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Will The Real Mario Please Stand Up?
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a character busier than Mario. For over three decades, the chubby plumber’s career has been a virtual whirlwind of success since his eight-bit days of whimsy. Racer, golfer, partier, doctor, Mario has long proven himself a man of many talents more than worthy of the age-old “Super” prefix of his many series. Such diversity begs to ask the most tempting question of what he truly does best.
It would be rather easy to say that Mario’s greatest strengths have and always will lie with his roots. The nostalgic allure of the titles that launched his legend is inescapable and the names of such games like Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World continue to endure the passage of time. Though simplistic by modern standards, they maintain an integral quality in their gameplay unparalleled among even today’s platformers and their effect on game design going forward has been undeniable. Such levels as SMB 3’s World 8-3 and SMW’s “Donut Plains” still retain a precision that holds up across any era and instill a timelessness that stacks up even to today’s players. From the originals to the New Super Mario Bros. series, these 2D platformers possessed simple mechanics that invited challenge without unfairness. Players could have the freedom to discover at their own pace for every hidden Star Coin along the way.
Far be it for our plumber lad to limit himself to just two dimensions. Mario’s 3D platforming may have innovated his series just as much if not just by different means. They may not speak across as many generations as their more retro NES and SNES predecessors, yet they’ve heralded a wealth of features like the hubs of Super Mario 64‘s Castle and Super Mario Sunshine’s Delfino Plaza, opening up Mario’s worlds like never before. It was all for the better that Mario’s gameplay evolved with his surroundings, giving us the delights of FLUDD and Super Mario Galaxy’s mind-bending gravity puzzles. Such strengths proved that the company could be at its best even when times were hardest for such consoles as the N64 and Gamecube.
Maybe it was the whiff of changing times ahead that Mario endeavored to stray from his platforming comfort zone and into the vision of story-driven games thanks to Squaresoft’s RPG talents of the nineties. Super Mario RPG may still stand as the SNES’s contribution to one of Mario’s oddest and most inventive titles, coupling A-grade gameplay with brilliant storytelling, along with beloved yet forgotten characters like Geno. Alas, the red-tape of Squaresoft’s merger kept a sequel far from fans’ grasp ever since and Super Mario RPG found a worthy spiritual successor in 2000’s Paper Mario.
Always with an indelible charm, the Paper Mario series forged its own audience and its four entries remain some of Nintendo’s most preciously silly and captivating examples in storytelling. Balancing their trademark sense of humor with superb gameplay, particular games like The Thousand Year Door and Super Paper Mario offered a wide selection of side-quests, lovable characters, their plots turned the Mario formula on its head, going beyond such cliches as “saving the Princess” and jumping on Bowser’s head. Games like them showed that RPGs didn’t have to be confined to melodrama and afford to poke fun at the genre, introducing a complexity to their universes both moving and hilarious. In these ways, Paper Marios established a kind of heart to Mario’s own brand name without being a commercial juggernaut.
Mario’s RPG success shouldn’t go without mentioning the much underrated Mario & Luigi games. Keeping all the irreverent humor of Paper Mario, these RPGs carried a decidedly more puzzle oriented elements. In addition, they gave us some worthwhile fiction in the Mario universe in the neighboring nation of the Beanbean Kingdom, a place ruled by strange green people with their own wacky sense of aristocracy. The series unfortunately remains obscure to all but the most dedicated Nintendo fans, but its unforgettable development for such overlooked characters as Bowser, Luigi, and Professor Egad can’t be disregarded. Few players would ever dispel the belly laughs that Fawful’s “mustard of doom” speech provided or the hysterical sight of the Koopa King trying to lose weight on a treadmill.
One can’t deny Mario’s long-held need for speed either. Mario Kart games have gone strong since its debut, selling and entertaining for over two decades. Its amusing combination of characters and balanced difficulty have granted it the greatest sense of accessibility from casual to diehard fans. Their high quality multiplayer has only added to their success, whether on the couch or in its more recent online ventures. While the horrid sounds of blue-shells and banana peels may force a cringe out of any veteran racer, items like them have only ensured the game’s appreciated sense of an equal playing field and maintaing its wide audience. Mario Karts are simple fun and it’s doubtful anyone would want to change that party.
Furthermore, Mario’s never been a stranger to the party scene. While the Mario Party series may never be spoken of with the same respect as his other series, their subtle appeal can’t be outright denied. In the same style as the game boards each game harkens back to, slow dice-rolling mechanics, repetitive mini-games, and its often critiqued element of chance has long factored into its sense of infamy among critics. It can be said it’s who the series is played with that fosters its real fun. Alone, Mario Parties are simply going to be subject to their formulaic process, but in a group, what content it boasts takes on a new meaning among your joshing friends. So it is with Mario’s sports games. Far fewer would be compelled to throw impossible pitches with a Goomba or score a goal if it wasn’t for the presence of your competitive others.
If anything, a history as long as prestigious as Mario’s demonstrates just how strong and enduring an icon the plumber has become, achieving nearly all things to all players. It can be easily said that platforming may always offer the greatest core gameplay one can demand of Mario’s 2D or 3D adventures. It would be, however, difficult not to admit that Mario’s RPGs bring with them something more special. The depth and indelible charm of their stories and characters make Mario into a stronger personality than any of his sub-series can attest to. In some ways, they’re a rebellion against the grain of both their genre and the franchise they owe themselves to. That’s undoubtedly what I applaud the most at the end of the day.
Hey you! Yes, you, over here reading this piece right now. We here at the Nintendo section are holding a contest and you’re invited! We’ll be telling you our favorite game stories in just mere days come the end of March and tell us yours in the comments section of those articles to win a free game code for DoubleFine’s The Cave on PS3! Check that out and more at Leviathyn!