Now at a brand new time!
So a new Sonic game is buzzing around, and it got me to thinking, outside of the old playground disputes of Mario vs Sonic, what do they look like from a design standpoint? Who then will reign supreme? Answers? I doubt I’ll have anything new, but let’s find out.
Mario’s origin was one of necessity. Originally coined as Jumpman, he was the star of Donkey Kong for a simple premise. Miyamoto needed a hero and was going for something along the lines of Popeye, Nintendo of America’s landlord at the time was named Mario, give him a flashy (back then) red-blue outfit, and there you have it. When not saving Pauline from the clutches of DK, Mario was an everyman who worked as a carpenter, plumber, and construction worker in Wrecking Crew and Mario Bros. It wasn’t until Super Mario Bros that the Mario we know today came into inception. A bit of old nostalgia for classic everyday heroes was Mario’s inception. Work hard at your day job, fight for what’s right, clobber the bad guys, save your love, and save the day.
Sonic on the other hand was designed to be the competition in every sense. Firstly, Sega’s Mega Drive was consistently marketed as “cooler than Nintendo” as seen from all the old marketing. Even Sonic’s eventual game was packed with more attitude when you compare Mario’s save the princess adventure to high-speed action busting robots to save all of nature. The desire to be cooler is even more apparent when you realize that Dr. Eggman was originally going to be Sega’s poster child, but having an Italian plumber face-off with Theodore Roosevelt in pajamas didn’t push any boundaries.
Other contenders included a dog, a rabbit, and Mighty the Armadillo, but cue the entry of “Mr. Needlemouse” for getting first place. Taking cues from classic antropomorphic cartoon characters, Sonic was Sega’s “way past cool” answer to Mario. His games were faster, his music was rockin’, and later with the introduction of Amy Rose, there’s no way he’d be tied down by a girlfriend like Mario is with Peach. With the dawn of Sonic the Hedgehog, the die had been cast in a then world of console exclusives, and families practically owning only one console, choose your team: Nintendo or Sega.
Games – Sonic
Now I may be biased as someone who grew up with Sonic, but Sonic definitely had more appeal to me than Mario. The sense of speed and danger around every corner captivated my little brother and me. The first three Sonic games had us hooked with Sonic CD on the failed Sega CD not falling into our hands. The formula was very tight and worked well, but it was odd seeing no sign of Sonic during the later Genesis years and Sega Saturn years, it was enough for us two to change teams to Nintendo with their shiny N64.
When Sonic did return, he had a brand new attitude with Sonic Adventure. While Mario still stayed the same happy go lucky hero, Sonic stepped it up with even faster action on the then innovative Dreamcast, which would soon burn out before many got the chance for Sonic Adventure 1 or 2. So you couldn’t imagine people’s surprise when Sonic Adventure 2 Battle came to the Gamecube, Sonic was back and still had enough to take it to Mario in a much darker fare. If you were twelve years old at the time, you were sold on it.
However, as Sonic added more and more friends and gimmicks, things cheapened. Sonic Heroes was nice, but the cue of Shadow the Hedgehog was the dawn of the downward spiral until Sonic 2006. Essentially, Sonic was having an identity crisis where high-speed action wasn’t good enough; you needed princesses, guns, countless side-games, and a “deep plot” to get things done. It wasn’t until Sonic Unleashed that the blue blur was back into going fast and lighthearted tales of cartoony adventure, and he’s better off for it now. Though unlike Mario, Sonic does still have many uh… Issues with his fanbase that I feel would be family-unfriendly to address.
Mario’s games have been largely the same on the mainline series throughout the years. Get to the goal and save Peach. As the years flew by Mario did consistently well. Super Mario Bros. 2 was Doki Doki Panic so it didn’t really count, but Super Mario Bros. 3 was very much a pinnacle NES game. Then cue up the Super Nintendo where now Super really was added to every title and heralding it was Super Mario World, stepping up the grandiose world of Mario.
Whereas Sonic had many instances to go faster, Mario benefited from secrets and adventures. Who knows what that key does? Do you know how to get to the Warp Zones? If Nintendo cannot respond with more graphical prowess or audio prowess, then do what Sonic can’t: stop and smell the roses. Sonic’s form of exploration has always been alternate routes to the end of the stage, but Mario’s form of exploration has been secret zones or locations of extra power ups, and that has always been the case well into the 3D era.
Mario took on 3D with flying colors. To respond to the advent of 3D in Super Mario 64, Mario’s arsenal of just jumping had been revamped to include many more acrobatic moves. Both heroes couldn’t live with painstakingly timing your jumps in a 3D plane, so where Sonic developed the homing attack, Mario was given all kinds of jumps and the ground pound to compensate. With the success of Super Mario 64, Mario sped past Sonic and continued to do well, even in his spin-offs. From party games, to karts, to sports Mario has always been a consistent performer in areas Sonic struggled, much to the point where side characters like Luigi and Wario get their own chance to “be number 1”.
The only real weak spot Mario has that Sonic doesn’t have is that consistency. Unless it’s something to the effect of Super Mario Galaxy, Mario games are a sort of vanilla; you can’t go wrong and you can definitely make it even tastier but you’re not going to break new ground anytime soon. Mario is nowhere near as much a risk-taker as Sonic, and that is a double-edged sword. And as a side note, rage is a common asset of Mario games if you consider all the times that blue shell smacked you out of first place or a Boo was sicced on your stars.
Both characters were just what their companies needed at the time, a face. Nintendo wasn’t going to get anywhere until Donkey Kong came out and people got their first taste of Mario, but even then the hero didn’t establish his current identity until Super Mario Bros. because adding Super to a title increases the hype. Sonic was the much needed face for Sega and was the push beyond what was then considered cool. Both heroes have a very Western cartoon appeal, which makes sense due to a resonant quality.
What are gamers going to better identify with? A spaceship busting asteroids and a ping-pong paddle or a hero that saves the day? By building an image that is resonant with your audience, it’s easy to make a name for your company. Non-gamers, kids, and adults all pay attention when a new Mario Kart is released and you would be hard pressed to find an owner of a Nintendo console that doesn’t have it. Even when your mascot is the laughingstock of gaming for a time like Sonic was, at least the bells sounded and the edict was given when Sonic came back. These characters speak to an older style of name-brand recognition and other companies followed suit with their own jolly heroes and antropomorphic animals.
Since Sega is out of the console race, and since so many games are multi-platform, it’s hard to have that old rivalry along the lines of Mario and Sonic (and I don’t mean mediocre minigame collections). If anything, this is a relic of gaming history that probably won’t be around for sometime, especially since the Wii U is very adamant about playing games ported from the 360 and PS3. If anything, it’s that uniqueness and core tradition why Mario is not likely going to have a gritty HD adventure on the PS3/PS4 or why Sonic, moving about the consoles, isn’t going to have any romantic escapades again (at least I hope he isn’t!) Yeah, we’re due for another Olympic games thing, but I’m more excited for the next Smash Bros or Sonic: Lost Worlds that will exclusively use the Wii U. Maybe by Sega working together with Nintendo here, I might be motivated to consider a Wii U, just maybe. Join me next time when I teach art school.
Latest posts by Inverseman (see all)
- Review: Final Fantasy XV Kingsglaive - August 30, 2016
- Hands-on with Pokémon GO - July 12, 2016
- First Impressions on “Mighty No. 9” and a Cautionary Tale - June 22, 2016
- Almost! Appealing to the “Anime Demographic” (Now with K-pop!) - June 7, 2016
- RPGs, Nintendo, and Censorship – A Complicated Relationship - May 24, 2016