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Rayman Legends shines brighter with new lighting, stealthy gameplay

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Rayman Legends' beautiful dynamic lighting is, based on recent hands-on time with the action platformer, its freshest addition to gameplay. In addition to making the game's levels look even more gorgeous, Ubisoft's updated lighting engine brings clever level design and stealth-based fun to the already stellar cooperative action of Rayman Origins.

Ubisoft seems to be (rightly) proud of Legends' lighting. It was on display in many of the levels the publisher showed at a pre-E3 preview event. In a level titled "Mansion of the Deep," a mix of platforming and swimming sections we played on an Xbox 360 as a group of four, Rayman Legends' lighting is put to use in underwater segments where glowing sentries search for Rayman and his pals. Players must hide in the shadows behind platforms where light can't shine through, avoiding detection.

Above water, sections of "Mansion of the Deep" require players to avoid deadly lasers and being spotted by enemies — who happen to be wearing Sam Fisher-style night vision goggles. Even with a reliance on stealth, it's possible to sprint through a level like this as a quartet.

The same light-based stealth was employed in a level we played on the PlayStation Vita. Titled "20,000 Lums Under the Sea," it was purely focused on swimming. Rayman controls beautifully underwater, making the stealth game of detection avoidance, collecting pick-ups in dangerous waters and finding hidden paths — both for discovering secret pick-ups and hiding from searchlights — an exciting thrill.

The Wii U will get an exclusive level that employs those dynamic light stealth mechanics, titled "The Deadly Lights." On Wii U, Ubisoft puts the GamePad to perfect use, letting one player control Murfy, the helpful green fly, for cooperative puzzle-solving and stealth-based gameplay. In "The Deadly Lights," the player in control of Murfy can tap switches that turn off spotlights and move pipes and platforms with the touchscreen to block streams of light.

It was a different set of actions from the Wii U version of Rayman Legends demo we played at last year's E3, but equally enjoyable.

Ubisoft showed off two more levels, a boss fight titled "Madman's Creation," in which Rayman and a partner cooperatively battled a giant mechanical dragon over a pit of spikes, and "Mariachi Madness." The latter is one of Rayman Legends' conveyor belt-style musical levels which challenge the player to jump, punch and kick to the beat of a song. In this case, it's a mariachi-style instrumental version of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger." Players must leap from platform to platform, jumping over flying spiked centipedes and slashing enemies as they slide down ziplines. As Barbara, we jumped during brassy musical cues and slashed frantically at enemies during rapid strums of a guitar, all to a (mostly) familiar tune. The game's musical levels are a treat, but seem to rely a bit too much on level memorization and trial and error, leading to some frustration.

Like Origins, Rayman Legends astounds visually. The game has a rich, painterly style with beautifully rendered and animated characters. Combined with tight platforming and Rayman's sense of humor, Legends appears to be a worthy and exciting follow-up to Rayman Origins.

Rayman Legends will be released on Wii U, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on Aug. 30 in Europe and Sept. 3 in North America.

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