Rayman Legends – Preview

Title   Rayman Legends
Developer  Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher  Ubisoft
Platform  Wii U
Genre  Platformer
Release Date  Q4 2012
Official Site  http://rayman.ubi.com/legends/en-us/home/index.aspx

After years of being overshadowed by a bunch of alien rabbity creatures, last year saw Rayman make a blistering return to his platforming roots in the aptly named Rayman Origins. The combination of old-school 2D jumping, an art style that proved there’s such a thing as love at first sight (as long as it’s applied to graphics, not people) and the return of series creator Michel Ancel resulted in a match made in heaven, and thus when a sequel was confirmed, heads turned. Once it had been confirmed that the release would be exclusive to the Wii U (though other consoles are being considered), one of those turning heads was my own.

As one of the few people I knew who were excited for the Wii’s release back in the day, I found myself reliving those memories as, once again, I salivate over the prospects of the Wii U whilst my colleagues are somewhat more subdued in their interest.  As one of the future console’s launch titles, I endeavoured to experience it to see if it would help push me towards a definite purchase, or leave me lamenting the lack of a must-have third party title.

First off, I should lavish some praise upon Legend’s art style; it’s like a beautiful watercolour in motion, and even though the characters and backgrounds have moved from two to three dimensions, nothing has been lost from the magic of the original as a result. It’s still absurdly jaw-dropping and even though most of the stages I played were set in darker locales to the few I’d played in Origins, I still found myself revelling in the art  on display. They’re truly a thing to behold, and they add so much personality that you could look at a single screen and instantly recognise it as a Rayman title.

The gameplay itself comes in two flavours – the standard platforming done via the pro controllers and the Murfy sections via the Wii U’s touch-screen controller. As the pro controller is eerily similar to that of an Xbox 360 controller, those used to it will find that there’s essentially no learning curve, as the second analogue being placed higher than the buttons on the right-hand side doesn’t really alter the way you hold the pad or play the games. The platforming itself is carried out near-identically to its predecessor; you jump, kick, punch, collect Lums and free Teensies, and so veterans of the original will find themselves more than at home here.

Those adopting the Wii U’s tablet controller will have a more unique game to play with, though their role can be best described as an ‘assistant’ rather than a fully-fledged co-op partner. Controlling the action via the touch-screen, players assume the role of series-mainstay Murfy as he guides Rayman and friends through the hazards ahead. Whilst Murfy can’t directly join the platforming action, his role can prove to be incredibly versatile, as I soon discovered when I used him to save Rayman from certain death by cutting the ropes holding a platform aloft, causing it to land on an enemy below and provide our hero with a safe passage across. Murfy can also be a lifesaver in the case of smaller enemies – tapping the foes will cause Murfy to stun them, pressing and holding enemies will allow him to pick them up and carry them short distances (say, into that convenient bottomless pit below) and repeated attacks can see the greenbottle completely subdue foes before Rayman can even get near them.

Some stages are specifically geared for Murfy’s presence, as I played through two stages that, while they wouldn’t have been impossible without him, flowed far more smoothly with his assistance. The first of these was a stage that deceptively appeared to be rather short, but turned out to be a trial of dangers that’d encourage repeated attempts at even the slightest whiff of failure.  As Rayman attempted to navigate through the collapsing platforms and flames spewed by nearby dragons, it was up to Murfy to take hold of a catapult and fire rocks at the attacking foes in order to clear the way for our limbless protagonist.

Another stage saw a variety of barriers blocking the way that Rayman could have destroyed himself, but doing so seemed to slow the pace of the level to a crawl. With Murfy at the player’s disposal, the barriers were destroyed near-rhythmically, and the level flowed so naturally that you could have gone through the entire stage without consciously thinking about it.

After my time with Rayman Legends, I found myself seriously impressed with what I’d played. As a callback to the platformers of yore it’s a stunning tribute that goes above and beyond, and as a launch title for the Wii U it’s a must-have. Whilst the tablet controller integration may put some players off, it feels like a brilliant way to accommodate the new play styles without fundamentally breaking the dynamic of the original, and it seems like a great way to ease in new players to the franchise. Considering that many of the third-party launch titles are just enhanced ports of previously released games, Rayman Legends stands tall as a title you’d be proud to own and champion, not just as an example of what can be done with the Wii U, but as a brilliant game in its own right.

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