Round Table: Mario's Past and Future

Can we foresee the plumber hanging up his overalls?

As we leave March 2010, it's with deep sadness we also have to kiss goodbye to MAR10 Month. We've had podcasts, reviews of classic outings, high scores and plenty of discussion over the plumber's titles. What is it about Mario that draws such passion from Nintendo fans? We sat down to chew the fat and ask – and hopefully answer – the burning Mario-related questions.

James Newton: Let's get right to the nub of the matter: do Mario games deserve all the praise heaped upon them as a series?

Trevor Chan: I think so, for sure. The Mario series has produced such a range of genres, most of which seem to be highly regarded. He's made a name in platform, racing, RPG, fighting, and party games on many generations of consoles/handhelds. Their approachable nature yet ability to offer long-term entertainment seems to be the backbone of their success.

Luke Westaway: Yeah definitely: from 2D to 3D, there's a consistency of quality that few franchises can match. The controls are always flawless...

James: Err, not always flawless – let's not forget the Super Mario 64 DS debacle!

Luke: As I was saying, the 2D games in particular were amazing pieces of innovative platforming, without any gimmicks. Moving to 3D, Mario 64 gave us one of the best control schemes ever, and playing the 3D Mario titles I'm still amazed at how simple it is to perform those crazy gymnastics. Mario games have always been perfectly pitched difficulty-wise, and more importantly: the music. Oh my God, the music!

Sean Aaron: For the most part Mario is wasted on me, but Nintendo clearly hit on a winning formula in the 80s and Super Mario Bros. defined the platforming genre. I can recall the fact that the NES port was arcade perfect; making it the system pack-in cart was a big selling point when it launched in the States.

In recent years Mario has been the place where Nintendo seems keen to show off their skills as game creators, introducing new technology and showcasing the capabilities of their current platforms. Whilst old-school fans may prefer the older NES and SNES Mario games, I like what they did when he moved to 3D. Giving Mario a voice in Mario 64 really helped make him fresh again: Charles Martinet does a great job of imbuing the character with the right level of enthusiasm, making Mario games today more fun than the older "jump of doom"-fests for people with low frustration points like me (though Mario 64 did that too). Super Mario Galaxy is still one of the best-looking games on the Wii and introduced a surprising story component which was nice to see develop as the game progressed.

Given the strong sales of games featuring the character on the current generation of Nintendo consoles, it's pretty clear that long-time fans of Nintendo consoles are also fans of Mario. Nintendo are wise to keep him going and giving him the attention he deserves.

Brad Long: As a series there's none been consistently as popular and mainstream as the Mario series. Not even Sonic the Hedgehog managed to produce the goods as much as Mario has.

James: Ooh, not sure I agree there Brad, but go on!

Brad: Nintendo has done a fantastic job of fleshing out completely new worlds in each game they bring out, giving us a constant breath of fresh air every time we delve into a new title. Out of all of the 2D platforms of the SNES/Genesis/TG-16 era, only the Mario series have really made the transition into the 3D generation. Many have tried to be innovative, but in the end most games can lend their roots to what's already been done in a Mario game.

Mario has also been a part of almost every genre imaginable (save for a RTS or FPS), and has never felt out of place no matter where he goes, though I think a Mario RTS involving sending hordes of Toads up against hordes of Goombas and Koopa Troopas would make a fantastic game in itself!

In essence, Mario IS the embodiment of gaming: anything with his name plastered on the front is a game worth playing.

James: Like you say Brad, Mario's done pretty much everything possible in gaming and, let's face it, he's knocking on a bit now. Can any of you see an end to Mario? When Nintendo might say, "that's enough"?

Sean: You may as well ask if we'll see an end to Nintendo! Clearly Nintendo treats Mario as one of the crown jewels. There have been duds in the past featuring the character (Mario is Missing, anyone?), but it's pretty clear this is the corporate mascot and therefore they're going to make sure he's treated well.

However nothing is forever and if there came a time when Mario was associated with a negative impression of the company, "uncool" or "dated" in some way, then I expect some kind of corporate rebranding exercise could take place. For now though Nintendo appears to have done an excellent job of doing a Mickey Mouse-style incremental character alteration that may well mean Mario is a timeless icon and we'll continue to see him in some form for as long as video games exist.

Brad: I can only ever see that the demise of Mario would mean something seriously went wrong with Nintendo and they went bankrupt. Of all the Nintendo franchises, when it comes to creating new games, Mario tends to get a the most attention. I believe Miyamoto has said on a number of occasions that he'll try most of his ideas in a Mario title, and anything that just doesn't work tends to get sent to the Zelda team to work with as the basis for that franchise.

Though I can't see Mario going anywhere anytime soon, like Sean said, nothing lasts forever! Though when Mario is constantly evolving the way he is, he's going to be very hard to kill! Even when Pokémon sells more games than Mario, Mario is still going to get the star treatment, and star treatment is what this plumber deserves! So to answer the question, I really can't see an end.

James: We're running out of space so gentlemen, closing thoughts on Mario please in no more than ten words. Go!

Sean: Mario is Nintendo, plain and simple. One wonders that they don't change the name of the company to Mintendo, just so the M on his hat will be the company initials! He's a colourful, heroic adventurer and, being a working class dude, a humble one at that. It's easy to see why Nintendo decided upon Mario to represent the company and I'm sure he'll continue to have noteworthy adventures for years to come!

Luke: He's not scared of dinosaurs, something we're all jealous of.

Brad: Mario is the God of gaming, and Sean can't count!

Sean: Oh yeah, I missed that didn't I? Um, Mario is really cool, he makes all the pretty girls drool?

James: I could be controversial and say something like "Mario isn't as good as Sonic and everyone knows it", but I'll go with "fat plumber plus loads of talented creators equals amazing productions."

Thanks as always to Nintendo Life staff for taking the time to have a good old chat, and of course hats off to Mario himself!

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