Really, what's spectacular about "Rayman Legends" is such a difficult and often confusing game can also be a dynamic pursuit for the whole family. There's something for everyone to enjoy in "Rayman Legends." But like the best of the Looney Tunes legacy, the real joy comes from inhabiting its vibrant and chaotic world — it may not make a whole lot of sense, but that just makes it more fun.
Much of "Rayman's" charm comes from the new game's breathtaking art direction, which puts the limbless hero and his comrades in a series of lush and diverse cartoon worlds such as one world styled off of a comic Day of the Dead-esque party.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: Yannick.LeJacq@nbcuni.com.
First published September 3 2013, 4:54 PM