Last night, I had my first “wow” experience with Nintendo’s new Wii U console. It wasn’t with any of the late-to-the-party ports or even a first-party offering. It was with the demo for Ubisoft’s upcoming Rayman Legends, now available for download. It’s just three levels, but it’s one of the most exciting, refreshing, and innovative gaming experiences I’ve had all year. It’s heartfelt, beautiful, and genuinely whimsical in a way that no cheapjack indie clone coasting along on fake 8-bit chic or even Nintendo’s own nostalgic Super Mario Bros. Wii U is. It’s joyful, full of love for video gaming and without a trace of the kinds of commercial cynicism or insulting lowest-common-denominator condescension that have become endemic in the industry.
It’s a 2D platformer with 3D elements, much like last year’s terrific Rayman Origins. Ancel’s trademark comics style is rendered in an all-new engine, and it looks amazing in 60FPS, native 1080P. Maybe it’s just the shock of the new talking, but I think it looks better than just about anything on either the 360 or PS3. Gameplay is classic platforming, at its root not really all that far removed from the original Rayman- or the original Super Mario Bros. for that matter.
But the key here is that Rayman Legends feels like a very now, very current game. This is the platformer of today. It’s not an aw-shucks genuflection to the good old days. This is a game designed with innovation in mind, drawing on recent game design elements to create a new- and original experience that really, really should have been a Wii U launch title. I haven’t seen anything yet that makes a better case for the console.
Rather than trotting out Mario in another animal costume, Rayman Legends gives platformer fans something new by bringing in brilliant use of recent concepts such as touchscreen gameplay and motion control. There are elements of auto-runners like Canabalt. There are hints of IOS games like Cut the Rope. And in one astonishing segment, “Castle Rock”, the rolling lane of a game like Rock Band or Guitar Hero is subversively hidden in the rhythm-based level design. The result is a glorious symphony of sound, vision, and movement. I don’t think I’ve played any video game this year or even in the past few years that felt so vibrant, alive, and crackling with celebratory energy.
I’m excited about this game because it feels like something new yet it remains a firm example of a classic but somewhat old fashioned video game genre. Most refreshingly, there isn’t a lick of tiresome irony, bullshit hipster intellectualism, or even postmodern revisionism. I’m not going to describe anything that goes on in it, or any of the many happy surprises that happen in just the three levels of this demo. You need to discover those for yourself. From what I understand, the demo is on the in-store display kiosks and I can’t recommend enough that you go check it out if you don’t have a Wii U.