Soapbox: Rayman Legends Blew My Mind Then Broke My Heart

Soapbox: Rayman Legends Blew My Mind Then Broke My Heart
Rayman Legends Key Art
Image: Ubisoft

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been chewing over. Today, Francisco shares his love of Rayman Legends as it celebrates its 10th anniversary — but also laments that it may have been a victim of its own success…


I’ve always had a soft spot for Rayman. While Nintendo and Rare duked it out for the N64’s platformer crown, I had no regrets about ignoring Super Mario 64, Donkey Kong 64, and Banjo-Kazooie to helicopter my way through The Glade of Dreams’ robot pirate dystopia in Rayman 2: The Great Escape.

In the years that followed, I was crestfallen to see Rayman’s undeserved fall from grace — not once, but twice. The first time was after the slightly disappointing Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc, after which he was abandoned as Ubisoft’s family-friendly mascot, and was then brutally replaced by the Wii’s Rayman Raving Rabbids. But then as a brave new world of platforming — both HD and 2D — was ushered in by indie darling Braid and puzzle platformer Trine, Rayman was welcomed back to the world.

2011’s Rayman Origins was a glorious return to form, as well as a beautiful throwback to the series’ 2D roots. Michel Ancel and his experienced Ubisoft Montpellier team — the same developers now working on Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown — schooled the indie upstarts with their bustling levels and lush, painterly backdrops.

Two years later in August 2013 came Rayman Legends, the Wii U follow-up so good it simply blew my mind. Everything Origins did superbly, Legends did better.

Don’t Call It A Comeback

Rayman, Globox, the Teensies and crew were deservedly back in the limelight, and they’d never looked better. Rayman Legends has simply sensational visuals across its six worlds, and each level feels like French surrealist cartoons brought to life. Accessing each level through a portrait gallery, that Mario 64 nod was also a testament to the expert craft and imagination that made each and every level a work of art.

Rayman Legends Castle
I’m too big an Asterix and Obelix fan to say Rayman and Globox are my favourite French duo, but they aren’t far behind! — Image: Ubisoft

Players of the Switch version are well aware that Rayman Legends: Definitive Edition fully deserves its spot on our list of the most beautiful Switch games as well as being one of the best 2D platformers on the console. You could frame any moment from this game, with its watercolour backgrounds and comic book environmental details, and hang it on a wall to prove that two-dimensional doesn’t have to mean flat.

Even today, the game’s shapeshifting environments remain a rollercoaster of spectacle and cunning surprises. Nathan Drake would die for its virtuoso setpieces, Ubisoft applying Naughty Dog’s flair for the dramatic sequences to the 2D platformer with exhilarating panache.

All the set dressing in the world wouldn’t matter a jot if the game never imbued Rayman, Globox, Barbara or the Teensies with a sense of springing movement, delicate weight and precise momentum. Rayman tears through levels, his scurrying steps raise puffs of dust, and he pleasingly arches into a somersault at the peak of each bounding leap. At times he reaches a pace almost matching Sonic’s rocket-speed before those clunky yellow sneakers come to an elegant halt.

And it’s all tied together with a rollicking soundtrack that never fails to surprise with its never-ending stream of eclectic instruments. Add in a sense of physical comedy Charlie Chaplin would be proud of, and it combines into a hectic good-time party atmosphere the Rabbids simply can’t match.

Keep On Running

Ubisoft borrowed more than a few ideas from pared-back autorunners of the time like Bit.Trip Runner with Rayman Legends’ music levels. In these, all you do is jump and punch to lusciously rearranged covers of popular songs as you tear through elaborately staged obstacles at breakneck speed.

Rayman Legends Mariachi Madness
Can you hum along to a kazoo’s high notes? — Image: Ubisoft

Just like in Cadence of Hyrule, you’re encouraged to lose yourself to the beat and tap along to the rhythm; the moment when you become one with the music and are sucked into your surroundings is simply spellbinding. It was an unimaginably satisfying thrill, and I still get a shiver reliving the melodious tinkling while scooping up rising scales of Lums, or the way a guitar solo anticipates you smashing through a precarious tower of enemies. These songs and their spectacular surroundings get better and better as you sprint through a heavy metal castle siege in Castle Rock, or through dungeons and volcanic chambers away from soaring dragons in Dragon Slayer.

If you asked me what Rayman has in common with Sylvester Stallone before 2013, other than a penchant for solving their troubles with a punch, I’d draw a blank. But now they have one thing in common: Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’.

Rayman Legend’s version was the soundtrack to one of my top 10 gaming moments, with Mariachi Madness’s version of the iconic track as you race through a desert’s escalating hazards and away from a fiery inferno. You clatter through skeletons donning top hats across fields of flowers to the strums of a Spanish guitar and the rasp of kazoos (who came up with that kazoo solo?). It’s joyful, ludicrous nonsense that captures the game’s wild, uninhibited spirit at its very best.

Ex-exclusive

Rayman Legends wasn’t intended to be a multiplatform title – it was destined to be a Wii U exclusive until Ubisoft got spooked over concerns that the game wouldn’t sell well enough on Nintendo’s console. Even though it did come to other platforms, the Wii U was designed with a fifth local multiplayer slot and the full suite of GamePad features with the grinning bug Murphy and his touch-control assistance.

Whatever platform the game came to, Rayman Legends was a simply delightful gem that wowed the critics — including Nintendo Life, of course — and should have fully rehabilitated the ’90s “least cool” platforming hero. If you ask me, the game’s the joyous peak of a branch of pure 2D platforming before it all went just a bit Metroid-y.

But it was as good as it ever got for Rayman, Ubisoft foolishly decided that because their big-nosed limbless hero didn’t sell as much as the grizzled Assassins Creeds and frat-house Far Crys of this world, his peculiar fantasy world full of charming oddballs wasn’t worth a new entry. Ten years later, I’m still heartbroken about it. His appearance in the third Mario + Rabbids DLC should have given fans a spark of hope for the character’s return ahead of his 30th birthday in 2025, but instead, he still feels like an afterthought.

Rayman Legends Lava
Nothing this robot can do to Rayman beats the indignities Ubisoft put him through since. — Image: Ubisoft

The same capable team is now entrusted with reviving another beloved property in Prince of Persia. Ubisoft Montpellier have already proven their talent for reinvention, I’m sure what they’re working on is set to blow my mind yet again. Just spare a thought for us disappointed Rayman fans. We enjoyed our Rayman-issance while it lasted; enjoy the Prince of Persurgence while you can.


Do you love Rayman Legends? Do you want to see a direct sequel to it? Join us in The Glade of Dreams in the comments.

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