Something old, new, recycled and blue

I’ve decided to condense two potential blog posts into one topic, as they are both somewhat similar in nature. I should do this more often, as it seems to force me to take my almost article length ramblings and cut them down into something readable. A win for all.

Some time ago Jay wrote a discussion on Mario and how he is anything but a throwaway character. Interesting then that a “games editor” at Softpedia (a site which I have only known before as a place where I failed to get working drivers) has claimed that mascots like Mario and Sonic should be locked up in a museum and never put into another game, starting right this minute. His reasoning is that they are old and stale, and offer nothing new to the gaming table, hurting the industry more than helping. His reasoning, as well as the chorus of commentators in agreement are completely off base. While Sonic has been troublesome in regards to quality in the last ten years, Jay has already pointed out that Mario is practically a symbol of quality, and that it is hard to find any game he is in that is not worth someone’s time.

Furthermore, replacing Mario and co. with another group of characters wouldn’t necessarily make the game better or worse, but without a doubt we would end up complaining about how the new crew looks too generic or or wacky or whatever was going through the artist’s mind. The Mario Sports games on the GBA added random new characters, and they were boring as cardboard. Mario is the perfect everyman for whatever situation Nintendo needs.

The article also demonstrates the desperate and increasingly generic call for new concepts and innovation, words that get tossed around without any sort of explanation on what developers should be doing. I admit I can be often too critical of games, but I do realize that making ideas of Mario 64-level innovation is not something that is done easily or quickly. As far as I can tell, all of the calls for something new are popping up along other cries – “online multiplayer and co-op”, two concepts which are being shoved into games that have no reason to feature them. If we are going to be so loud, we might want to have some genuine and sensible suggestions.

Of course there is also the fact that people like this author and his supporters are likely the same people that respond to the conversion of games like Bioshock into a sequel/prequel crunching franchise with thunderous applause. If these people always want new, then why do they also applaud the constant forward progress of machines like God (and Gears) of War? Will they call for Master Chief’s resignation in ten years?

I also take issue with one digg comment’s reasoning that “Sony and Microsoft introduced new ideas and IP when Sega and Nintendo could not, so that is why I went to them”. Some of Sony’s early “mature” games were also available on the Saturn, and some of Microsoft’s biggest launch games have been IP’s from other companies, while their own attempts at mascots have failed miserably. Not to mention the fact that Crash Bandicoot was not a good game because of the titular character. Essentially he is no different than Mario (aside from the fact that Mario has had genuine staying power).

In conclusion, this week’s biggest release is Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2. The idea of putting a Rainbow game entirely in Las Vegas was a quirky spin, but to make a sequel in the exact same location is one of the most blatant examples of the phoned in, generic design that plagues many games from Ubisoft, EA and others. If this is an example of fresh gaming, I’ll stick with Mario thank you very much.

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16 years ago

I wouldn’t call Mario a throwaway character, or argue for his retirement, but where is the line between “Franchise Anchor” and “Franchise Recycling Job”? In most creative fields these days (movies, television, music, gaming), it’s better to go with the safe than the risky, because risky can get you fired. Most big creative shops don’t reward innovation, so you see “Rainbow Six Vegas 2,” which is an exercise in vanilla if I’ve ever heard one– even if the game itself is fun.

So why is Mario different? We’re talking two decades where Mario does such a bizarre series of activities–and in many cases, does them over and over again– Mario Party? What are we on, Mario Party LXIX now? Yet for some reason the majority hasn’t turned on him and we don’t bash Nintendo for being uncreative.

Is it because of the quality and general creativity Nintendo is known for? Combined with the fact, as Jay mentions, most Mario games are consistently quality? It’s hard to rag on a franchise that comes up with a game like Mario Sunshine for not being creative, or a developer like the Nintendo that comes up with the Wii as not being innovative.

But it still is shocking to me that in this day and age of recycling, Mario gets a relative free pass. Why don’t we make fun of Nintendo saying “holy crap, Bowser steals the goddamn princess again, but while he’s at it, all of the color in the world? What is this shit?” Or “Why would all of the various creatures of Mario world decide to start racing? Shouldn’t Bowser be kidnapping the princess or something?”

16 years ago

Because Mario games are usually not plot based. Characters matter when games tell stories, when they don’t then the character is a shell for game mechanics. We turned on Sonic because his games suck now. When and if Mario games suck, we will turn on him as well.

As for Mario Party specifically, a lot of gamers do think they are uncreative and obvious cash ins. Nintendo is a greedy behemoth but they get more free passes than say EA because their “main line” games are almost all fantastic, if not monumental, possibly genre defining, events in gaming (Super Mario World, Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Mario 64, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Mario Galaxy).