The mark of a better video game, for me, is that it lingers in my mind. I think about it after I'm done playing with it. It adds something enriching to my life, to my mental catalogue of experiences. The bad games don't stick with me. I mostly forget them. I don't think about them. It's curious then, that just two days after finishing Rayman Legends, I feel as if I've forgotten most of it.
It's curious to me, because I'm sure I enjoyed Rayman Legends a lot.
I know I liked it a lot.
I zipped through the game. It's a side-scroller, and it's made for that kind of thing.
It's meant to be played smoothly, to have its hero flow from screen-left to screen-right without a hitch in his or her step. To play the game well, you glide through it, which is not to say that Rayman Legends is a breeze. It can be tough, but failure and death—the fall into a bottomless pit or the abrupt collision with a spiky barricade—is just a finger-snap away from a restart at a nearby checkpoint. At worst, the record will skip as you struggle and then, just as quickly, you get through it and play on.
What's the right metaphor for this game that plays so sweetly but doesn't linger long?
Maybe cotton candy, though its more substantial than that. Maybe it's a good song heard on the radio, though it requires some effort of its audience. It's not really a cartoon, though it looks like a beautifully painted one.
Let's call it a dream.
And let's agree that sometimes we don't remember the ones we wake up from. We just remembered that we enjoyed the dream quite a bit. That dream even made us feel, at times, like we were flying. Yes, that's it.
To snap out of all this dreamy talk for a spell, here are the waking details worth knowing:
The game is a successor to 2011's acclaimed Rayman Origins and brings back some 30 or so levels from that game, remixed and offered as an unlockable side dish. The main offering is a few dozen all-new levels of increasing challenge.
You can play solo or in co-op with up to five people on the Wii U version, and up to four on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
You can play as Rayman or as a host of other unlockable characters, most of them re-skins of a starter quartet and all of them with, it seems, the same handling.
The game's graphics are lush and complex, but the gameplay is simple. There's not much more to the lead character's move-set than running, jumping, floating and punching. Some levels add extra touches that change your movement options: bounce pads, ziplines, elevators and such.
The big new gameplay edition is a character called Murfy, who is a glorified cursor that can be used in select levels to cut ropes that drop bridges, chew through obstacles, rotate mazes and other ideally touch-based things. On the Wii U, the Murfy sections of the game play out on the GamePad's screen. If you're playing solo, the character you had been controlling before switching to Murfy automatically proceeds through the level as you use Murfy to deal with each obstacle. On the PS3 version (and presumably the 360's and PC's, which I didn't try), Murfy's sections play out on the TV and his movement is automated. Players just tap buttons to trigger rope-cuts, platform-movement and such. The Wii U controls are literally more tactile and more fun.
The game is full of unlockable content and variations on its basic levels. As you collect little living items in each world, you're both racking up a sort of overall score but also setting yourself up for a cascade of unlockable characters and levels. Levels you've finished get "invaded," which means you can play parts of them backwards on a timer. Invaded levels are extremely tough to clear.
To provide a sense of how big the game is, no level allows you to collect more than 10 "Teensy" critters and some allow you to collect as few as three. The game has 700 for players to collect. I finished the game with about 300.
Play the game and you'll be mesmerized by its beauty. I expect you'll be agog at the underwater levels (see above!), though some set in an ancient Roman setting are stunning, too. You may also find that the game flows right on by. While some recent sidescrollers, from Super Meat Boy to even New Super Mario Bros. U can be show-stoppers, demanding a focus that many modern games don't, Rayman Legends can be played more like Kirby's Epic Yarn, a game of relatively non-punitive death that offers a lovely several hours of 2D sight-seeing. The game feels more Meat Boy when you hit the invasion levels. It can be brutal, but doesn't have to be.
Somehow this game all goes by quite smoothly to the point that, for me, it already recedes in my memory. There are hooks designed to tug you back in: daily and weekly challenge levels tracked with online leaderboads, a multiplayer soccer mini-game, etc. There are also reasons to let it fade on out, to be pleased with the experience and then to be done. That's probably not how you'd treat the game if $60 doesn't come cheap, but the game passes gently. It goes by without inventing anything, without telling some grand story, without leaving scars from any forced difficulty. For the more dedicated sidescrolling gamer, it'll be a game to plumb more deeply. For those players, it will probably linger more.
A few months ago, Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft, the company behind Legends, told me that he believed the game would be in the top five Ubisoft has ever made. Top five best ever? I'm not sure an experience so fleeting can merit that description, but this is certainly one of the most beautiful games I've ever played and one of the feel-good games of the year.
It's a joy, a beautiful blur.