In another time and place, another world from our own, Mario didn't achieve the stranglehold he has over platform games here. The super-polished and - whisper it - somewhat sanitised, edgeless Nintendo formula didn't corner the market, and platformers were able to come stranger, wilder, less dependent on a familiar repertoire of characters, music, sound effects and tropes.
In that universe, grim-toned shooters didn't take over either. Platformers were left free to grow, change, evolve, and by 2013 they had become improbably beautiful, inventive and filled with new ways to evoke joy. Rayman Legends has somehow escaped from that reality and into our own.
Rayman Legends, Ubisoft's gorgeous, unashamedly silly platformer is the sequel to 2011's Origins, the unexpectedly fresh reboot of the hoary old platform series. 'Sequel' perhaps doesn't explain it properly, however: it's more a do-over, revisiting what worked and searching for every possible way to make it better.
The most striking aspect of this is the art, building on the hand-painted animation look of Origins but so much crisper and more detailed, with less repetition and far more bespoke animation-like scenes.
Any issues with it being essentially 2D disappear immediately: this is a living cartoon. Each level is something of a departure from the last, despite usually staying true to the mainstays of jumping, thumping collecting and hostage-freeing. Occasionally it'll break out into a musical number, throw you deep underwater or into a world made of edible cake. Nothing makes a whole lot of sense, nor does it need to - this seems like artists and sound engineers having a whale of a time just because they can.
The next most striking aspect of Legends is a refreshing surfeit of things to do. If you don't fancy carrying on tackling the levels in order, you can just switch to another one in another 'world.' Or you can go rampage through a collection of remastered Origins levels. Or you can try your luck at the daily and weekly challenges, trying to bag a high enough score on the leaderboards to win prizes which help unlock yet more levels and characters. Or you can play co-op. Or you can play a sort of super-powered football mini-game.
Getting stuck or getting bored just aren't issues here: in terms of raw value for money, this is a massive package of entertainment to snack upon. Even on the more standard levels, so much variety is wrung from the basic formula of platforming, as you pinball wildly around impossible places. It puts any recent Mario game to shame, both in terms of inventiveness and of good-natured joy.
Occasional levels, especially boss fights, do mean a certain frustration factor, but for the most part Legends does a stand-up job of providing for more casual, less skilled players and a slew of harder tasks and collectibles for the more dedicated. Rare is the level that is especially hard to reach the end of, but rarer still is the level that doesn't contain a few dozen high-risk offshots and diversions for completionists or those in search of stiffer challenge.
It's surprising that something that's so unashamedly incoherent in its story and explosion of visual ideas would prove so technically slick too. It's a tightly-designed, impeccably balanced platformer underneath all that ramshackle cartoonishness.
Only the lack of online co-op - perhaps as a sop to Legends' one-time, mercifully undone status as a Wii U exclusive - is any kind of fly in this unendingly inventive ointment, but given the laughter that local, splitscreen play provides, it's a small price to pay.