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[Interview] Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope dev on bringing back Rayman and the future

Posted on October 22, 2023 by (@NE_Brian) in Interviews, Switch

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope Rayman interview DLC

We’ve been sharing excerpts from our recent Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope interview with creative director Davide Soliani, but we wanted to publish our full discussion which contains some extras.

Soliani shared a lot of insight about bringing back Rayman for the game’s final DLC, Rayman in the Phantom Show. He also spoke to us about interest in continuing the franchise in the future, though it’s too early to say anything at present.

Here’s our full discussion: 

I wanted to start out by kind of touching on the origins of the new DLC and how that all came together. Rayman has been MIA in gaming for many years, so why was now the right time to reintroduce him into the modern gaming landscape?

Yes, this is a curiosity that many people are asking lately, but I think it’s quite easy. When I started in the video game industry, as a as a developer, my first game was Rayman for the Game Boy Color. I was taking care of the main character, of building it up and fine tuning it along with creating levels.

So basically, I spent one year one on one with just Rayman, so I always felt that he was my boy. And even before joining Ubisoft, I was a video game journalist, and basically I was reviewing Rayman for PlayStation 1, and this is where I started to see, okay, so there are companies outside Nintendo that can do great platforming. And I said, okay, I’m going to check this Ubisoft out and discover more about it.

A bit of time later, I become a game designer for Rayman and so that was my first game I did for Ubisoft. And as you know, basically Rabbids was invented and pushed into the hands of the player thanks to Rayman. So I felt it made perfect sense to have a sort of payback with the Rabbids inviting Rayman into their universe along with the other characters. To me it was a perfect conclusion for those fantastic nine years in which we created this IP.

The new expansion marks the first time Rayman has been rendered in such high graphical 3D fidelity. What challenges, or opportunities, did this present during the animation process?

So basically, the first challenge for us was to take care of Rayman, renewing the aspect of Rayman in a way that was respectful of the work that has been done previously, but at the same time making it fit with what we were creating with our own art direction. That changed from Kingdom Battle to Sparks of Hope.

So Rayman needed to make sense along with the Rabbids – such as Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Mario – but also with the full art direction of the environment, the Phantom, and so on. And it was not easy because you know, every time you are touching an iconic videogame character as we did the in the past when we were creating these Rabbids and counterparts of Nintendo characters, you are always taking a risk because there will be someone who is happy about what you are doing and someone who probably is not going to be happy.

I think that that we did a very good job because we have been able to balance out the changes and to renew the character without losing the iconic element. I found that people were totally happy about the redesign. And then we had several challenges because with the addition of Rayman in the DLC, we wanted to inject even more real time elements to the formula.

In Kingdom Battle, it was very – it was like renewing the tactical genre a bit by adding with the cursor the possibility to create new action if Beep-o was going underneath an enemy or a teammate, but with Sparks of Hope, we tried to destroy the boundaries between real time games and tactical games even more because you control the character in real time.

With Rayman we wanted to go a step further again, so even in exploration, we tried to translate the classical Rayman characteristics and powers into mechanics that the player could enjoy in exploration as well – and in combat. So it was quite the challenge to find the right balance between, okay, we are still a tactical game, but we want to inject even more real-time elements.

What made the team choose Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Mario to be the ones playable alongside Rayman for the DLC? Some fans were hoping that Mario and Rayman might interact at some point.

Basically, the trio was the perfect comical triforce, in our opinion, to get along with the Phantom. There’s a lot of bickering between the Rabbids and Rayman since the dawn of time and we wanted to stay true to this kind of approach where Rayman and the Rabbids initially aren’t really into each other, they are kind of suspecting each other and it is very cool because it’s giving us the possibility to create fireworks between them in terms of comical situations. But then of course, there is a narrative arc and we also loved the idea of them slowly becoming a real trio of heroes because of their synergy in combat, and at the end, really cooperating together against a common enemy.

To directly answer your question, I think that Mario and Rabbids are an IP that is created by those two iconic IPs – Rabbids and Mario characters, and Rayman was only a guest because otherwise it would have been like two IPs packed together, an existing one. So we treated it in the same way we did Donkey Kong. So, Donkey Kong was the lead character of a trio that was formed by Cranky and Rabbid Peach and with Rabbid Kong as an antagonist, at least initially. And then we did the same here, like working on the narrative feature of the bickering between Rayman and the Rabbids and having this trio of characters that could shine because of their synergy in combat.

Going back to the main game, Rabbid Rosalina was added as a brand new playable character this time around, but did the team consider making Rosalina herself playable at any point?

At some point we discussed having Rosalina as a main character, but if you know her, apart from games like Mario Kart for example, if you stay true to the Nintendo lore, in Mario Galaxy she’s super tall – she’s very tall – and that would have created the first problem with the cover system because it’s already very hard fit a character such as Bowser behind cover. It would have been even harder with Rosalina if we were staying true to the lore set by the Galaxy games. And the second problem is that she’s too powerful. So, we would have created a completely different story around Rosalina in order to do that. But in a way we did it, even if she was not playable.

You seem pretty passionate about Rayman – especially given that you first worked on the series for the Game Boy Color. Would you have any interest in working on a brand new Rayman game in the future?

If I had the opportunity, I would be crazy to not take that chance. To be honest, yes. I mean, Rayman is the type of game that has no realistic element. And because there is no realism, everything that you create in the game comes from your fantasy and the fantasy of the team. And so, [everything] from a chair to a table to an enemy to the environment is a form of art, is creating something from scratch. So to me as a developer, it’s the pinnacle of all the possibilities. You can go crazy and create your own stuff, as we did in Sparks of Hope. I think I would be crazy to not take that opportunity if given the chance.

You’ve been a part of two of these Mario + Rabbids games so far. Are you interested in continuing the series, perhaps on Switch’s successor?

I love Nintendo, I love my team, and I love what we did so if there would be a chance to continue somehow, someday, why not? But right now it’s too early to say anything because we just finished a four-year cycle of development with the with the main game and the DLC. And now it’s time to think about the future. But it’s too early to say something.

Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope is currently available on Switch.

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