Hands On: Ubisoft's Wii U Launch Hits
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Taking Rayman Legends and ZombiU for another spin
When it comes to third-party launch support for Wii U, Ubisoft is the stand-out with its sheer volume of titles on the way. As always, the publisher is wading in with a substantial variety of games to cater to gamers of almost all levels and persuasions, but we recently had a chance to have another hands-on with its biggest exclusive releases to arrive on launch day. No, this doesn't include Just Dance 4, but entirely different experiences, nevertheless.
We were able to get some first impressions of Rayman Legends during E3 this year, but that didn't stop us from giving it another whirl at Nintendo of Europe. Like the last time we played it we were struck by the visuals, which are undoubtedly gorgeous, and the fun to be had in Rayman Origins on Wii is present and correct in this Wii U title, which is good news for its fans.
We did take the chance to try out two new stages as the second player, exclusively using the GamePad touch screen. The first stage was Castle Rock, the eye-catching musical level that we posted about recently, though you can check out the video again below. Once the action started, with a well-practised and skilful representative controlling Rayman, our job was to tap eyeballs that only we could see to help clear the path, as well as trace lines through Lums to boost the bonus from each one collected. Although the visuals were attractive on the GamePad screen and tapping to the rhythm of the music was amusing, we couldn't quite shake the feeling that Rayman was having the lion's share of the fun. It was functional, but the second player gets the raw deal in this musical stage.
The second stage we played was, thankfully, a much better example of a co-op experience that's equally engaging for both players. A more conventional platforming stage in what appeared to be a castle dungeon, there was a far greater emphasis on the second player assisting while also boosting their own Lum total. Tapping rats and bats yielded bonuses, and the role of assisting Rayman expanded to gravity-sensitive rope cutting, moving platforms and distracting enemies; the latter is a fine example of the charm of the title, with stylus swipes tickling villains into immobilising giggling fits. The GamePad gyroscope also came into play, with excellent response and sensitivity, to move platforms as well as one particularly fiendish and large cog puzzle; this required quick reflexes from both players and gave a genuine sense of excitement when successfully navigated.
In these cases the co-op experience was mixed, with the latter doing a better job of getting the second player involved in the action. Of slight concern is that when we asked the representative about the single player experience it was unclear how this would work. We expect Ubisoft to clarify prior to launch, but it'll be interesting to see whether single-player gamers have slightly different levels, or whether their fate will rest with an AI assistant. Considering how tricky the cog puzzle was, any prospective AI will need to be right on the money.
Assuming that Ubisoft accommodates single players properly, this could be an outstanding launch title, even if there's the occasional bout of simplistic tapping for player two.
We had extensive hands-on time for our ZombiU first impressions after E3, so if you want to know all about the various functions of the GamePad and how the game works, then it's well worth your time to check out the details there. This time around we saw a new area, and after surviving around 20 minutes before dying less than half-way into the demo, a kind demonstrator offered to demonstrate his ninja skills and show us how it was done. It's just as well he did, as we picked up some useful tips along the way.
As you probably already know, the structure of ZombiU means that death is permanent; you wake up as an entirely new character and must hunt down your zombie to retrieve lost items. This adds terrific tension to the experience, and even a player who knew the stage like the back of his hand was visibly on edge, desperate not to die and restart the area. The demo on offer, about 30 minutes long if you know what you're doing, was set in sewers, a rather grimy area of the River Thames and then in and around London Tower; there were plenty of excuses to gawk at landmarks and practice cricket bat bashing skills on London Guard zombies with silly hats. Some of the areas we played and saw are in a recent trailer from Ubisoft, below.
The main lesson we learnt was that ZombiU relies on repetition, skill and learning from your mistakes. Even skilful gamers are likely to die on multiple occasions — though beating the game will unlock a no-death hardcore difficulty — and it's only through learning the locations of weapons, and the resting place of deadly zombies, that you'll progress. The odd surprise is thrown up when you're reincarnated, of course, but many zombies are found in the same places so that you can be ready for them.
The use of the GamePad is extensive and brilliantly implemented: scanning secret messages, aiming a sniper weapon, typing in security codes and using the touch-screen for real time inventory management are all intuitive and effective. As you progress you learn to use your trusty cricket bat to bash the heads of zombies that look dead but may jump up, or one particularly humorous trick of shooting a distant zombie with a crossbow and waiting for it to return it to you. Zombies with different behaviours and strengths cause problems, and there's a constant dilemma between fighting in silence but close-hand with a bat, or using painfully limited ammo and potentially attracting more of the undead. In creating tension and providing a serious challenge, this title hit its marks.
The most obvious issue for some but not necessarily all gamers, amongst all of these positives, are the visuals. Compared to some of its launch contemporaries on Wii U the graphics in ZombiU are rather choppy in areas, while we also saw one or two instances of objects glitching in and out of view; this was a demo build, of course, but these flaws were easily noticed. Visuals aside, this title takes the rather well-worn premise of zombie infestation and turns it into one of the most interesting, cleverly implemented experiences on the system.