I love Mario. Donkey Kong was the first video game I ever played and Super Mario Bros. was the first video game I owned. The moustachioed one made me a Nintendo fan for life, and popping in a new Mario game is like slipping into a nice warm bath of bubbly nostalgia. That said, Nintendo needs to take a good long Mario break.
I know, it sounds radical. Mario is Nintendo’s mascot! One of their best sellers! Given Nintendo’s recent troubles, wouldn’t (temporarily) turning their back on Mario be financial suicide? Not necessarily, in fact it may actually be the way out of their current mess. Why do I say that? Well…
If furry Mario isn’t selling Wii Us, it might be time to let somebody else pitch the system.
Mario Isn’t The System Seller He Used To Be
The reality is, the last time Mario had a real console defining, system-moving phenomenon of a game was during the NES era. No doubt about it, Super Mario Bros. is what put Nintendo’s first console on the map, but since then Mario has largely been taking credit for other games’ accomplishments.
SNES? It was Donkey Kong Country and Star Fox that turned that system around. Up until DK’s big return Nintendo was getting spanked by upstart Sega and their new blue mascot. N64? Mario 64 was big, but I’d argue Goldeneye and Ocarina of Time were bigger. Gameboy? Tetris and Pokemon. DS? Nintendogs. Wii? Wii Sports.
Don’t get me wrong, Mario’s games are still popular, and no Nintendo system should be without the Mario basics (a new platformer, an RPG and a Mario Kart) but Mario games don’t need to completely dominate the landscape. Time after time it’s been the new, out of left field games have saved Nintendo’s bacon, not the guy in the red overalls.
There’s a space between kiddie and M-rated Nintendo could occupy quite successfully if Mario would step back just a bit.
The Glut Of Mario Games Is Responsible For Nintendo’s “Kiddie” Image
Quick, when somebody mentions “Nintendo” what do you think? Colorful, simple and mainly for kids, right? Now, take away all the Mario games. Take away the stuff that’s basically just Mario by a different name like Kirby and Yoshi too. Suddenly Nintendo’s image changes pretty radically.
What are this Mario-less Nintendo’s top franchises? Well, we have Zelda, a relatively dark fantasy series which, aside from a lack of blood, can stand right beside the likes of Skyrim and Dark Souls. Metroid, a hard-edged sci-fi series starring a badass female protagonist. Pokemon, a game that’s pretty cute, but also possesses a lot of depth and a harder-than-hardcore fanbase. They also have “lesser” franchises like F-Zero, Fire Emblem and Eternal Darkness under their belts, none of which are particularly “kiddie”.
Nintendo has admitted they’re reluctant to make M-rated games, and the fact is they don’t have to. If they weren’t cluttering their release calendar with four or five Mario games per year (more if you take the Kirbys, Luigis and Yoshis into account) their image would change drastically without them having to embrace content they’re not comfortable with.
The last new character Nintendo created is literally a manikin.
Mario Is Keeping Nintendo From Creating New Experiences
For years now Shigeru Miyamoto has been stating he’d like to focus more on new games and experiences, but that he’s simply too busy. What’s he busy with? Mario. Mario, Mario and more Mario.
As the number of Mario games increases, the number of new experiences from Nintendo decreases. Arguably the last major new IP from Nintendo was Wii Fit, which was released in 2007. In the meantime, Nintendo has released a whopping eight Mario platformers since 2007. Mario platformers are always developed in-house by Nintendo, and based on the company’s lack of creativity lately, it seems fair to say they’re directly consuming resources that could be going to new, original titles. And again, new original titles — Wii Fit, Wii Sports, Nintendogs — are what have brought Nintendo its greatest success over the past decade.
Mario Is Keeping Nintendo From Taking Proper Care Of Their Other Franchises
Mario doesn’t just draw resources away from new, original titles — he also drains the life force from Nintendo’s other classic franchises. In this era of biannual Mario platformer releases, Metroid has been allowed to wither on the vine. Miyamoto himself has admitted F-Zero is probably dead. Star Fox, Eternal Darkness, Wave Race and 1080 Snowboarding are lost to the sands of time. Beloved franchises like Punch-Out!! and Pikmin get a new entry every decade or two. This Mario guy’s a damn glory hog.
Nintendo Already Has Its Mario Bases Covered
Listen, even if you don’t think Mario drains resources away from other Nintendo projects, the fact is, Nintendo has already delivered everything the Mario fan could ever want on the Wii U. We have a couple 2D platformers, a 3D platformer and Mario Kart and Smash Bros. will be here within months. At this point, more Mario is just scooping an extra quart of vanilla on top of an ice-cream cake.
What’s Nintendo Got To Lose At This Point?
Despite the Wii U being a virtual smorgasbord of Mario goodness, people still aren’t buying. For whatever reason, Mario isn’t selling systems anymore, or more specifically, he isn’t selling Wii U systems. It’s time to court somebody other than Mario fans, and if they don’t bite, well, things can’t get much worse than they are now.
In fact, if I were in charge of Nintendo, I’d make 2015 the year where I didn’t release a single Mario game whatsoever.
Give me Zelda. Give me Metroid. Give me RPGs (Monolith’s Xenoblade sequel seems to be the only Wii U title with any sort of serious buzz). Give me large scale original titles for the hardcore gamers, and original arcade titles for the casuals. Bring back Star Fox, Bring back Eternal Darkness. Hell, bring back forgotten oddities like Star Tropics and Mach Rider. Just anything but more plumbers in red and green caps. It might not save the Wii U, but dammit, at least you’ll go out on a creative high, which is something the Nintendo of the past would have cared about.