I get a lot of stick in my day-to-day life as a gamer, simply because (and I do not doubt that often this is a very founded assertion) I am primarily a Nintendo gamer. The fact that I support a company like Nintendo to a far greater degree than I do Microsoft or Sony confuses people. But, I am just as confused of the opposite, why wouldn’t people support such a company? More specifically, someone asked me today why I am not bored of Mario yet, and my answer was ‘Why would I be?’
I would go as far as to argue that Mario is probably one of the most necessary gaming characters in the industry today. Is he the most popular? Maybe not, but this doesn’t diminish his necessity. Think back, if you are old enough, to 1984. The gaming industry has collapsed (or at least begun to) under it’s own over-saturation, and then a remarkable Japanese fellow called Shigeru Miyamoto appears with an arcade game called ‘Donkey Kong’ with it’s charismatic protagonist ‘Jumpman’ (who would later become Mario). The gaming world changed almost overnight, and the era of modern gaming began.
Do I believe that just because Mario was there at the beginning, that he is necessary just based on that? No, but what I do believe is that a game character who has been around for twenty-six years and is still here, deserves a little more respect than he actually garners.
Okay so bring yourself forward around about ten years, and Mario is still going incredibly strong. He has a new rival in Sonic the Hedgehog, with both rivals individual franchises remaining consistently good, title after title. In the late 90’s, both of them made the jump into 3D and only one completely survived that fall, Mario himself with the incredible N64 title Super Mario 64. Sonic suffered what only can be described as a fall from grace, one that SEGA have struggled to erase however, Mario still endured, with every title described as a masterpiece.
Fast forward to present day and Mario is still here. He is still an ever-present entity in the gaming world and why is that? I have said it earlier – consistency. Each Mario title, although exploring new ideas whether it be in level design, power-ups, or new game-play ideas, will always have the same level of polish and subtle genius that we have come to expect. Super Mario Galaxy is a perfect example, for instance, on how Nintendo have taken the basic core and charm of a Mario title and explored how to do it differently, but still with the overall feel of a classic Mario title.
Some would argue that, especially when it comes to the New Super Mario Bros franchise, that the originality is gone from Mario games. Although that does seem to be the case from the outside, what they don’t seem to be acknowledging is that the NSMB franchise has become it’s own series now. It has seemingly entirely separated itself from the other series (the one which has Sunshine and Galaxy in it). With this separation, apart from a few updates with new themes, the NSMB titles are all similar to one another and this I would freely admit to. This being said; I think most people would struggle to find a platform series that, despite not changing very much between instalments, remains as popular as the NSMB franchise is.
That’s just it, Mario is popular. His games always sell in the millions and, for the most part, are always creative. There are plenty of gaming franchises out there which don’t evolve, and wouldn’t know creativity if it hit them in the face, yet sell millions too. However, does this make them better? I could wax lyrical for hours about the downfall of modern gaming being brought on by these ‘yearly instalment with minimal creativity’ games, but I do not need to do so with Mario remaining here. Nintendo have made him so that he is the antithesis to all of this.
That does leave the question of why I believe Mario is so necessary. If all game series had the creativity but also the consistent strength and polish of Mario games, the gaming industry would be incredible, but it doesn’t. Mario represents what gaming should be; fun, accessible, and ultimately, enjoyable. People may get a kick out of shooting people in a post-apocalyptic war zone (or whatever those types of games are doing now), but I would choose to take a stroll through the Mushroom Kingdom instead any day.