A disjointed hero and his pals help restore order to the Glade of Dreams in the action adventure Rayman Legends (Ubisoft, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated E10+, $59.99).
Up to four players can take control of some strange characters from creator Michel Ancel's latest masterpiece and co-operatively embark on an animation-rich journey through six hostile worlds to fight off nightmarish creatures.
Before delving into the minutia, it's worth noting Mr. Ancel has excelled at orchestrating the creation of a beautiful and engaging interactive universe over the years.
Upping the artistic ante for Rayman in each of his titles, he still follows the traditions and evolution of the two-dimensional, side-scrolling platform genre that made legends of Mario, Donkey Kong and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Rayman — still thriving with no arms, legs or neck but working hands, feet and noggin — is an equal superstar having been around since 1995.
His latest adventure offers hours and hours of fun, keeping quirky youngsters hooked and addicted longer than watching a Cartoon Network marathon of "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy."
I'd like to highlight the deep story of the game here, but truly, our heroes simply wake up from a century-long nap (lucky) and exist to conquer more than 100 levels of puzzling platforming and combat.
Under a circus tent that serves as a main hub, players jump into unlocked, three-dimensional paintings (looking more like movie posters) presenting intriguing worlds with names such as Toad Story, Fiesta de los Muertos and Olympus Maximus.
The goal through each of the multiple-leveled worlds is to not only collect those lively, luminescent lums (sort of the game's currency) to unlock more missions and extras, but rescue the caged, bulbous-nosed Teensies (think if Blue Meenies mated with the boys from Spy vs. Spy) and their royalty who are brutalized by the bad guys.
Choices of who to control in the world is ever expanding after conquered missions and include not just permutations of Rayman (such as the knight Sir Rayelot) but pals Globux, Goth Teensy and the Grand Minimus to name a few
Each character can jump, run, climb, float, swing and deliver an attack (Rayman can wind up his massive fist for a long range thumping).
However, no disrespect to the mighty Rayman, but I enjoyed taking control of a new character, the Wagnerian Viking princess named Barbara.
A player will need to rescue many a princess during Rayman's quests, but this valkyrie spitfire rocks. She uses the wings on her helmet to float, and a large axe to smite her foes with a ranged attack.
However, what's key during many of the levels in each world is to conquer environmental obstacle with the assistance from the green, always smiling, froggy fly named Murfy.
Murfy pops up when needed and a player prompts him to cut ropes, turn handles to open passageways, eat through massive Pop-Tart like obstacles and even tickle enemies to help Rayman on his journey.
With Murfy in tow, it's still a daunting game to beat with bosses ready to attack and beasts such as sea monsters, giggling goblins, and luchadores on the prowl.
Those wild levels in each world will deliver some head scratching too as finding all of the secrets of each level and most efficient routes to escape danger will have players revisiting the areas.
For example, with a wall of fire chasing me in a castle, how do I manage to get Murfy to cut a rope to drop a caged Teensie in my path to break him free from his bondage while still jumping across a chasm?
While underwater, how do I avoid the light pattern of laser blasting sentries protecting caverns as I scavenge for lums and seek the last distressed Teensie.
When climbing a reasonable facile of Mount Olympus in the clouds, how can I escape the peril of a giant finger from the gods unleashing bolts at me, sizzling swords swooping down to block my path and horned imps floating on shields shooting fireballs?
I'll mention the absurdly cartoony violence only to note the massive amounts of eye poking, smacking and gassy termination of foes. The incessant cries of "help me' from the Teensies may fluster the more mild-mannered youngster.
Also, when Rayman's and his pals' health is depleted, their demise is amusing rather than morose as they blow up like a balloon and pop.
Additional content at the main hub includes access to daily and weekly mini-games, a peek at a collection of unlocked creatures that generate extra lums every day and access to a goofy but worthy multiplayer mini-game called Kung Foot that will even make the soccer purist smile through it frenetic play
It's further worth noting that players collecting enough lums each level also unlock lucky tickets that, once scratched off, can reward them with more lums, creatures and, get this, levels from the 2011 Rayman Origins.
Overall, Rayman Legends is a satisfying, looney work of art, complex enough for the older side-scroller fan to appreciate and absurdly silly and addictive enough for any younger gamer in the family.
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