One of the more uplifting stories of the last few years in gaming has been the revival of Michel Ancel's whimsical, charming Rayman platforming series. 2011's Rayman Origins brought the classic platformer to a new audience on PS3 and Xbox 360, and now Ancel's team over at Ubisoft Montpellier hope to build on that goodwill with the Wii U sequel Rayman Legends. While retaining the colourful, detailed art style and dependable platforming of its predecessor, Legends makes use of the Wii U's GamePad controller and touchscreen to introduce some unique cooperative mechanics into the mix.
As mentioned above, Rayman Legends is very much a direct sequel to Origins. It builds on the core platforming elements of past iterations - running, jumping and punching your way to progress through a series of smartly-designed levels - as well as successfully translating Rayman's vibrant cartoon aesthetic to Nintendo's high-definition console. Bottom line: the wheel didn't need to be entirely reinvented here, and Ubisoft appears to have resisted the temptation to tinker with a good thing.
That being said, some things have changed this time around. Rayman Legends definitely takes advantage of the new gameplay possibilities the Wii U's impending launch promises. Alongside traditional couch co-op play, another player can use the GamePad's touch functionality to assist Rayman and Co. from above by cutting ropes, pulling levers and generally bringing valuable objects into reach. Some of the levels we played seemed to require this type of asymmetric co-op. For example, in one section the player controlling the GamePad was tasked with balancing a platform in place, as Rayman slowly moved forward to avoid a prickly end. It's an inventive approach to co-op, and alongside ZombiU, shows Ubisoft's designers have a good handle on what works with the Wii U's toolset.
Our demo ended on a particularly high note, sending Rayman into a fast-paced race and introducing some rhythmic elements into the fray. As Rayman ran along to the tune of catchy surf-rock track, the GamePad player was required to make several timed presses in order to allow Rayman to progress. This was definitely the highlight of our demo, as it naturally and intuitively showcased some simple, yet fun, co-op... and the music wasn't bad either.
Rayman Legends appears to be shaping up well. It takes the core elements that made Origins a success and adds some clever Wii U co-op to the formula for good measure. Ancel's team seem to be on the right track, making this launch window Wii U title feel like more than a promotional gimmick.