I’m sure I’m not the only relic of the NES era, so let’s go down memory lane together for a few moments. Since it was bundled with the NES system (because back then a bundle inlcuding a game and two controllers was the norm — ah how times have changed!), just about everyone got to play Super Mario Bros. And for many of us, it was the game that first lead us down the path of gaming addiction, which in those days meant we all had very sore left thumbs until we grew a nice callus. This was not, however, Mario’s first appearance. In fact he’d been around for a few years prior, first appearing as “Jumpman” in Donkey Kong back in 1981 and then in the 1983 arcade game Mario Bros. as Mario, the American-Italian plumber with his brother Luigi. Super Mario Bros. for the NES is what made him a star, though, and he was soon to ascend to the rank of Nintendo’s mascot.
|Nintendo plus Square-Enix, the ultimate combo.|
Since those early days in the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario has gone on to appear in nearly every genre imaginable: puzzle games (Dr. Mario), racing games (Mario Kart of course!), sports (he has his own golf and tennis series and somehow managed to be a referee in the poorly punctuated Punch-Out!!), fighters (Smash Bros.), party games (Mario Party) and, miracle of miracles, RPGs. Released in 1996 for the Super Nintendo, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was the first RPG to feature a company mascot. And here’s the really cool part… it didn’t suck! In fact, the game had lovely graphics, interesting gameplay, and a quirky story that was just downright fun and a breath of fresh air among all the deathly serious save-the-world games that are the status quo in the RPG genre. It combined all the fun of Mario’s world, complete with Bowser, Princess Toadstool, Bullet Bills, Koopas, and (naturally) Goombas, with the trappings of RPG battles. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise given it was that the result of the combined efforts of Shigeru Miyamoto and Square. Square was clearly not without a sense of humour for they even included a dimension-hopping optional boss named Culex who looks like something straight out of Final Fantasy VI, and whose three musical themes are remixed versions of the classical Final Fantasy battle music, victory fanfare, and main theme.
|Remember the days before they changed her name to ‘Peach’?|
Besides being just plain fun, the game proved that an established non-RPG property could, with a little imagination and humour, be made into a great RPG, and even a great RPG franchise. Since Square was involved in the first game, a sequel couldn’t be made without legal entanglements but Nintendo went on to create two other Mario-based RPG franchises, Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi, both of which are still running today and which remain popular both among hardcore RPG fans and more generally among Mario fans.
Few others have dared make that leap. Recently Sonic did have a go at it in Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, though with rather more mixed results. So, as usual, Sonic ended up playing second-fiddle to Mario (much like Luigi, come to think of it). Mario on the other hand took to the RPG genre with class, spawning two ongoing series and showing that yes, a mascot can make a good RPG. Who’d’ve thunk?