Still Playing: Rayman Legends – why Ubisoft’s platformer has the replay value of a great mixtape

Not content with releasing Rayman Legends on Xbox 360, PC, PS3, Vita and Wii U last year, Ubisoft will release the game on PS4 and Xbox One on February 28. Each version will come with upgraded visuals and bonus costumes.

A common complaint from fellow fathers is one regarding a lack of time. Home from work, kids in bed, dinner detritus cleared away – there’s barely enough left of the day to slump before the telly and promptly fall asleep on the sofa.

So playing games becomes something enjoyed during breaks in established routine – between responsibilities, often on the move. And mobile gaming’s brilliant, of course – many App Store successes paint a vivid picture of originality rewarded by critical acclaim, superb sales and the occasional sideline in plush toys.

Stay awake long enough to translate those 20 minutes of game time into home console play and options are limited. But Ubisoft Montpellier’s gorgeous platformer Rayman Legends fits around any daily demands, capping completed chores like a triumphant fanfare. No matter how little time you spend with it, per session, it always satisfies – through a combination of measured progression and personal fulfilment.

Legends realises a wonderful balance between casual accessibility and repeat-play rewards. Those who go beyond its (literally) smashing end credits will definitely discover appealing extras, winning Back To Origins paintings and opening Invasion levels, and are inexplicitly encouraged to refine their runs of even the earliest stages.

The forthcoming Xbox One and PS4 game promises better loading times and more Ubisoft-themed costumes for the characters to wear, taken from the Far Cry, Splinter Cell and Assassin’s franchises.

Legends doesn’t hide anything from the first-timer – one trip through its easiest worlds can reveal every squealing Teensie in distress, of which 400 are needed to unlock a bonus world of chiptune reworks, Living Dead Party. There’s no need to revisit stages with different characters, with new abilities necessary to access previously inaccessible secrets. Everything is there from the beginning.

And yet you’ll want to play these levels again – to hit each jump at the sweetest spot, avoiding catastrophe as you dash from beginning to end. It’s easy to die in Legends, to see the titular character swell up and explode before reappearing instantaneously, gleefully ignorant of his seconds-ago misfortune. So finishing a level with all Teensies saved is one thing, but to do so without missing a leap, without impaling yourself on a spiky worm or tripping into an insta-kill swarm of devilish beasties, is the purest of warm glow moments.

The salient point of replay value is commonplace in pre-release rhetoric – but how often do we really do things over, or go after 100 per cent completion? Beyond the solo-campaign epilogues of Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto V, how many of us stuck with these wonderful worlds once their central stories were completed?

Legends doesn’t feature much of a story – and having no investment on that side means the player never achieves controller-down closure. Rayman isn’t going through changes as the game progresses – he ends as he begins, armless and benign, like the hell of A Cloud Of Darkness! never happened. GTA V is a big game with only shallows to splash in once its credits roll. In contrast, Legends is small but possesses incalculable depth: one can come back to it, time and again, always achieving something new from the briefest sitting.

“This is one of the most jubilant, vividly imagined and open-hearted platformers to come along in a long time,” we said in our Rayman Legends review in August last year. It was also seventh in our game of the year 2013 list.

The levels of Legends, as is noted in our review, are designed with a racing line in mind – you can sprint through many if your reactions are tremendously tuned, although the challenges of the Olympus Maximus world are such that even the most alert player will struggle to achieve clean runs. (Oh, the very special pain that is negotiating the walls of Hell Breaks Loose with the DualShock 3’s convex thumb sticks slipping under pressure.) Learning the beats and rhythms of each level does attract racer comparisons – but, equally, it gives Legends another quality. That of a great mixtape, or a splendidly stocked jukebox.

It’s appropriate that Legends contains a handful of delicious musical levels, as the player can pick their session’s selection just as they might the most mood-appropriate tracks. Some straightforward ones to ease into things, then something more challenging from the game’s later stages, like the shields-and-switches precision of The Great Lava Pursuit. Some are pop and others the most complex jazz, their time signatures impossible to predict on a first play.

Replaying ‘beaten’ levels to perfection is just one aspect of Legends’ rare longevity. The Invasion extras are essentials for accumulating those 400 Teensies, against-the-clock trials truly testing the skills learned while enjoying the main game’s more leisurely pace. And the local multiplayer magic of Kung-Foot is unbeatable if you manage to drag another dad – of mum, or cousin, or stranger off the street – inside for some single-screen competition. Online challenges are okay, but nothing beats belly laughs when they’re shared in the same room.

Legends is all play, all fun, all of the time. No cunningly crafted level unfairly punishes the player, and remedying mistakes is rarely a chore, controller permitting. Successfully descending a vertical shaft of circular saws while being chased by dragons won’t take two minutes, even after several attempts, but finding 50 UFO pieces? That’s work – and all work and no play is as dull as yawning through any night’s schedule of sitcom repeats.