Developers: Ubisoft Montpellier
By rights, we should have been enjoying the delightful whimsy of Rayman Legends by now. But then, Ubisoft couldn't be held responsible for Nintendo's failure to provide a platform with even a whiff of the possibility of breaking even let alone making a profit. So Rayman Legends is going multiplatform, and whatever the circumstances surrounding that shift and whatever effect that move might have had on the Wii U, one thing is certain: more people will play it now. And that's a good thing.
But it turns out that the very best thing about Rayman Legends might not be the pinsharp HD aesthetics, the inventive level design and taut platforming, or the way in which you can manipulate an area's moving parts with Murfy. If the preview event I attended a few weeks back is anything to go by, the best bit comes in the form of a football match.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Imagine, if you will, a cross between Smash Bros. and that old Java-based favourite of bored schoolkids everywhere -- Slime Football. The premise is simple: there's a 2D playing field, with a goal at either end raised up above a large central zone. Playing locally, we had two teams of two characters and two minutes in which to score as many goals as possible. Online you'll be able to have three-on-three. It's called Kung Foot, and it's brilliant.
So it was that our collective attention was diverted from platforming magnificence -- and believe me, Rayman Legends is a beautiful game in form and function -- towards this throwaway mini-game, created by the devs to blow off steam in between coding sessions. Imagine the finest competitive multiplayer night you've spent with friends on the couch -- that's pretty much what a small back room in Planet Hollywood turned into. Cries of anguish went up at scenes of last minute winners. There were boisterous cheers from those not involved as games grew tight and the struggle for possession being created in the central pit devolved into hilarious slapstick violence.
Tactics were developed, stratagems for victory were drawn up. A balance was struck between attack and defence, the last man standing always keeping an eye on the goal. Being able to duff up your opponents turned into a viable tactic: how can a team score if their best player is incapacitated? It look a little while for the anarchic free-for-all to calm down, and early matches were won and lost in landslide fashion, but as time progressed, the matches grew tighter, end to end volleying marathons piled the tension on, and victories were snatched in the very final seconds. A man dressed as Will Smith came in and kicked our butts.
It was exhilarating. There we were, invited to check out the sumptuous art direction and compare the differences between the Wii U version and its current gen competitors, and all we wanted to do was play another round. When the Ubisoft PR team got involved and a journos vs. PR best of three began to unfold, it got a bit rowdy in the fantastic, face-achingly fun way that only local multiplayer can provide.
For the record, it does seem that the Wii U and the Vita, with its gorgeous screen (my personal platform of choice for Rayman Origins as it happens) will offer up gamepay that the PS3 and the Xbox 360 can't hope to replicate. Instead of controlling Murfy directly via touch interfaces, on the current gen home consoles he was relegated to interacting with the scenery at the push of a button. It's an understandable concession, but after playing with others on Wii U and having my retinas and fingertips delighted by the Vita version, it feels like more of an extension of Origins than anything particularly new. That's not really a bad thing. More Rayman is always good, but you can tell that the game was designed specifically for the Wii U.
The rhythm-based levels are an utter joy, though HarmoKnight has rather beaten Ubisoft to the punch there since this game got delayed. Romping through levels to tunes such as "Black Betty" and "Eye of the Tiger" was great fun, the musical beats helping to time our button presses to allow for near platforming perfection, though there are still a few pitfalls and dangers to look out for.
But in all honesty, after we'd discovered Kung Foot, we were only ever flirting with the game's main mode. That's not to disparage Rayman Legends in any fashion. Its release date is only a couple of weeks away and I have every confidence in the game's continuation of Ubisoft and Ancel's superb legacy. If anything the sheer irresistibility of this goal-hunting only served to underline what a delightful content powerhouse of a game Legends will be, and we can't wait to have it in our hands.