This year is a special year, and for Nintendo it is a jubilant year of celebration, 2015 marks 30 years of Mario. But it’s very recently become a rather sad year as Satoru Iwata passed away this week. I wrote the article below the weekend before his passing, and decided to release this history of Mario and gaming in his memory.
Here I will look back over the last 30 years of Mario and see how he has evolved, how gaming has evolved because of him, and how other mascots wish they had the pulling power of everyone’s favourite plumber.
Mario was created way back in 1985, when he came out there was no YouTube, no Internet, his sales and brand awareness depended on 2 things, 1 adverts on TV and in Magazines and 2, word of mouth, if your friends had it and loved it, you just might!
When Mario launched it was on the NES, an 8-Bit cartridge system, he was little more than a few pixels on a screen.
Mario’s story is a fairly simple one, monster saves love interest, Mario seeks monster, saves love interest, after saving Pauline (not the princess) in donkey kong (where he appears, but not as Mario) this formula was then adapter to the side scrolling platformer super Mario brothers, where Mario would rescue the princess from King Koopa, Bowser, that turtle dude, you know him right?
With a few notable exceptions (and countless genre spin-offs) Mario’s story has remained unchanged for three decades, what makes this story so easy to enjoy is that as children that sense of hero vs villain is more awe inspiring than at any other point.
In Japan, Super Mario Brothers 2 was released (and was later ported to US and EU consoles as Super Mario the Lost levels).
The fundamental thing that sets this game apart from its predecessor, the difficulty arc, SMB1 was a challenge, and SMB2 was something like the earliest instance of game developers trolling its players.
There, was however, a challenger for Mario’s throne, a gaming character designed to be an icon, built to last, a character who would, in theory, take the market by storm.
Yes you read that correctly, Sonic wasn’t the first rival of Mario (but we will get to him shortly) instead a plucky kid with a firey ring, and the ability to beat bosses with paper, scissors or rock, was the big answer on Sega’s Master system, what is interesting is what happened next.
The message was clear, the Mega Drive (Genesis, depending on where you live) did things that Nintendon’t (this was an actual advertising slogan used by sega, and you thought Xbox/Playstation were bad).
The reason I lead with this is simple, Sega wanted their console to be more ‘one-for-all’ where as Nintendo’s very strict guidelines lead to the omission of blood from Mortal Kombat, putting that aside however, Nintendo had Super Mario 2, then 3.
Sonic made his début and subsequently Alex Kidd was dropped, the new blue super hog was Sega’s pretender to the Mario throne, but with mega hits like Super Mario world, and the revolutionary port of Super Mario All-Stars, Mario had been asserted the crown prince of platforming.
In 1992 however, Nintendo released something that would revolutionise the way characters from games were utilised.
When Mario Kart arrived, it was a fun, easy to play, featured all the key Mario characters, great courses and was really a great family game.
Mario has appeared in puzzle games, RPG’s and even football (soccer) games, as his popularity grew the Sony age began to loom, and with the next gen of consoles, everything changed.
Mario moved to 3D, with the invention of the N64, while Sony and Sega had opted for CD’s, Nintendo stayed true to the tried and tested cartridge, well, the sales spoke for themselves, but enough about that.
Mario had continued to evolve, Mario kart made a return and a cross-nintendo brawler, Super Smash Bros debuted, Mario was pitted against some of the top Nintendo characters, he was starring in revered game after revered game.
However Mario had a new, and surprising rival – Crash Bandicoot had debuted on the PS1, along with Spyro the dragon, Croc (which was originally a Yoshi game) not to mention one offs like jersey devil.
When the dreamcast failed to turn ailing Sega’s hopes around many assumed it was the end for Sonic, however with the release of the gamecube something happened that no one predicted.
Sonic, on a Nintendo platform..
Mario’s outings on the Gamecube were sparse, Sunshine being the only true platformer that Mario appeared in on the ill fated machine, we did however get treated to Luigi’s fire solo outing in the form of Luigi’s Mansion.
However, Mario’s evolution was about to kick up a notch.
The Wii launched after disappointing sales for the gamecube and people expected it to pay second fiddle to the PS3/Xbox 360, however the pull of Mario hit a whole new generation, and the Wii had some real Mario classics.
New Super Mario Bros Wii, Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 as well as the re-port of super Mario All-stars and Mario was more super than ever, enjoying critical acclaim and new players aplenty, the journey of Mario kicked up a notch.
We also had Paper Mario and Mario kart (but to name a few) outings on the Wii, Nintendo could do no wrong, and look back, we also had Mario classics on the DS and great GBA and Gameboy outings that I have completely skipped over, can Mario do no wrong?
Well, actually, he can.
When the Wii U came out, Nintendo began to haemorrhage money, sales were poor, and even Super Mario 3D world couldn’t turn the company’s fortunes around, and with hindsight I think Nintendo realised that this game, was probably not Mario’s best outing.
To date less than a dozen games are out for the Wii U that feature Mario, of which only 2 are platformers where players play as Mario.
To say that part of this issue relates to the Wii U struggles with sales is moot, clearly the big N wanted players to migrate Wii games to the Wii U, which whilst a solid nod to fans, clearly hasn’t worked.
This year we see the most ambitious Mario platforming project to date.
To celebrate the 30 years of Mario – Nintendo are releasing Super Mario Maker, a game design game, using several core Mario art styles in a copy-paste tablet driven outing that will make it easy for gamers to design whatever they like Mario wise.
But beyond that what is the plan?
Earlier this year we learned of the NX, and we know, WE KNOW that Mario must absolutely feature in the launch, but what can we hope for truly.
First off, we know there will be some form of party game, Mario does those well, we will probably see a Mario platformer of some description, but whilst we know nothing of the functionality of the NX we can only assume it’ll exist.
What Nintendo MUST do is develop a marketing strategy that makes sense, back their own product, the fact is the Wii U had no first part content for ‘serious gamers’ that the launch titles seemed to court, this can yes be blamed on third parties, but Nintendo did a poor job of advertising.
It was the pull of the big Mario driven first party games that pulled Nintendo back, but now to build on that turn around Nintendo need to go big.
So, let’s have a platformer, Mario and Sonic together, that’d be amazing.
Talking of Sonic I touched briefly on the contenders to Mario’s throne, lets discuss a world where Mario could face any mascot, any platform character, or work with them.
Alex Kidd, how Mario and Alex haven’t been in a serious game yet I’ll never know.
The reason Sonic could compete with Mario was because he was so different, Alex Kidd was too similar to truly attract new players, such is why Alex was pushed aside. Lets have Alex s the villain in a Mario Game.
Bubsy the bobcat – another long since forgotten Mario contender, had a stand out mega drive game, then if memory serves he made a 3D appearance, and has since faded into obscurity, would be cool to see Bubsy make a return alongside Mario, or against Mario if you’d prefer.
Earthworm Jim – easily a contender to have “best megadrive game” the space suit adorned worm has been both odd and genius, imagine if Jim had a big revamp, in the style of our next pretender.
Rayman – the Lums come thick and fast, Rayman has maintained success few can boast, and even turned around a slump, he like Mario has had spin offs in the form of the rabbids games, so he has pulling power, Mario vs Rayman anyone?
I could go on and on, so many great platform titles, but the last I mention is the most recent to stumble, I speak of course of Sackboy.
Sackboy’s outing in Little big planet 3 received mixed reviews, and with Super Mario Maker right around the corner, could we see a revolution in DIY gaming? I mean Project Spark is so good, but the free to play formula sometimes stifles it, Little Big Planet 3 was a mixed bag (based on conversations I’ve had) now Mario is being turned over to the fans.
But if Sony were to allow sackboy to visit Mario, how cool would that be?
Whatever the future Holds, happy anniversary Mario, here’s to 30 more years, hundreds more stars, thousands more mushrooms, millions of coins, and maybe, just maybe the Princess is in the next castle.
Since initially writing this, Satoru Iwata has sadly passed away, Myself and all my fellow My Games Lounge writers, the editors and members all extend our deepest heartfelt sympathies to Iwata’s family, friends and colleagues, it is truly sad that he is gone, and at an age where so much of life still lays before you.
I for one hope this sad news doesn’t negatively affect either Nintendo or its development teams in terms of overall brand vision.
Rest in peace.