When I reviewed Rayman Legends last week, I made a bold claim that for the first time in the character's eighteen year history, that Ubisoft managed to outshine Nintendo's flagship plumber duo with ease. I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and take a look at the biggest Rayman and Super Mario match-ups in history.
Rayman burst onto the scene in 1995 on the obscure Jaguar home console, with a port arriving for the PlayStation the same year. It ushered in many staples of the series, including Rayman's ability to use his hair as a helicopter and his superior punching power. It's bright and colourful presentation garnered a devoted fan base, and the game managed to take away the "Best Music in a CD-ROM Game" (yes, that was a category) and the "Best Animation" awards from Electronic Game Monthly's Video Game Awards. Rayman also became the best-selling PlayStation game of all time in the UK, moving approximately 5 million units.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island was released the same year as Rayman's debut exclusively on the SNES. Despite the title, SMW2: Yoshi's Island was intended to be a prequel to every Mario game ever released. The title managed to sell 4 million units, and took out the "Best Action Game" award from Electronic Game Monthly's Video Game Awards. The game earned #22 in Official Nintendo Magazine's 100 greatest Nintendo games of all time awards, and has since been listed in many "greatest game of all time" lists across the globe.
At this point in time Mario was cemented as a risk taker, and this new experiment paid off. Rayman stepped out the gate as a real contender, and people started to take notice.
Rayman 2 was a big shift in direction for the series, with 3D gameplay introduced for the very first time. Players explored a lush and exciting world, filled with challenging levels and robo pirates to dispatch. Along with cementing many of Rayman's trademark powers, it was the first game in the series to introduce lums as a collectible creature. IGN awarded Rayman 2 the "Dreamcast Game of the Year" award, and Brandon Justice said it was "the most impressive feat of game design and execution the platforming genre has ever seen."
Despite coming out a few years before Rayman 2, Super Mario 64 is the closest comparison from the Mario series available for the time period. The game was also a huge change of direction for the series, sending Mario and a cast of loveable enemies into the 3D realm for the very first time. Super Mario 64 has sold eleven million copies, and was the first game to receive a perfect score from EDGE Magazine. It won 1996's Game of the Year award from IGN, Game Informer, EDGE, Yahoo! Games and Nintendo Power. It is often listed as one of the most influential games of all time.
Rayman 2 was great, but there is no denying that Super Mario 64 was better. This was Mario's shining moment, another time where he changed the face of gaming forever. There's just no competing with that.
Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc retained the 3D gameplay from the previous iteration, but added voice acting for the very first time. It also retained many of the same puzzles and platforming elements, which lead it to garnering mediocre reviews and little fanfare. It is considered by many to be the weakest of the original Rayman Trilogy and brings nothing new to the table.
Super Mario Sunshine was released exclusive for the Nintendo Gamecube a year before Rayman's third outing, and was both critically and commercially successful. Selling 5.5 million copies worldwide, the game introduced some new mechanics to the franchise, including a FLUDD cannon filled with water that helped Mario solve various puzzles. The game didn't live up to the polish or expectations of its predecessor, but when compared to Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc, it was a knight in shining armour.
Rayman spent a few years starring in some party games with some moronic rabbits, but 2011 signified a comeback for the limbless hero. Rayman Origins returned to the series roots, offering a hand-drawn, 2D platformer that ramped up the challenge and demanded some serious attention. It was one of the most accessible yet challeneging platformers to come out that year, yet limited sales led many to believe a sequel would never be viable.
While Rayman was off with his rabbids, Mario was releasing notable platform classics. The New Super Mario Bros. series kickstarted a return to his roots on the DS, which was then followed up on the Wii. He also dropped Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2, both of which garnered critical acclaim and are already considered some of the best 3D platforming games of all time.
2011 saw Super Mario 3D Land arrive for the Nintendo 3DS. Taking elements from the original Super Mario Bros. and moving it into bite-sized 3D stages, fans and critics praised the fantastic visuals and level design. Once again, Origins was good, but Super Mario 3D Land was great.
Rayman Legends is flawless. It's everything that is right with gaming. It's rainbows and sunshine and a tonne of fun. Don't believe me? Read my review, mainly so I don't have to write it out again in this article, and get a feel for what the game is all about.
The most recent release form our plumber friends came as a Wii U launch title with New Super Mario Bros. U. It received favourable reviews, but brought nothing new to the table. It was a predictable sequel to a series that has quickly become over-saturated, and while it provides a great challenge, it can't hold a candle to Rayman Legends innovating and fun gameplay.
We've still got Super Mario 3D World on the way for later this year, but Ubisoft should be proud that they have stuck with the limbless French hero. Rayman has always been on the cusp of greatness, but 2013 is the year he finally achieved it.
2013 is supposed to be the year of Luigi. I say we declare it the year of Rayman.
@Tia said: Just letting everyone know, Rayman Legends is on sale at Target starting Thursday for $40 on all consoles!
Also, great article, Heller!
Between this, the review and the sale, I guess I'll be playing Rayman on the weekend!