Hands-on preview: The Wii U was one of the star attractions at the Expo, and no other game illustrated why the console and its GamePad controller could well win over the sceptics better than Ubisoft’s RAYMAN LEGENDS. We went hands-on with the latest entry in the 2D platforming franchise to sample its innovative co-op mode.
Ubisoft certainly seem to be giving the Wii U their full backing, with several of their top-tier franchises due to come to Nintendo‘s new console within the launch window. Rayman Legends is (for now) exclusive to the platform, and at Eurogamer Expo 2012 I went hands-on with what is shaping up to be one of the must-have titles for the system.
The first thing that hits you once the demo level loads up is just how strikingly beautiful a game Rayman Legends is. As the camera swoops through a gorgeously verdant forest to the starting position, the foreground visual elements are all sharply rendered without a hint of aliasing, while in the background multiple misty layers add depth to the picture. As you progress, the game’s rock solid framerate and fluid scrolling never once take a hit, even as particle effects from blasts of dragon fire, wisps of smoke, and ghostly sprites fill the screen.
It truly is like watching a classic Disney animation spring to life before your eyes, and the character designs have more than a hint of Don Bluth-era Disney to them too, particularly the rotund dragons with their jowly double-chins and wings heaving away under the strain as they circle above. It puts even the visual feast that was Rayman Origins to shame, and you simply won’t see a more beautiful 2D platformer anytime soon.
The level I played was the same one used to illustrate the game at the recent Wii U events, and I was joined by a Nintendo representative to show how Rayman Legends implements arguably the best example yet seen of the possibilities for asymmetric co-op gameplay with the GamePad, extending far beyond the rather simplistic use of it in the likes of New Super Mario Bros Wii U. I took the role of loveable blue blob Globox with the Pro Controller, which will feel instantly familiar to anyone who has used an Xbox 360 pad, while my partner played as Murfy the flying frog using the GamePad’s touchscreen. The full game will support up to four players using Wii Remotes or Pro Controllers, plus the GamePad player.
The initial forest stage is straightforward platforming fare, with my GamePad partner slicing through ropes to drop bridges and releasing trapped Lums for collection. A secret room was revealed by my partner repeatedly tapping on a buried troll, which opened up a mini-game where Murfy had to guide 200 Lums towards my leaping Globox before the time limit run out. Finally, we reached a waiting slingshot with which my partner was able to launch me on to the castle battlements by pulling back on the touchscreen.
Local co-op reborn
The battlements were the first taste of how co-op combat works, with the GamePad player tapping on enemies to stun them while I delivered the coup-de-grace, and from here on in the level of timing and co-operation demanded of both players became much more intense.
While Globox’s role continues to be relatively traditional platforming – albeit requiring increasingly quick reflexes to alternate between jumping and smashing through obstacles – the GamePad user needs to be constantly on the lookout for ropes to sever, traps to release and fireball enemies to snuff out. Several puzzles required perfect timing from both players, such as when my partner had to rotate the GamePad in their grasp to move a spiked disk in concert with my 360 degree wall run.
The final playable section saw me engage on a breakneck dash across collapsing platforms, swinging from ropes and dodging tumbling obstacles while my partner took out enemies, swiped away impediments, and used the slingshot to KO circling dragons with their very own fireballs. The pace was frenetic and required split-second timing and co-ordination on both our parts.
It also illustrated again just how rock-solid Rayman Legend’s performance was even when scrolling frantically while action filled the screen. The game never once felt sluggish – an essential requirement considering the complexity of jumps and smashes the player wielding the Pro Controller has to pull off in the last few minutes of the level.
Rayman Legends genuinely feels like an animation come to life before your eyes, taking the already outstanding Rayman Origins formula and upping the visual fidelity to new levels. It also provides the best demonstration yet of why the Gamepad really could be a game-changer for local co-op play, and is looking like it will be an essential purchase when the Wii U launches at the end of November.
Rayman Legends, from Ubisoft, will be available for Wii U later in 2012.