Mario is one of the most recognized and beloved gaming icons in existence today. He is the face of an entire company and has sold approximately 507 million games (as of the writing of this piece) from his various adventures and sub-genres. Mario is a colossus of the video game industry that few franchises have come remotely close to. With so many millions of games sold, the Mario franchise should have some of the best games imaginable, right? Well... no actually. Despite the fame and profitability, the Mario franchise is full of quite frankly sub-par games. I'm not talking outliers here as every franchise has a few stinkers lying about... I'm talking the majority of them are simply not that great outside of a few pockets of series under the Mario sphere of influence.
I realize that this is highly a matter of opinion and that many would say, based on the franchise's sale records, that my opinion is the minority or even completely wrong. However, I'm going to spend this post defending my statement and providing and over-arching theory as to why the Mario games are less than appealing. I do this with the hope that maybe one day these "problems" will be corrected. I would love for the Mario series to actually earn its "best selling franchise" title. Mario has the potential to be worthy of the praise and sales but constantly falls short of the mark. Why is that? Well it's my theory that the creative minds behind the series are getting far too stuck on nostalgia rather than moving forward with their ideas. In other words, Mario needs to let go of the past.
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Before I explain this theory I feel it is prudent to first share my thoughts on several of the main Mario titles available just so you know where I stand. If this doesn't interest you then feel free to skip this section as it is quite lengthy. *Note - I will not be mentioning every single Mario game here. I will simply be aiming at the most recognizable ones with Mario as the main lead. If you are curious, however, I find the Luigi's Mansions games and Captain Toad quite enjoyable whereas I tend to lump the Yoshi and Wario games together in a "not quite crap" category*
Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, and Super Mario World
Super Mario Bros 2 and Super Mario RPG
Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine
Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2
Paper Mario Series and Mario & Luigi Series
Mario Kart Series
Mario Party Series and Mario Sports Series
New Super Mario Bros Series, Super Mario 3D World, and Super Mario Maker
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Now that you understand my viewpoint on the Mario series as a whole till now (or now that you've skipped that nonsense) let's take a closer look at some of these ideas from the past that just keep cropping up and are stopping Mario from being the success he should be.
Archaic Gameplay Ideas
Non-traditional Mario games like Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, and Mario & Luigi tend to have varied and experimental plots at times. While they may not be the absolute most original things on the face of the planet they are leagues better than the main Mario series games. The storyline of the main Mario series is so stale it's practically mummified! Not sure what I'm talking about? Let's take a look at each of the main Mario series titles (and a few that are questionable in their placement) and see if there's any similar themes among them
Super Mario Bros (1985) - Bowser kidnaps the princess
Super Mario Bros 2 (1988) - Mario, Peach, Luigi, and Toad must save the dream world from Wart
Super Mario Bros 3 (1988) - Bowser has taken over the Mushroom Kingdom and kidnaps the princess
Super Mario Land (1989) - Tatanga has kidnapped a different princess
Super Mario World (1990) - Bowser kidnaps the princess
Super Mairo Land 2 (1992) - Wario has taken over Mario's Woods while he is away in the previous game.
Super Mario 64 (1996) - Bowser kidnaps the princess
Super Mario Sunshine (2002) - Mario is impersonated and is sentenced to clean the island... then Bowser Jr. kidnaps the princess
Super Princess Peach (2005) - Bowser kidnaps Mario and Luigi
New Super Mario Bros(2006) - Bowser Jr. kidnaps the princess
Super Mario Galaxy (2007) - Bowser kidnaps the princess and her castle taking them to outer space
New Super Mario Bros Wii (2009) - Bowser kidnaps the princess
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010) - Bowser kidnaps the princess and her castle taking them to outer space
Super Mario 3D Land (2011) - Bowser kidnaps the princess
New Super Mario Bros 2 (2012) - Bowser kidnaps the princess
New Super Mario Bros U (2012) - Bowser invades the caste and tosses Mario and Luigi far away
Super Mario 3D World (2013) - Bowser has kidnapped a group of fairies.
...are you KIDDING ME?!?!
As a contrast, let's take a look at the more RPG styled Mario games and see what their plots have to offer us.
Super Mario RPG (1996) - A large sword crashes into Bowser's castle and scatters Mario, Bowser, and the Princess across the world. They must band together with Mallow and Geno to defeat Smithy and restore Star Road.
Paper Mario (2000) - Bowser kidnaps the princess
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (2003) - Fawful and Cackletta steal Peach's voice and take it to the Beanbean Kingdom to awaken a wish-granting star for Cackletta to rule the world with.
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (2004) - Sir Grodus of the X-nauts kidnaps the princess but is ultimately trying to gather the Crystal Stars to open the Thousand Year Door and unleash the evil within.
Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (2005) - Princess Peach takes a time machine into the past where the Past Mushroom Kingdom is being invaded by aliens. She is kidnapped by the alien leader in the past. Mario and Luigi team up with their baby selves to save her.
Super Paper Mario (2007) - Count Blek unleashes the Chaos Heart to destroy all worlds. It is up to Mario, Luigi, Bowser, and Peach to collect the Pure Hearts to stop the Chaos Heart and defeat the enemy who isnt the one you're expecting
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (2009) - During an outbreak of a disease, Fawful puts his world domination plan into effect by giving Bowser a mushroom that causes him to inhale Mario, Luigi, Peach and others. Mario and Luigi must work inside Bowser to awaken him etc while Bowser fights off Fawful to get back the Mushroom and Koopa Kingdoms.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star (2012) - When stickers are spread all over the place due to an accident, Mario sets off to repair a torn world.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (2013) - Antasma kidnaps the princess
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (2015 *not released in America yet) - Bowser and Paper Bowser kidnap the princess
If variety is, in fact, the spice of life then the main Mario series is a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a rice cake. It's not a bad thing to eat but it's the most soulless thing you can find. I sincerely hope that the main series can take inspiration from its RPG counterparts and being including unique and engaging plots outside of saving the princess. I also hope that the trend I see towards the end of the RPG styled games comes to a stop and they go back to having their unique stories. Mario needs to take risks with its plot. Sure that means that you may end up with a sub-par story here and there but I would much rather have a bizarre or poor story that is very unique than a good story being tainted by extreme over use and stagnation. This is why I've grown a love for Super Mario Sunshine over the years. Yes it ultimately came down to Bowser Jr. kidnapping the princess but before that it was a mystery of a false identity making the island messy and Mario having to clean it up to clear his name. It wasn't necessarily a really good plot/mystery but it was something different and I appreciate it so much for that very fact.
Once again I'm going to be saying that the main games need to pull inspiration from their RPG counterparts so I'm going to be more brief here.
I'm not saying that we need the Mario game equivalent of a novel to fully explore all of these character developments. I'm just saying that the main games need to open a door a little bit to the enhancements they have given the characters, especially in the larger 3D games like Galaxy. Just a few hints, reactions, and scenarios to let us see more into these wonderful character's minds and souls. Let us know that they aren't just mindless robots doomed to repeat the same actions over and over with the same bland reactions.
My Ideal Mario Game
I've always been told to not complain unless I can provide feedback for a better way to do it. Though I haven't always followed that advice, in this instance I do have an idea for what to do. Believe it or not, many of the elements in my idea are already in the Mario series as a whole. It's more just putting together the best bits and getting rid of the worst bits. I now present to you my ideal Mario game.
There is an ancient and (mostly) forgotten part of Mario's world. Within a temple holds the eight relics which keep the various realms of the universe in balance. Their power makes sure the eight realms remain intact regardless of what may happen in a single realm; they must not be disturbed. An outside force has learned of these relics and intends to throw the universe into chaos in order to set himself up as the ruler in the midst of the confusion. He finds the eight relics and smashes them to pieces scattering them across the realms. As he does this, everything turns upside down as aspects, people and locations from various realms start appearing in different parts of the other. Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Bowser are brought together by an ancient spirit and are tasked with finding the relic pieces and defeating the evil to restore peace to the universe. Along their journey, they pick up Rosalina and Yoshi and eventually defeat the evil mastermind through their combined efforts.
Characters and Abilities
There would be 6 playable characters each with their own strengths and unique properties that you can swap between at will. Each will have a special skill that the others do not have in order to progress through the world properly or discover hidden secrets.
Mario - Well Balanced Speed and Strength - Fireball Projectile Attack - Capable of using a Mega Mushroom to move or destroy large objects
Luigi - Increased speed, Decreased Traction, Highest Jump - Fireball Projectile Attack - Capable of using the Poltergust to remove Boos from doorways and treasure chests.
Peach - Decreased Strength and Weight, combo finisher sends enemies flying - Turnip Projectile Attack - Capable of floating over chasms
Bowser - Decreased speed, Double Strength - Fireball Projectile Attack - Capable of using Flame Breath to remove obstacles or melt ice.
Rosalina - Decreased Strength, Increased Speed - Starbit Projectile Attack - Capable of smashing through blocks and barriers with a spin attack.
Yoshi - Flutter Jump - Fireball Spit Attack - Capable of shooting egg projectiles at a targeted area.
So there you have it. That would be my ideal Mario game. Most of these elements have been done in some form before but not all together in the same game. It just simply has all of the sub-par elements removed. I hope you would love to play this game as much as I would although I doubt I'll ever get to see anything like it.
Excuse the long barnyard analogy. The main Mario series is like a one trick pony. It does that one trick well; it's mastered that one thing it does better than any other pony attempting it. However seeing the same trick over and over just gets boring. Sure you will always want to bring out the old one trick pony every now and then because you still love that little pony, but why on earth would you consistently bring out the one trick pony when there are other horses in the stable that know multiple tricks and are capable of learning new ones all the time? Perhaps if you were to breed the one trick pony with the multi-trick pony you would get something better than the individual horses.
That's what I've been getting at. While the RPG Mario games have been mostly flourishing in a vast ocean of originality, the main series has stagnated and congealed. I truly hope that Nintendo can take some of the brilliance poured into both the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series and put a little bit into the main games. At the end of the day, I love Nintendo products. I like Mario but I certainly don't love his stagnation. I truly want his main series games to come to a point where I choose the new Nintendo System Bundle with the Mario game because I can't wait to play another great Mario title instead of only choosing that bundle because "eh... it's something to play till Smash comes out I guess." Mario is capable of greatness and it's my sincere hope that he can once again achieve it.
This is Ghost, fading into the darkness.
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