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No, Mario wouldn’t be as marketable in 2007

November 16, 2007

Bold words? Not really. As much as it pains me to steal a story idea from Infendo, the sheep there have flooded to the defense of their mascot, with almost 90% voting that he’d be just as marketable today without the nostalgia of Mario games past.

Knowing that the group at intendo is far more balanced in its views, I thought I’d throw the question to you guys. Would Mario be as marketable a character were he released in 2007 with Super Mario Galaxy being the first ever Mario game? Perhaps a trip to the escapist is in order for some background on the topic. The Escapist, by the way, is one of my favorite video game mags, and their unbiased look at videogames almost matches Intendo’s.

My vote would obviously be no, he wouldn’t be as marketable. He’s just too strange. He’s a fat italian plumber in overalls that jumps on turtles and goombas. While it’s the fantastic gameplay that keeps fans coming back for more Mario, at best if he were introduced today he’d achieve the status of a Pikmin, or maybe a Viewtiful Joe. Critically acclaimed games that had some sequels but little lasting power in today’s market.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. drewmg permalink
    November 16, 2007 9:52 am

    No, the character likely wouldn’t make much sense, but the game would be good regardless. My guess is that it would be a sleeper hit, kind of like Katamary Damacy. Word of mouth would quickly spread how awesome this game was, and Mario would be a hit.

  2. Joey permalink
    November 16, 2007 10:50 am

    I think it also depends on exactly where and when you’re posing this question.

    For example, in today’s gaming landscape, Halo easily trumps Mario, and you can also pretty much see this in the huge advertising campaign for the game. While the history of Halo isn’t as rich as Mario’s, Master chief has practically become an icon too in his own right. Mario still has the hearts of people it seems, but I also can’t help but think that his appeal has somewhat diminished even though the franchise still remains as one of Nintendo’s biggest.

    In the end, I think the question concerns what kind of generation we’re gaming in–the technology, the means, the competition, etc.–more than whatever marketing clout Mario may, or may not have per se. But Mario games on other hand are still great.

  3. November 16, 2007 11:25 am

    I forget if it was at Infendo or somewhere else, but someone somewhere brought up the hugely popular but conceptually bizarre Spongebob Squarepants… And I say if he can make it, Mario could. I think if he were to come out right now people would respond really well to the freshness of playing as a fat plumber zipping down pipes and stomping on big brown blobs called Goombas. We’re in the days of Adult Swim, where the weirder something is the cooler it is. Less marketable would be the shiny stars, sappy music and story time we find in Galaxy.

  4. November 16, 2007 12:41 pm

    Ryan, I think you are even giving Mario too much credit by comparing it in character concept to Pikmin or Viewtiful Joe!

    I mentioned it in Infendo and I’ll mention it here: unlike a Spongebob Squarepants, the concept of Mario was not born out of quirkiness and conceptual inspiration, but out of technical necessity. Nintendo needed to render in 8-bit graphics a human-like figure, so the number of pixels and the palette limited the designers to use overalls instead of a shirt, and the “mustache” was just a convenient gap to show the semblance of a nose on the blocky head (and remember, this was even before SPRITES came along!). There was absolutely no logical reason to portait Mario as a plumber on his first adventure, where the character emphasis was really on Donkey Kong, not Mario! Mario was more like an afterthought.

  5. November 16, 2007 7:44 pm

    I don’t see how the technical origins of Mario’s design should affect the cultural reaction to the character. It’s interesting, but beside the point.

  6. November 16, 2007 8:00 pm

    I think Antonio’s point was that were Mario as a charater to be designed today, he probably wouldn’t have been designed as he is now. However, the question implies that if mario, in his current form as a fat Italian mustachioed plumber that stomps sentient turtles were released as a videogame character today,would he be as viable? Looks like a Lukewarm no from all of us.

  7. November 17, 2007 7:23 pm

    The way i see it, which is often the de facto perspective on things, Mario is completely reliant on nostalgia value to get anyone’s attention. Nintendo as a whole have banked on that for decades now. Think of the Mario offshoots. They sell because Mario’s in there. But not because “oh, this looks interesting”, rather “yay, more wacky things to do with my 80s father figure”. I think New Mario Bros is the prime example of how little Mario’s ingenuity has to do with how well his games sell. That game was straight outta 1985. Of course it’s hard to gauge how many bought it on nostalgia and how many were new to the franchise, but chances are in nostalgia’s favor.

    The thing about SpongeBob makes perfect sense. Spongebob does the randomly retarded humor angle which is gold these days, whereas the only things quirky about Mario are the settings and the premise, which you have to remove yourself from to notice. Otherwise it’s just another cartoon, and it’s rarely funny.

    Mario was a product of the times who lucked out and got to become an icon. I don’t see it happening today for him.

  8. November 18, 2007 3:02 pm

    You guys make valid points but… is Pac-Man even marketable today. They make games today for Pac-Man and no one buys them unless they are re-releases because the new games Namco releases are garbage. Mario may not be as unmarketable as Pac-Man in graphical terms, but his games also don’t blow.

    Oh Antonio, most humans don’t go down pipes unless they are plumbers…I guess.

    I would almost bet if Super Mario Sunshine was the first Mario game and ever game release since then was also released Mario would have a small “cult” following. Wait…

  9. November 19, 2007 12:26 pm

    But Friz, remember that Mario going down pipes happened in Super Mario Bros, long AFTER Donkey Kong! The use of Mario made sense as a way to connect the new game with the most successful arcade game Nintendo had at the time. And, if I remember correctly, Mario only appeared in the U.S. version of Super Mario Bros. (the Japanese version was “Doki-Doki Panic” and featured a different main character). I don’t think Mario was even identified as a plumber until that other game! And that was because of the overalls, which, like I mentioned, were there only to make it easier to render the clothing in 8-bit graphics.

    If Nintendo made Super Mario 64 as a game from scratch, without Super Mario Bros. ever existing, it would be named something else and would not have a plumber named Mario as its main character. The main character most probably would have been a more sophisticated version of Mr. Game & Watch!

  10. Monkeyboy Slim permalink
    February 25, 2008 6:34 pm

    Um, no, Antonio. Super Mario Bros. 2 was Doki Doki Panic in Japan, and featured different characters. The original Super Mario Bros. is unaltered between the Japanese and U.S. releases. The real Super Mario Bros. 2 that was released in Japan only saw release here as “The Lost Levels” when Super Mario All-Stars came out for the SNES.

    Anyway, on to the subject at hand, however late I am in commenting; I agree that nostalgia is the largest actor in Mario’s continuing popularity, and if he had made his debut in, say, 2000 he probably wouldn’t be NEARLY as successful. With that having been said, though, the core (and “Paper”) games are still very well-made and fun.

    Still, one could say the same thing about Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny – those classic cartoon characters still have a measure of popularity with all ages. The old because they grew up with them, and THEIR kids because their parents shared it with them. If either were just introduced for the first time this year, I highly doubt they would have a very large viewer base in the god-awful animation market chock full of poorly dubbed childrens’ anime.

  11. February 27, 2008 12:39 pm

    Thanks for the correction, Monkey Slim… and curse you, Wikipedia!!

    But my main point holds: early video game character concept art, like Mario are a product of necessity to make technical shortcuts that make sense. Today’s video game character concept artists don’t have the technical limitations of yesterday’s video game programmers (plus they are actually artists, not just programmers!) , and they have a much larger budget. Because of that they have a different kind of limitation today, though: they have to make characters that appeal commercially to today’s youth. So, if created today, Mario would probably be a ninja instead of a plumber (or a pirate?).

    If, however, you still want to find original concept art in today’s video games, look no further than the independently-created free Flash games that are clogging the internet!

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