Hands-on with Rayman Legends for Wii U
Rayman Legends is the follow-up to 2011’s Rayman Origins, a game with critical acclaim which outweighed the sales it pulled in during its first month. Thankfully, it still did well enough in the long run to warrant a sequel.
(As an aside, I’ve yet to personally buy or play Origins, but it’s definitely on my “want” list.)
What Rayman Legends seems to share with its predecessor is the gameplay style of 4-player platforming; what it doesn’t share with the Wii version is the gorgeous high-definition visuals found in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. However, Legends is a Wii U title, bringing with it a new way for an additional player to interact through use of the Wii U GamePad. In fact, the demo I got to play at Nintendo of Canada’s post-E3 event seemed to eschew the 4-player co-op entirely to focus instead on how one player with a Wii Remote and another with the Wii U GamePad could work together to get through the game.
Strictly speaking, using the Wii Remote to play as Rayman yielded a very solid, very polished platforming experience as he runs, jumps, and furiously spins hims arms and legs to attack whatever gets in his way. It’s well done and a lot of fun, yet at the same time, is rather difficult to describe insofar as what sets it apart from your Mario games, or Donkey Kong, or Sonic, among others. And not having other players to control Globox or the Teensies just makes the comparison all the more difficult.
But then we get to Murphy.
Murphy is a frog-like pixie… or a pixie-like frog, or some hybrid of the two, and he is controlled through the Wii U GamePad’s touchscreen. No buttons to memorize, no fuss, and no muss.
Unlike what has been shown of 4-player platforming contemporary New Super Mario Bros. U‘s use of a similar integration, allowing a GamePad player to place blocks to either hinder or help the other players, Rayman Legends‘ use of Murphy feels much more fleshed out and integrated into the overall experience. The action is displayed on both screens as Murphy appears and goes wherever you touch and drag him to. And while Murphy is capable of helping to fend off foes, be it by stunning them for the other players or disposing of them entirely, most of his interaction is with the world around Rayman and his friends.
Touching faces built into the scenery can cause chunks of ground to rise, cutting ropes can drop hanging beams to form bridges, and pulling on handles can move obstacles out of the way. In some portions, you’ll have to latch on to a wheel in the center of a large structure, and actually turn the GamePad in order to turn the structure so other players can navigate them. And in one high-speed platforming section near the end of the demo, touching glowing areas in the ground will cause collectible baubles to appear, giving the players a very clear idea of where to jump.
Other interactions involved slingshots, with one launching the players who stood in front of it off into the background. And in another portion of the demo, Rayman and crew had to make their way across perilous toppling platforms under siege by large, fire-breathing dragons. During these portions, Murphy would take to the controls of a projectile launcher in the foreground and assault the dragons and enemies that would otherwise trouble the players.
In truth, it’s difficult to say whether I had more fun playing as Rayman or as Murphy. Both offer very fun, very involved experiences. In fact, Murphy felt so integrated that it left us wondering what happens in the game if there is no Murphy, i.e. when there is only one player, or everyone wants to play the platforming part of the game.
Another very impressive part of Rayman Legends are the visuals, to say nothing of how well everything seems to meld and blend so perfectly together. During the demo, you begin in a forest with a fantasy-styled atmosphere about it, and find yourself venturing to a nearby castle, into that castle, and then you ultimately wind up in this place full of smoke, fire, chains, bones, and spikes. And it feels so wonderfully seamless that by the time you’re smashing pillars of bones, you’ve forgotten you were even in the forest.
Incidentally, I’ve lovingly taken to calling the latter portion of this “Rayman Goes to Hell,” because in a visual and even musical sense, that’s sort of what it feels like. And I mean that in the best way possible; Rayman never seems to lose his happy demeanor, even as he bounces off of eyeballs held by skeletal hands and flies through spiky rings of fire. It reminds me of the episode of South Park where Kenny hallucinates that he is sort of hero in a fantasy world, itself based on the film Heavy Metal (which I’ve not seen, hence the South Park reference).
Making the sequence even better is how the music shifts and keeps pace with the fast action, with guys surfing through the air on coffins(?) while playing guitar. Chords and riffs go off as you make jumps and slide along chains, and it’s so well timed that I’m not even sure whether those beats were following my actions, or the movements were simply timed to happen when they occur. It is something else, and thankfully, one of Ubisoft’s E3 trailers for the game features this very sequence so you can witness it for yourself:
It reminds me of a rhythm game, except unlike those, I can actually play this.
Truth be told, my experience with the Rayman series has been rather limited. Rayman 3D didn’t do much for me, and the only other one in the series I’ve played is Rayman: Raving Rabbids, which I think we can all agree is, while fun, not exactly very representative of the series as a whole.
With that said, Rayman Legends appears to be absolutely phenomenal. It may not do much new by itself on the platforming side of things, but what it does do, it does extremely well; it doesn’t feel cheap, and has a very unique flow which few other games can match. Meanwhile, the added use of Murphy through the GamePad is fun in its own right, and is a great way for someone who might not be as adept at platforming to truly feel involved in the experience, and not so much like a tag-along.
Like most Wii U software at the moment, the release date is to be determined, but I can’t wait for it to get here.