We were mildly disappointed when Ubisoft delayed its long-anticipated follow-up to last year's Rayman Origins game for the Wii U, Rayman Legends, so that it didn't meet the system's launch window. It certainly could've used it, especially with the beautiful high-resolution visuals and quirky gameplay, which takes full advantage of the GamePad's capabilities.
When last we played the game, it was through a short but sweet multiplayer demo, a run through a goblin-filled castle to the tune of "Black Betty" (but with goblin speak, mind you) where one player controlled a running character with the Wii remote (or Wii U Pro Controller) while the other tapped on icons on the touch screen to eliminate objects or set up ramps to get them to safety. A bit gimmicky at first, the demo would eventually grow on us – and you can check it out for yourself at any given retailer.
But what about the single player portion of the game? We decided to try out a few levels, available in an upcoming demo, from the single player perspective just to give you an idea what to expect.
First of all, that Castle Rock level we tried previously is available for everyone to try now, and it's just as wild as it's ever been, with dozens of goblins lined up along the ground as you run across their shields. As you proceed, all sorts of things happen, from cannons firing in the distance (shame the game isn't 3D supported – it's look awesome in the format) to a large purple dragon giving chase to the hero to crumbling walls that eventually lead to a finish line, where the main character of choice (one of five in the demo) rocks out in success. This is the shortest level of the bunch, but it's fun.
Moving on, we tried out the new Toad Story stage, where you fight your way through a hazard-filled garden while battling big-headed toad enemies that stand on stilts. Here's where the conventional Rayman Origins gameplay returns, as you have to jump across chasms and use your flying abilities to take advantage of wind gusts in order to move upward. Some areas of this stage are rather tricky to get through, as spike-laden vines are scattered everywhere. Touch one and you'll lose some of your precious health – touch it again and you start over again.
This stage, playable with either the GamePad or the Pro Controller, is excellent. The depth of Ubisoft's level design is magnificent, as there are actual 3D settings here, placed in a 2D format, that really spring to life as you run through them. In addition, they're quite eye popping on the Wii U, thanks to the HDMI support. This is no doubt one of the beautiful gaming experiences you'll see for the system right now, even if it is just a demo.
As for the gameplay, it really channels in everything that made Origins so great last year. There's a few strategies to learn with the platforming, as you have to levitate carefully in some areas with your flying abilities to avoid hitting vines both above and below. Attacking also works fundamentally well, as you can strike above and below at enemies and flying cages (containing Teensies that have become trapped inside) while also swinging ahead of you, should one of those bothersome toads be standing in your way. (By the way, it's hilarious watching them tumble.)
Throughout this stage, there are various Teensies to collect, and by the time you reach the finish, your progress is measured depending on how many you find. It's worth playing through again and exploring hidden areas – like swimming underwater in an area that looks inaccessible at first – just to find everything.
The final level in the demo is Teensies in trouble, and it's similar in some ways to the other stage we played in the E3 build. You'll fight through a medieval setting with some grassy terrain set up here and there, launching yourself into the distance with a slingshot and battling a variety of enemies.
The twist with this stage in single player, however, is the way the gameplay changes up. Midway through, the AI automatically controls the player on-screen, while you use the GamePad to activate platforms, hit enemies so they're out of your way (like rising flame beings with eyes as their vulnerable points) and twist it to make ramps accessible. Some parts of this type of gameplay take some getting used to – you can only turn the GamePad so much with certain platforms – but there's definitely innovation here.
Obviously, Rayman Legends, like its predecessor, is built on the "more the merrier" sort of rule, as it really has something to offer with multiplayer. But solo players will like it as well, especially with its exquisite art style, hilarious soundtrack (again, the goblin version of "Black Betty" is a must-listen) and sweet gameplay. Be sure to download it and have some fun times this weekend.
Rayman Legends releases on the Wii U February 26th.