When it comes to the glory days of the 16-bit console mascots, it's easy to rattle off a list of characters that are not Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog. Invariably I always want to list Rayman in the company of Bubsy and Plok, but then I remember that Rayman never appeared on the Super NES or Sega Genesis. Instead he was born on the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and Atari Jaguar. He just feels like he should have come from the 16-bit era though, and it's probably a lingering half-memory of early Rayman magazine coverage that's responsible for this instinct. Now thanks to a recently released prototype, we can see Rayman's original Super NES incarnation in action. I knew I wasn't crazy! Ethan Gach at Kotaku explains Rayman's unfinished origins:
Information about a long, lost SNES Rayman game first re-surfaced last fall when designer Michel Ancel, the series creator, shared pictures of a ROM for an old prototype build of the game that had been re-discovered by a friend. The first Rayman game ended up metamorphosing and coming to the Atari Jaguar, Sega Saturn, and PS1 instead, with the original SNES vision lost to time. But After 24 years the ROM still worked, and now, thanks to Cornut, what exists of it is even playable.
It’s extremely limited in its scope, including a small environment, the ability to jump, and a few other character animations. “That prototype it is a very early build,” said Cornut. “So the stuff like two-player mode that have been shown in screenshots are not really in this build. Perhaps the ROM contains secrets in which case homebrew hackers will hopefully unearth them soon. “
Seeing Rayman move around in this prototype reminds me of the forgotten SNES/Genesis action platformer B.O.B. in which a space robot traverses dark, tech-inspired levels. Rayman's design is essentially intact here compared to his final form, although he's not as detailed as he would appear on 32-bit consoles. Looking at this now, I think of how larger than life arcade characters from games like Street Fighter II were scaled down to fit on lesser hardware such as the Game Boy. Sure, this is Rayman, but he's smaller and less alive than we're used to seeing him. From a historical perspective I'm glad that we can experience this prototype, but I think the character benefited more from his actual debut on stronger hardware.