‘Rayman Legends’ Preview: The Wii U’s most beautiful exclusive

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Last year’s Rayman Origins by Ubisoft Montpellier was a sidescrolling sleeper hit, gaining huge praise from critics all over the board. It featured four-player local co-op, tight controls and an absolutely stunning visual design that was complemented by an adorably charming soundtrack. Unfortunately, since the game wasn’t a first-person shooter or a third-person action game, it didn’t sell fantastically. It certainly didn’t bomb, but it wasn’t an influential success among consumers to the point of being mainstream. Thankfully, Ubisoft hasn’t given up, and is following up on Rayman’s 2D platforming with Rayman Legends exclusively for the Wii U.

Let’s get the biggest change out of the way first: yes, this game is 100% a Wii U exclusive. It features some heavily relied upon mechanics that are only capable thanks to the GamePad. Unless Microsoft or Sony pull some voodoo magic out of their consoles, it’s highly unlikely we’ll see this game come across to those platforms. It’s a shame that the experience won’t get attention on a widespread surface, but at least the game gets some new functionality that’s sure to give people experiences they won’t find elsewhere.

From a visual standpoint, the game’s artists have completely outdone themselves–a huge feat considering the gorgeous hand-drawn art of the previous title. Rayman Legends seems to have more three-dimensional depth despite the 2D art style, which makes the foreground images slick and the backgrounds pop without being obstrusive. There are some amazing 2D scenes that integrate the 3D character models, which are really a site to see thanks to some great art direction.

Of course, as with all games, the graphics can be the best in the world, but without good gameplay what’s the point of even playing? The same care has been taken here as with Origins in the stage design. Mixed with some quirky characters and creatures, there’s always something new in Legends. The three stages available in the demo-“Teensies in Trouble,” “Toad Tales” and “Castle Rock,” each have a unique style to them, with the latter playing like a rhythm game featuring a fun cover of the song “Black Betty.” Out the five times I played it, Castle Rock always had me smiling from intro to finish. Check out the gameplay for yourself:

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Legends also features some GamePad touchscreen functionality not completely unlike New Super Mario Bros. U’s. On the second screen, players can interact with stages by manipulating platforms or stunning enemies to help other players overcome them. At first the demo has the player engaging in minor interactions like stopping an enemy or moving a platform, but eventually the tasks become numerous and things get more frantic (in a good way). It helps drive the cooperative experience in a more familiar setting, bringing to mind games like Angry Birds or Cut the Rope on mobile phones.

Apart from the new functionality of the GamePad, Rayman Legends still invokes the same kind of joy and design present in last year’s release–and that’s not a bad thing at all. Here’s hoping the game holds up on the fun its demo portrays come release on Feb. 26 in the US and Feb. 28 in Europe/Australia.

Having been an avid gamer for twenty-two years now, I've come to appreciate all facets of gaming (music, culture, development, etc). I originally started out with a Sega Master System II, then moved onto a Nintendo 64 and the rest is history. Though my focus is all things Nintendo, I still love having a taste of everything. No one console is perfect, and that's the way I like it.