Rayman’s must be pretty used to being out on a limb these days. Apart from last year’s sublime Rayman Origins (which you should really track down, by the way, if you haven’t already), the last proper Rayman game on a Nintendo console was way back in 2003 when Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc graced both GameCube and Game Boy Advance after his stunning debut four years earlier in Rayman 2: The Great Escape for Nintendo 64. Since then he’s been rather upstaged by the unhinged shenanigans of his Raving Rabbid cohorts, and his prolonged absence from gaming definitely showed when Rayman Origins only managed to shift 50,000 copies in its first month.
But if there’s one game you should really be excited about for Wii U, it’s this one, because Rayman Legends is quite simply one of the most divine platformers ever conceived. Ubisoft Montpellier have really stepped up to the mark with this game, so much so, in fact, that they may have just pulled the rug out from under Mario‘s feet to claim the platforming top spot in Wii U’s launch line-up.
We begin our hands-on demo in a thick, overgrown forest where hordes of small, cyan Teensies are being carted off by huge dragons in thick, metal cages. A castle appears in the background, signalling our next destination, but for a brief moment we’re not entirely sure where Rayman is. A quick swipe across the GamePad screen, however, and Murfy the flying frog cuts back the long grass to reveal our limbless hero (although he can also be joined by returning characters Globox, the Teensies and new character Barbara if you’ve got some Wii Remotes or Wii U Pro Controllers going spare).
Rayman Legends will be a multiplayer experience like no other.
For the most part, it’s fairly traditional platforming– Rayman must save the Teensies from their prisons while collecting lums and avoiding spiky pitfalls of doom– but everything from the combat to the character design has been infused with Michel Ancel’s trademark charm and whimsical humour. Whether it’s Globox’s futile slap on a hanging Teensie cage before he slides off its side or the scrunch of his face as he hurtles head-first into a wall, no one can accuse Rayman Legends of skimping on the detail, especially when it comes to the GamePad controller.
You see, unlike New Super Mario Bros. U (where all the GamePad player can do is place assist-blocks on screen), Rayman Legends takes full advantage of all the GamePad’s different features by letting Murfy cut ropes, open new pathways, gather Lums, interact with the environment, and pick up bad guys for Rayman and chums to use as punching bags to name just a few of his handy abilities. In a sense, he’s also playing an “assist” role as you won’t be doing any actual platforming with Murfy, but there’s so much to do with the GamePad that it never feels like he’s there just for the sake of doing something cool with the controller, and he becomes an integral part of the team within seconds of starting up a level.
When we’re inside the aforementioned castle, for instance, it’s up to Murfy to grab hold of its various platforms and move them so our heroes can get past, all the while busting fiery ghost enemies the others can’t touch with a simple tap on the touchscreen. Later on, he’s also in charge of tilting huge, spike-infested mazes with the GamePad’s gyro-sensors, and one section even saw him taking out three dragons with a touch-activated catapult while the other characters tried to make it across without getting burned or disappearing off-screen along with the crumbling platforms. It may not sound as exciting as actually jumping across said platforms, but when every obstacle involves some sort of GamePad wizardry, there’s simply never a dull moment for Murfy players, making it just as engaging as playing with Rayman.
But it’s the music maps that really make Rayman Legends shine, and you’ve probably seen various pieces of footage capturing these expertly-crafted levels in action. These really are as insanely fun to play as they appear, both for those controlling Rayman and those controlling as Murfy. For Rayman, it’s the joy of jumping in perfect unison with the music; for Murfy, it’s unleashing the trails of Lums that only you can see on your GamePad screen in time with the beat, and together they create a synchronised rhythm-platforming experience like no other. The music itself, both on normal levels and the music maps, also captures that quintessential strangeness of the Rayman universe with its eclectic range of instruments, which thankfully seems to be taking more than a few leaves out of Rayman Origins‘ books, too.
Guaranteed fun no matter what controller you’re using.
Of course, there have been some concerns lately about how Rayman Legends will hold up as a single-player experience, because everything we’ve seen and been able to play thus far has all been multiplayer– and considering how crucial Murfy has been to those demos, we can’t really imagine completing the level without him. While we haven’t had a full answer to those questions yet, it would seem that most of the time you’ll be playing as Rayman in the single-player game, with a select few (those that absolutely require the use of Murfy) seeing you take control of Murfy while an AI-controlled Rayman runs and jumps through the level on his own. We’ll keep you up to date with the latest news on this front, but to be honest, we’re not really that worried about it, particularly when Rayman Legends is the sequel to Rayman Origins. With this in mind, we have every faith that the single-player platforming will be just as solid as what we’ve seen in the multiplayer levels, even without Murfy buzzing along beside you, but for those looking for the ultimate multiplayer experience on Wii U this holiday, you really can’t do much better than Rayman Legends.