Rayman Origins was one of my favourite games of 2011. Offering sublime, co-operative platforming combined with a unique, surreally beautiful hand-drawn aesthetic it stands as one of the most magical games I’ve played this generation. It underperformed at retail, because the mass, game-buying public is filled with idiots – but it’s fortunately done well enough to warrant a sequel. Right now, that sequel, Rayman Legends, has only been announced for the Wii U. And somehow, it seems to have surpassed the original.
We got to go hands-on with the title last week thanks to Nintendo – and the title alone has me excited for the new hardware. We didn’t get to play the single player or even the frenzied and frantic regular, 4 player co-operative mode that returns from Origins. Instead, we played an odd c-operative mode that utilises the Wii’s tablet Gamepad – and there’s no lack of hyperbole for just how incredible it is.
One player controls the main character – generally the floaty-limbed, eponymous Rayman with the Wii U Pro Controller – the traditional, core-gamer focused gamepad that’s a hybrid of Microsoft’s 360 controller and Sony’s dualshock. The other player holds the GamePad and uses little other than the tablet’s touch screen and Gyro controls. while the main player’s running through the treacherous platform levels, the player with the touch-screen assists – by interacting with the game world. It could have been implemented simply, not particularly different from the dull, gem-catching, co-op we saw in Super Mario Galaxy – but instead Ubisoft has made the assistive multiplayer engaging and entertaining.
It starts off simply enough; the second player – who views the same gorgeous visuals displayed on the main, TV-Screen – can perform simple, menial tasks – like cutting grass by swiping the touch screen, uncovering lums, or tapping enemies to make the level easier for the main player – but it starts getting trickier – and a lot more fun. Soon, the tablet player will be cutting ropes to change the landscape – opening up secret areas, grabbing parts of the environment to ease platforming or protecting the main player. Cool – but elementary. And then it got better.
In one of the demo levels, a huge wooden wheel, a complicated, impossible-to-pass maze of deadly spikes presented themselves. To proceed, the tablet player would have to take control of the wheel – and using the tablet’s gyroscope, turn the actual controller in time with Rayman’s jumps to facilitate safe passage – making it a satisfying dance between both players. It sounds simple – but required both players to work in unison like a graceful ballet. The level had a number of puzzles like this – and each was fantastic and intuitive, not once coming across as a simple gimmick.
The second part of the demo was equally mesmerising. A fast scrolling level, every single of Rayman’s jumps is timed to a beat – with every jump and grab for items timed to, and affecting the music in the background – like a platform version of Lumines or Child of Eden. The tablet player, in that level taps on open-eyed statues in time – highlighting opportunities for extra score. It’s incredible.
The best thing about it – and what impressed me on a technical level, was the complete lack of lag between the action on the screen and that on the tablet gamepad. With developers like Ubisoft already utilising the new controller for genuinely unique and interesting gameplay features, I’m intrigued – and excited – by the Wii U’s prospects.
And I’ll be buying Rayman Legends when it launches alongside the Wii U later this year.
Last Updated: July 2, 2012