Thoughts on Mario


You know him.  Everyone knows him, no matter how many of his games they’ve played.  Even if someone is only tangentially aware of gaming, or only really has any knowledge on video games based on knowing a gamer—they know him.  The Italian plumber plumber has seen his games be consistently received well–but what about the view from someone who didn’t grow up a die-hard fan?

I played Super Mario Bros. like nearly everyone else did, I still think Super Mario Bros. 3 was a darn fine game that can be enjoyed today quite easily, and I even think the N.E.S. version of Mario is Missing! wasn’t too bad of a game, all things considered—but I was never really a true Mario fan.

When Sonic came around in the very early ‘Nineties, that’s where my allegiances lied.  Once I saw what was available for the Genesis, I basically jumped off the Nintendo ship, and put my lot in with the blue speedster ever since.  That’s not to say I disliked Mario or that I never played a Mario-related game ever again, but I wasn’t a true, die-hard fan of the plumber, like many, then and now.

That actually leads to an interesting perspective on the character, I think.  Part of that perspective is, admittedly, watching the inevitable hype over Mario’s latest outing with a bit of skepticism.  Sometimes it seems Mario’s games are popular solely because they feature the plumber, without being based on whether the game itself is actually good or not.  To be fair, though, in the height of Sonic’s popularity in the ‘Nineties, something similar could be said, so it’s not like there’s really any superiority to be had.

If anything, at most there’s something of a cautiousness when those who were die-hard fans of Sonic turn to Mario’s games.  Sonic fans remember the hype, and remember when it was well-deserved—but they also remember when the games slowly stopped deserving that hype.  It’s not a truth learned anything but bitterly, but it’s a truth nonetheless—just because a well-beloved character is in the game, that doesn’t mean the game will be good.

Sometimes this leads to—dissent—with hard-core Mario fans.  Though few, they can make the others look bad by declaring a game to be good solely because their favorite character is in it, even if the game itself isn’t really enjoyable.  Sonic fans can remember when they did the same.

Ultimately, one imagines that’s one of the main differences—for better or for worse, titles featuring Mario continue to be put out, while Sonic’s slowed to a trickle, each varying in how bad they were—though the recent gem Sonic the Hedgehog 4 might be a sign of better things to come.  That’s a truly rare thing, though—while some of Mario’s titles have been better than others, they’ve never really stopped coming, either.

It might be fair, then, to say that amongst Sonic fans there’s a little bit of jealously.  After all, again, there have been fewer truly new games featuring him than there have been featuring Mario.  Some may think that Mario is a fine character, sure, and even if he deserved his status as One Mascot to Rule Them All, Sonic isn’t a slouch, either.

Ultimately, the “Sonic versus Mario” debate can still be felt today, if in a somewhat watered-down form.  It’s cooled some from the heated debate about which mascot is “better”, and perhaps even matured a little.  At least amongst gamers who remember the days when Mario and Sonic stood side-by-side, if not as equals than at least as equal and respectable opponents in the days when the “console wars” were at their height.

These days, the debate is, again, cooled considerably.  These days, even those who aren’t true fans of one or the other can enjoy those games.  It’s actually an interesting thing, really, coming to Mario’s games without being a long-time fan of the character.  It gives his games a “fresher” feel, sometimes, letting us see some of their faults a bit more clearly, perhaps—but ultimately letting us enjoy them a bit differently, too.  When the frame of reference is somewhat smaller, it can make a game all the more enjoyable, and ultimately games are about fun.

Hopefully we can remember that, and continue to simply enjoy even those games featuring characters we might not be as fond of as others.

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