Sometimes game releases, or apps in this case, bring to an end a saga of delays, upset fans and development strife. This Rayman Legends Challenges App does that, representing the final (probably) peace offering from Ubisoft to disgrunted Wii U owners before Rayman Legends arrives in late August/early September. From one perspective it's a nice freebie, while from another it's a tad underwhelming.
In terms of the old, this app dishes up the same three levels that we enjoyed in the original demo, but without that pesky use limit. These are Teensies in Trouble, Toad Story and Castle Rock; the latter two are available after Teensies in Trouble has introduced you to the basics when both platforming or performing as Murphy on the GamePad touchscreen. We've already reviewed these levels in detail when test running the Rayman Legends demo.
In fact, when you spot those demo stages, and the familiar painting-based level-select screen, it becomes apparent that this app is a natural extension of that original demo. Once again you can replay the three stages until you've had enough of them, with trophies for rescuing captured friends and collecting Lums; conquering the three levels with all trophies and collectibles does little but add to your Lum count. Accumulating Lums does have some value for keen collectors, unlocking additional playable characters — their abilities are practically the same, but variations in their mannerisms and animations are charming.
In fact, playing on and on, and unlocking those characters, may be motivated not just by the tight platforming — certainly sharpened up since Rayman Origins — but by the outstanding presentation. Ubisoft has produced a graphics engine both beautiful but also absolutely impeccable in performance, with never a dropped frame. It's a good advert for the capabilities of the Wii U — we have no comparison to the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions as yet — but also for the merits of art design, both visually and aurally.
But what about the Challenges aspect of the download? Within its own area you can choose from daily and weekly challenges, with consistent delivery on the former to date. For each of these you can take them on at any time (while they're available, naturally) and as often as you like, and each time you start a run you're surrounded by a few ghosts of those closest to you on the leaderboards; a well-worn practice, but initially the ghosts can be confusing if using the same character as you, with a few of our early deaths caused by attempting to control a ghost near our own character. After a few runs this is generally avoided.
To its immense credit, the load times between runs and loading up your results in the leaderboard are almost instantaneous, and with some of the challenges being less than a minute long, it encourages repeated plays as you continually boost your score and move up the leaderboards. There are already tens of thousands of players recording scores, and your placing determines whether you receive a bronze, silver or gold trophy, with the app letting you know which award you're on course to pick up.
The better the trophy the more points you receive, and these are accumulated towards ranks of "awesomeness". The higher you go the more content you receive, with locked paintings tempting you to keep taking on challenges and accumulating those valuable trophies. All of these leaderboards and statistics, meanwhile, are abundantly available through clear buttons on the touchscreen, where you can check out your rankings and even details such as how many times you've jumped, or how far you've run compared to others around the world.
Of the challenges so far, they generally remain adaptations of stages seen in the demo levels, though some have deviated to present fresh areas. So far they also highlight one of the enduring concerns about Rayman Legends, which is a focus on co-op play. All levels and challenges can be played in single player, but some insist that you play the accompanying Murphy role on the GamePad, with an AI platformer. In one challenge that's reliant on collecting Lums as quickly as possible, for example, the AI character just doesn't progress as quickly as a human player would, and shows a lack of intelligence in adapting jumps to compensate for mistakes from Murphy, as a skilled platformer would. One aggravating jump we encountered insists on you cutting the ropes a specific way, or the AI character will simply aimlessly jump past the ropes to its doom.
When you're platforming in single-player, Murphy's abilities to paint Lums and double their value is compensated with a setup where they're painted if you hit them in the right order. This works well in challenges so far where you're descending down a pit or dashing to finish a level within 30 seconds, but there are dungeon-based levels where your chances are undoubtedly enhanced with a willing second player. While playing as Murphy can be flat in single player, going through local co-op with a friend on the couch is much more fun, with the intuitive tapping, swiping and dragging of the environment being accessible for gamers of all levels. If you're competitive, however, you may want to recruit a regular GamePad partner for some of the stages to ensure that you maximise your performance.
Overall, the challenges are fun, and they mix up the objectives just enough to be worth a 15-minute blast on most days; the opportunity to play the demo levels without a usage limit is also welcome. That aside, these short bursts of levels are generally sticking with environments and platforming styles we've already seen, at the time of writing, while they remind us of the concern that, without local co-op buddies at all times, the single player experience in Rayman Legends could be slightly compromised. The Murphy mechanic on the GamePad is excellent when playing with friends and family, but still not a patch on the terrific platforming in single player.
As a free app, this is excellent, but its long-term potential is rather limited to those with the most competitive instincts.