It’s-A-Him: Mario and His Grand Impact on Gaming.
Since 1985, one name has stood high in video games, and endured longer than any of them: Mario. The plumber is so well known that even people who don’t know about video games know who he is – I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been asked if I’m “playing Mario” by friends or relatives when I’m playing a video game. But, while inaccurate, it’s no exaggeration to say that Mario has had a substantial hand in shaping video games throughout the years, from the ‘80s to the present day.
Early on, Mario established himself as Nintendo’s poster boy. If you wanted to play a Mario game, you needed a Nintendo console. Super Mario Bros. and its subsequent sequels were so engaging that other companies had to desperately fight to retain audience’s attention, and so in the 80’s and 90’s, a new kind of arms race started – the race to beat, or at least match Mario. The number of “mascot games” created in this time are too many to count, an immense amount of developers creating side-scrolling games with some character designed to pull people in, from the infamous Bubsy the Bobcat to the ridiculous 7-Up’s Cool Spot, everyone wanted to crack the code that got everyone hooked on Mario. Yet, for all their efforts, only one was able to stand alongside Mario – SEGA’s Sonic The Hedgehog. And why? Well, it’s simple: innovation. Countless other companies had tried to match Mario by just creating the same sort of game but with a different coat of paint to create a different character. SEGA saw that none of these attempts worked, and so were forced to innovate, creating their own momentum based gameplay that actually pulled people in and gave Nintendo real competition. At least, until gaming reached the next dimension.
By the 1990s, Nintendo, Sega and Sony were in a race to see who could innovate the fastest, and in particular, to see who could create the first fully 3D game. Nintendo had had early attempts and successes with Star Fox for the Super Nintendo, but had yet to do any proper work in the medium until their newest console, the Nintendo 64. Sony made a name for itself early on in the 3D space in 1996 with Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot, a brand new entirely 3D mascot platformer that brought the original Playstation tremendous success. Yet, for all of Naughty Dog’s efforts, they would be eclipsed later that month, with a game that had released 3 months prior in Japan: Super Mario 64. This game absolutely revolutionized gaming as we know it, being the first fully realized 3D platformer. While Crash Bandicoot was released here first in America, it was not without its own pitfalls. Quite literally in fact, as a key part of Crash involved precise platforming over pits and objects that would kill your character instantly if you fell into or next to them. Nintendo knew that 3D gaming was still in its infancy, and as such structured Super Mario 64 around Mario’s movement, making the jumps and gameplay overall far more forgiving than something like Bandicoot. Super Mario 64 was a landmark achievement, not just for Nintendo, but for all of gaming.
After 64’s monumental success, another race began to create the next great 3D game, but by then it was too late. Sonic The Hedgehog failed to make a proper transition to 3D until 1999’s Sonic Adventure, a game fraught with gameplay problems that honestly has aged terribly. By the turn of the millennium, game companies had learned one way or another that it’s truly impossible to compete with Mario, and the only way to truly stand out is to do what SEGA did back in the ‘90’s and just try to stand on their own merit and original ideas. Mario’s massive success has pushed game developers to innovate, and shaped the landscape of gaming as we now know it. He truly is number one. Happy Mario Day, everyone!