Following Ubisoft's decision to delay the launch of Rayman Legends on Wii U and take the game multi-platform, many Nintendo fans were so irate they insisted that they would be boycotting the release come August (or September if you're in North America) time. Sadly, the negative reaction may have dented the game’s chances on the Wii U, as it has since passed from being a launch hopeful to almost an afterthought — Nintendo’s strong promotion of the game has faded to nothing since the multi-format announcement.
Having had the chance to sit down with the latest version of the title, we have to say that it’s a little unfortunate that the spotlight has shifted from Rayman Legends. It may be coming to other systems, but there’s no denying that the Wii U edition is the definitive version; the game’s designers have clearly constructed the adventure around the capabilities of the console’s GamePad controller. In fact, having spent some quality time with the game, we’d even go as far as to say that Rayman Legends is the most effective illustration of the system’s potential since Nintendo Land.
Thanks to the demo which has been available for some time, we’ve already witnessed how Murphy (or Murfy as he’s named in the build we played) can impact the gameplay via touchscreen commands, and the preview version we played reinforces this. The ability to interact with levels via the GamePad shows real promise — in one level, you’re expected to grab a shield in order to repel incoming fireballs and safely guide Globox to the exit. At points, not only do you have to block the fireballs but also use the shield as a platform to ensure that Globox doesn’t fall off the bottom of the screen. Later in the stage, an arm appears from the clouds — presumably belonging to Zeus, given the Ancient Greek theme of the stage — and attempts to zap Globox with lightning. The shield must then be used to keep these attacks at bay.
On another stage, Murfy has to cut a path through the stage to allow the other character — who has been turned into a duck (don’t ask) — to pass through. Of course, it’s rarely as simple as drawing a clear pathway; there are bonus items which are slightly off the beaten track, along with dangers that will kill the other character if you dig too closely.
The touchscreen elements form such an intrinsic part of the gameplay that it’s hard to imagine how the game will play on consoles which lack such an interface. They also lend a welcome sense of variety to the platforming levels, and create a two-player co-op experience that is delightful to behold. That’s not to say that the standard platforming stages aren’t equally engaging; the underwater world of 20,000 Lums Under The Sea is packed with tight spaces and deadly enemies, taxing your pad skills to their limit. During our time with the game we also noticed that revised levels from Rayman Origins also make the cut, along with a devilishly entertaining single-screen multiplayer mode called Kung Foot. Completed levels can also be revisited as “Invaded” variants, packed with different enemies. The option to share content to Miiverse is also baked into the game itself via the pause menu — sadly, we weren’t able to test this feature, given the pre-release nature of the build.
The furore over the delay may have pushed Rayman Legends from the minds of many Wii U owners, but in many ways this is shaping up to be the console’s killer app; it’s such a wonderful showcase of how a second screen can enrich gameplay that it’s hard to envisage how it’s going to work on the the PS3 and 360. Also, it’s worth repeating again just how utterly fantastic this game looks; every screen is like a painting in motion, and Michel Ancel’s team has allowed its imagination to run riot with some of the level designs.
Whatever your thoughts on Rayman Legends losing its Wii U exclusivity, you may want to consider putting any ill feelings to one side when the game eventually launches later this year. From what we’ve experienced so far this is a truly wonderful escapade, and by going multi-platform, Ubisoft may have unwittingly given Nintendo’s console the best advertisement of its capabilities yet; with so much of the gameplay being built around the presence of touch control on a second screen, we’d be very surprised if the PS3 and 360 versions were anywhere near as enjoyable — and that can only increase the stature of Nintendo's console.