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Although the holdup upset the developer, the Ubisoft Montpellier team improved the game with the extra time, and the result is the most polished and beautiful platformer of this generation. It even rivals the best of Mario and Sonic. "Rayman Legends" is that good.

It starts with the visuals, which improve on the already gorgeous artwork established in "Rayman Origins." The characters and environments have the richness of a Don Bluth film, but the lighting effects this time around make the hand-drawn images pop. Players see a hero glow against a towering Greek inferno. In another instance, a search light plays with undersea shadows at a spy base.

These are disparate locales, but that's one of the strengths of "Rayman Legends." Because these are themed around classic stories, Ubisoft Montpellier had the freedom to experiment with level design as well as be inspired by the tales themselves. One world feat uring the Mexican Day of the Dead has players somersaulting through party food and fighting skeletons. Another level showcasing knights has Rayman in a running battle with a dragon.

Every stage is full of magic. There's always a twist that players have never seen before or a gameplay mechanic that could be an iPhone title. At its mind-blowing best, "Rayman Legends" has moments that seem to echo the better days of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Even the difficulty is just right. Ubisoft Montpellier learned a lot from the punishing levels of "Rayman Origins" and put checkpoints at convenient places. Elsewhere, the Invasion stages that appear are short enough that failure isn't a big deal, and players feel compelled to finish them.

The biggest improvement, however, is how the challenge is balanced with tight controls. In "Rayman Legends," the hero feels more responsive and quick, which allows players to do feats of button gymnastics. Levels will ask players to do seemingly impossible jumps and runs. It's hard at first, but when they perfect a sequence, it's visually satisfying.

As for flaws, "Rayman Legends" has small ones. The touch-screen sections don't work well with the AI. Controlling the fairy, Murfy, via the stylus is fine, but sometimes computer-controlled Globox can be frustratingly stupid. Those levels are better with a second player. Also, the story is a throwaway.

Those gripes are minor compared to the larger brilliance of the "Rayman Legends." It's a case where patient fans are well-rewarded.


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