Mar 24, 2016

On the Controls of Rayman Adventures

I've recently been playing Rayman Adventures on the new AppleTV and, as a fan of the previous two mobile runners and the console games, I wanted to share some thoughts concerning the controls in the game.
First, I'm going to mention what I won't be covering here: The swipe based default controls of the game and anything else about the game's macro design, like, say, its monetization strategies. By default, Rayman Adventures is played using a series of swipe based gestures which work okay but which I find, ultimately, unresponsive. What I really want to discuss here is the experience of playing the game using a controller and how it differs from playing the Rayman console games.

When I first started playing Rayman Legends on the Xbox One, I was annoyed at a couple things. First of all, in a post-analogue-stick world, why am I having to hold down a trigger button in order to run? And secondly, why the heck am I having to use this "Morty" character, mapped to an otherwise unused button, to proceed in certain levels?

On the first point, an argument can certainly be made that, by adding a run button, players are allowed to meter their own difficulty, as running in Rayman Legends causes your character to handle quite differently and more recklessly with higher jumps and more frictionless stops and turns.

The second annoyance is, unfortunately, just a vestigial remnant of the fact the game was originally released on the WiiU and needed some sort of reason to use the system's distinct touch pad controller. In the WiiU version, Morty, used to activate switches and move elements in the level, is not activated using a simple button press but by interacting directly with the level elements using the touch screen.

Ok, so, that's a couple of things explained. But what does any of it have to do with Rayman Adventures? Like many mobile games, Rayman Adventures seeks to accommodate the transition to mobile by simplifying its control scheme. Unlike the two previous mobile entries in the series, Rayman Jungle Run and Rayman Fiesta Run which opted for auto running and simple screen tapping with levels designed around making it from start to finish while getting all the Lums (pickups) on the way, achieving a perfect run, if you will. Rayman Adventures on the other hand promised something more like the console games, boasting more freedom of movement and exploratory gameplay. This change of focus for Adventures meant coming up with a control scheme to allow that freedom, and when playing with a controller, one might assume an experience not unlike playing, say, Rayman Legends on a console. In some ways, that's true, but in other ways, Ubisoft managed to create a gameplay experience I might actually prefer to that of playing on my Xbox.

I need to clarify. Of what I've played of both Rayman Legends (Xbox) and Rayman Adventures (iOS/AppleTV), Legends is, hands down, the better game for a number of reasons. Now, don't get me wrong, Rayman Adventures is definitely worth a look for platform game fans, but several aspects of the game's design detract from what could, otherwise, be a really solid Rayman game. That being said though, I prefer the controls of Rayman Adventures, when playing with a controller, to those of Rayman Legends.

The differences are simple, but have big implications. First of all, no run button. I'm sure one of the reasons I prefer this is that during long sessions on the Xbox, I found my hands cramping from basically gripping the run trigger all the time. So rarely did I ever not use the run button that I even found myself wishing their was an option to auto-run or to switch the run button to a walk button and have running be the default behaviour. In Rayman Adventures, there's no run button, you simply tilt your stick and run. Now, to accommodate the lack of ability to choose to walk, Ubisoft adjusted the feel of the character to be more responsive than a character running in the console version, but if anything, this just makes the game feel better, in my opinion. I, personally don't miss the run button at all, and think Rayman Adventures definitely benefits from its exclusion.

The second difference is the lack of Morty. As mentioned above, when playing Legends on the Xbox, Morty's role in your traversal of a level is, basically, relegated to "Press Y now to proceed". The mechanism feels half baked and is an unfortunate black mark on an otherwise phenomenal platform game. It kind of goes without saying that Morty's omittance in Rayman Adventures can only be a good thing.

Ultimately, as I am myself developing a platform game aimed at mobile devices, what I think I appreciate most about the controls of Rayman Adventures is that the team behind the game obviously thought of how to best simplify their control scheme for the platform while conserving much of the greatness of the console games. 

Ok, a couple things in closing. I know I said I wouldn't mention the default swipe controls and I won't, except to mention that there are rumblings of an update to Rayman Adventures that may include alternate touch controls. I'm, personally, hoping for a simple scheme using two virtual movement buttons on one side and an attack button on the other. A scheme that has been used to great success by other great 2D platform games on iOS. And, finally, I might just sound like an out of touch old man when I complain about free-to-play games, but as a huge fan of these new Rayman games, I really wish Adventures had simply been a premium title. It's really my only knock against an otherwise fantastic game. The free-to-play aspects of the game worm their way into many key aspects of the game's design, including the level design and only serve to lower the product's overall enjoyment, in my opinion.

On that note, go play yourself some Rayman Adventures... And Rayman Legends... And Origins... And Jungle Run... And Fiesta Run... They are all pretty great!

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