People who know me will know one thing about me. Besides Sonic the Hedgehog, my favorite character of all time is Rayman. I’ve been with the limbless hero ever since the first game and the impact he had on my gaming history, not to mention my personal life, is something I’ll cherish forever. If it weren’t for Rayman I may not have been here writing about video games. He shaped a lot of the way I view games and even art in general. So you can imagine how sad I’ve been when Ubisoft, the company in charge of his adventures, has been giving him the shaft for the longest time.
Ever since the controversial Rayman Raving Rabbids came out, the limbless hero of dreams has been reduced to a side character whose fame seems to be behind him. While he did gain two amazing releases at the start of the 2010s, it’s been a decade since his last appearance.
“Franchise drought” isn’t anything new, and there are many franchises that have been gone for a much longer time. But it didn’t make Rayman’s disappearance any less sad to his fans until we were thrown a rare bone out of the most unexpected place. Rayman was coming back in a DLC campaign for “Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope”, a sequel to the surprise hit crossover “Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle”. While some fans rejoiced… I was a bit more skeptical.
The “Mario + Rabbids” games are in a genre I personally don’t care for. While you could definitely argue it’s a subjective problem, to which I agree, why lock a return of a platforming hero behind a genre shift? Let’s not mention that Rayman was now playing second fiddle to the same annoying creatures who were responsible for his disappearance. I wasn’t impressed, but seeing Rayman’s re-design and genuine love for the character and his legacy by the development team did warm my heart and I decided to swallow the pill.
The Stuff I Liked
First of all, I appreciate that I don’t have to play the full game in order to enjoy the DLC stories. This might be a weird thing to point out but considering I’m really only here for Rayman, I appreciate that I could just jump into his story without bothering with the full game. While there is a prompt message encouraging players to start with the base game; I’m grateful for having the option to just jump into what I came here for.
And boy was the beginning just what I needed. Upon starting a new save file for the DLC we’re greeted with a shot of Rayman walking towards the camera. With an updated model that looks amazing, combining elements from previous designs while incorporating new elements, and fantastic animations that do a wonderful job representing Rayman’s character and his little nuances, I couldn’t have thought of a better way to start. The music by Christophe Héral, who composed the excellent scores for “Rayman Origins” and “Rayman Legends”, also contributed to everything feeling right with this return.
Rayman wasn’t here just for the sake of it. An effort was put into his return and I was giddy to see what was in store just from a simple shot of Rayman walking into the screen. Luckily, the rest of the things I was experiencing were enhancing the experience. His movements while running around the hub world felt right, his charging fist was present and accounted for, the helicopter hair was back and as useful as ever, and while jumping is context sensitive, I’m aware it’s because of the different genre and was able to adjust quickly.
In fact, I appreciated some of the puzzles present in the hub worlds. I have no idea if they’re an addition to this DLC or if the base game had those too, but I found myself enjoying solving them and getting rewarded with either story progression or bonuses for the shops. They’re not overly complicated but I enjoyed how they were using Rayman’s abilities to the fullest despite the limited movement. The running speed could have been a bit faster, but I managed to get used to it.
While I’m not a real-time strategy fan, I did enjoy Rayman’s combat maneuvers that were picked for this system. The lazer guns were a bit weird at first, but I guess Mario uses them too in the main game so I just have to accept it. The turrets hiding inside of plums were an amazing nod to the older games! I laughed for a whole minute the first time I saw it because it’s so random and yet feels extremely right if you know how useful the plums are in the first few Rayman games. I wasn’t expecting the combat fatigues from Rayman 3 to return, but I loved the modified designs they got and their usefulness in battle was undeniable.
To my surprise, Rayman’s voice was even provided by David Gasman, the same actor who voiced him in the English-speaking version of Rayman 2 and in Rayman 3. I never thought I’d hear this voice again and yet when it exited Rayman’s mouth, I recognized it instantly! The tone, the implications, the energy, it just had to be him. And sure enough, the credits and promotional material proved it was indeed him and I couldn’t have been happier… now if only he was given more than a few simple lines to perform.
The Stuff I Didn’t Like
While it’s nice to hear Rayman speak again, and with his original voice to boot, I find the decision to have most of his dialogue as text to be a baffling choice. Other characters suffer this as well besides the robotic helper Beep-O who has all of his lines fully voiced. Why? You have the voice actors in the studio already, so let them talk! Let them record more than just parts of the script if they’re already there! It feels so lazy and inconsistent… and that, sadly, is the least of my problems.
The story, while I didn’t expect anything grand or amazing, didn’t feel like Rayman at all. Can someone remind me at which point Rayman was ever a movie star? Why throw him into a story that could have honestly starred any other character in that role? There’s nothing much Rayman-related in the plot, besides him being familiar with the Rabbids and not liking them (not that I can blame him). Globox is mentioned once, and so is Mr. Dark, but there’s nothing else here that actually connects to this character’s history in terms of the story.
Not to mention the fact that characters take jabs at his expense most of the time. I understand Beep-O’s comments about Rayman not being known anymore, as he has been absent for a decade now, but that humiliating song from the Phantom has to take the cake as the worst thing in this package. While the bit is well-composed and sung, is this what we brought Rayman back for, humiliation by an oversized Rabbid who wouldn’t exist if Rayman wasn’t a success to begin with!? I get the point of the song in the meta sense but in-universe, why? The guy who beat up armies and sent tyrants packing deserves a lot more respect than this or at the very least, let him rap battle against The Phantom!
Am I nitpicking? Maybe. But considering they’re aiming and doing their best to respect Rayman, what is that sequence supposed to accomplish besides making me feel like the love is misguided? This campaign was meant to celebrate a character who’s well-regarded by the industry as having some of the best games under its belt. Would you guess that was the case based on that song? I sure as hell wouldn’t and if the game is going to call attention to humiliating a well-beloved character when the audience is fans of that character, I’m going to call that insulting display out for what it is.
The worst part is that besides the final boss, Rayman doesn’t even get to diss The Phantom back! You just beat the final boss and here’s a nice “everything’s wrapped up, BYE” cutscene which left me feeling conflicted about the whole thing. Talk about a sour note to end on. And despite the developers claiming there’s a special message for those who clear the campaign 100%, the message is not worth it and doesn’t hint at anything special. Talk about being so close and yet so far.
The Big Nose in the Room
With all of that said; it’s time to address the big nose in the room. What’s happening now?
The DLC is out. Rayman fans got their special bone thrown at them and while a bit rusty, it had some flavor for us to nibble at. There’s definitely potential and interest in seeing Rayman return in a proper game again, as the ingredients are there. But there’s also some damage control I’d like to see done in the next go around.
No more DLC cameos; give us a proper game. Keep it a platformer, as that’s what fans want at the end of the day. I know this franchise hasn’t been relevant in a while, but treat it with the respect it deserves, and don’t overshadow the main character again. I can tell there was a lot of love and passion for Rayman in this DLC and it made me happy to see it! But I also don’t want the franchise to mock itself when it deserves much better than that. Give Rayman the spotlight once again because if there’s ANY mascot who deserves a comeback, especially after Bubsy got one, it’s Rayman!
So Ubisoft? The plum is in your court. If this ended up being the first step in a brighter future for the limbless hero, I’d be willing to forgive some of my gripes regarding this DLC. But if this turns out to be yet another false hope that doesn’t lead to anything, then I’ll remember this DLC more for the stuff it did wrong rather than what it got right.
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