Yesterday the demo for Rayman Legends arrived on the Wii U eShop in both Europe and North America, and a number of gamers who wanted this title at launch eagerly started the download. There are a few things to say about it, both in terms of the glimpse it gives us of the game and how it is, essentially, the epitome of a well defined and structured demo.
First of all, let's talk about what the demo offers, so if you'd rather not know about the individual levels skip ahead until we say you can read in safety. First up is Teensies in Trouble, and the demo insists that you play this level first so that you can get familiar with the controls, and also because it's comfortably the easiest to play. You have a small initial section to master the platforming basics and marvel at the visual fidelity, animation and frame rate. As you're likely to read in any impressions about this demo, it's absolutely gorgeous, highlighting what Nintendo's system is capable of achieving given the circumstances and developers to make it happen.
You've barely made any progress when you encounter a trapped hero, with the game prompting you to release Murphy, the assist character that personifies the GamePad elements of play. In single player this level shows you how the Murphy sections will work when not in co-op. The on-screen character is instantly controlled by some pleasingly capable AI, and you're tasked with tapping and swiping on the touch screen, as well as tilting the whole controller to move rotating obstacles on the TV. It all works, the controls are intuitive and the AI character knows what its doing, but without the camaraderie of another player in local-co-op it felt clever without being that much fun. We don't know how much Murphy will feature in single-player yet, but his role elicits more joy in multiplayer.
Once that stage is cleared you can choose from Toad Story and Castle Rock, both of which leave you in full control of the main character. Toad Story takes place in an attractive swamp setting, and also boasts a glorious soundtrack heavily inspired by Oriental music. It's wonderfully atmospheric, and this level mainly involves using gusts of air to carefully glide through treacherous areas, avoiding various predators and seeking out any hidden extras. It feels almost like a puzzle platformer at points, and perfectly demonstrates the potential for an eclectic range of game styles in this title.
If Toad Story is an ambient, sedate experience, Castle Rock is the opposite. It's equally glorious, however, as you simply sprint to the right, attack and jump while ensuring that you don't lose momentum. It's already attracted attention since footage emerged months ago, but actually playing it is an unrelenting joy. The music is infectiously catchy, the platforming is inch-perfect and breathtaking, and despite the crazy amount of action and gorgeous backgrounds on the screen it never drops a frame. It's a feast for the eyes, ears and thumbs, 90 seconds of exhilarating action that'll keep you coming back.
End of level spoilers! And you can keep coming back. Despite the 30 play limit on this demo, once you're in it places no restrictions on how much you play. Teensies in Trouble and Toad Story actually encourage multiple play-throughs, as you may not find and rescue all of the caged critters at the first time of asking; there are indicators above the stage entry paintings — which you leap into in order to start a level — showing whether you've collected everything. The Collection of Heroes painting even lets you choose from five different playable characters, which is fun in its own right to see their own individual animations and moves — each also has a unique celebration at the end of Castle Rock. Delightfully, full local multiplayer for up to five players is an option — we used the GamePad for Murphy and a Wii Classic Controller — which gives each level a new flavour when you have some friends around. When you throw in a beautiful HD trailer in the painting on the far left, there's plenty to amuse in this download.
Which brings us to a key point. Not only is this demo an exciting glimpse into what could be a fantastic Wii U exclusive, but it shows how these offerings should be done; a perfect example of how a bit of effort can make a major difference. Ubisoft didn't need to include a stylish level select area, offer different playable characters or even put multiplayer on the table, it could have just provided a bare bones menu, samey stages and then kicked us out after playing each level once. The fact it didn't do that makes a difference to the impression this download makes, and naturally earns a more favourable opinion on the potential for the full game. It sets the standard that, we hope, other publishers will follow with demos in the future.
And we want to see plenty of them. With Nintendo keen to promote its Wii U eShop, hosting a number of high quality retail and download-only game demos would certainly help. Nothing helps gamers make informed choices like actually playing some of the game, so we hope that developers with confidence in their work will be only too keen to join in.
What do you think of the Rayman Legends demo, in terms of the game itself and also how it's presented? Let us know in the comments below.