Classics Corner: The Super Mario Brothers

Everyone knows about the Mario Brothers, and there’s not a lot to be said about them that hasn’t shown up in a dozen other “did you know” videos and listed articles already.  Because of that, I’m not here to talk about Mario trivia or give you a history lesson (there’s plenty of that out there already).  Still, because it only seems right that my first “Classics Corner” segment talk about the most classic of game franchises, I want to look at the Mario games are so great, and why Mario has thrived when other mascot characters have fallen by the wayside.

Let’s start with the most important observation: Mario isn’t just the hero of a video game, or of a video game series, he’s the hero for video gaming as a hobby and an industry.  After the video game crash of ’83, Nintendo brought the industry back from the brink of death and Mario was their champion.  The Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt pack-in was a lot of children’s first experience with a video game and it  was not only streets ahead of anything that had come before it in terms of technical quality but it was also a game that was all about being fun.  For new gamers, Super Mario Bros. set the standard for what a game should be and for older ones (those who had lived through the crash) it was everything games should have been.

Title Screen

The beginning of video games as we know them.

This became the crux of Mario’s success and the success of Nintendo as a whole.  If a game had Mario on the cover you knew it was going to provide you with hours of fun, whether he was adventuring, racing, or practicing medicine.    This gave Mario a tremendous amount of brand power, and Nintendo choosing to remain consistent in that vision for the franchise has caused the plumber’s power to grow consistently from his inception to the present day.  It’s also the reason that Nintendo beat out SEGA, has held a position of power in the game industry longer than any other company and is the only console developer with a recognizable mascot today.  But what about other video game mascots of the time?  Why did so many of them fail when Mario succeeded?  Well, let’s examine that by first looking at Mario’s biggest competitor: Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sonic

I can still hear the theme song whenever I look at this screen.

Now, let me preface this by making one thing abundantly clear: I was a SEGA kid growing up.  I was an avid soldier for the Genesis in the console wars and made sure everyone knew about the value of “blast processing.”  What it’s not bias or fanboyism that leads me to tell you that SEGA lost out because its marketing strategy didn’t have staying power and neither did its mascot.  Where Mario was all about having fun, Sonic was all about being cool, and that worked for exactly as long as the definition of “cool” stayed right where it was.  The moment it changed, however, Sonic would have to try and change with it, which me not only trying to predict what “being cool” would mean by the time a game went from development to release, but also constantly changing the character.  This is why commercials for Sonic the Hedgehog look so much more like relics of the nineties than those for Super Mario World.

This marketing snafu impacted game design, too.  Every time a Sonic game is released you can see that there’s a clear line of thought about “what do kids’ thing is cool these days?  Is it werewolves?  I think it’s werewolves, or vampires, but Sonic the Vampire would be weirder so… werewolves, right?”  Mario doesn’t have to do this, because his identity has nothing to do with being cool and edgy.  Whenever there’s a new Mario game out, the creators just have to take a working blueprint and figure out how to make it more fun or add a new experience.  This timeless and consistent commitment to fun is why Mario has been around for so long, and why he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Hey, if you liked this article then check out the other articles in my archive.

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