Mario and Sonic. If you were playing games in the 90's, this was undoubtably the most important rivalry Ain history. Mario vs. Sonic. Nintendo vs. Sega. Genesis does what Nintendon't. Bubsy. Awesome Possum. Ok I kid on the last two, no one wants to remember those games. But it seems like in the early to mid 90's, every company needed a mascot, a brand, something kids could grab onto and use to argue about Sega or Nintendo's superiority and the others inferiority during Recess. It was not much unlike the political debates of today, except infinitely less annoying because video games are a lot cooler than politics. But I digress. As years went on, gamers got older, we matured to arguing about bits and megahertz and polygons instead of whether Mario or Sonic were better. And as years went on, Sega faded into obscurity, Microsoft started making consoles, Sonic fell on hard times, online gaming hit the mainstream, and space marines and soldiers took over the face of mainstream gaming. Yet why is it, that after all these years, all this change, and in some cases, all the brand damaging, that we, as gamers, still love (or love to hate) Mario and Sonic? Why are these franchises still so important?
*image from gaygamer.net
Let's start with Mario.
When the NES launched, Nintendo bundled it with a little title known as "Super Mario Bros." Millions upon millions of children were totally blown away by this game, and with good reason. Super Mario Bros. was, by and large, not a traditional 80's arcade game. Before Mario, all the big console games were usually watered down arcade ports, but not Super Mario Bros. Super Mario Bros. was a different breed, an action platforming sidescroller packed to the gills with different worlds, levels, themes, and gameplay. The controls featured a smooth-as-butter momentum and the game was all about timing. Gamers were in awe, sure there had been games to establish this "sidescrolling platformer" before, but Mario made it the popular genre. Shortly after, just about everyone else was trying their hand at a sidescrolling platformer, Mario had spawned a phenomenon.
Years past, we saw the launch of both Super Mario Bros 2 and 3, and the establishment of one of the most important and monumental franchises in gaming history. Super Mario Bros was more than just a video game, it was a franchise, a brand. If you owned a Nintendo, you played and loved Super Mario Bros. You probably also had a Mario t-shirt, watched his TV show, and ate his cereal.
Yet like every good mascot, and every good brand, Nintendo needed competition. Just like Disney needed Warner Bros., it was time for something new. Yet gamers didn't want another Mario, they wanted something different. Something different, something edgier, something cooler.
What they got was Sonic the Hedgehog, a character so different it's weird to think of the two as rivals.
When Sonic spin-dashed onto the gaming scene, gamers were instantly in love. His game was faster than Mario games of the past, there was no option to go slow, you had to go fast or be stuck on the slow, boring path. The rewarding feeling of going fast and seeing sonic to all these cool loop-de-loops and such was something unlike anything gamers had seen before. Many gamers were quick to jump onto the Sonic the Hedgehog bandwagon, and with good reason. His early games were top notch and offered a very different experience from Super Mario Bros. It felt very "next gen" compared to Super Mario World, Nintendo's Mario title on their 16-bit Super Nintendo. Much like Mario, Sega used Sonic to market the Genesis as a whole and Sega as a company. He had his own TV shows, fast-food toys, and many other things. Hell growing up, I never even owned a Sega Genesis, but I still loved Sonic and watched his show every Saturday. Sonic was a unique breed and for a while, was exactly what Sega needed to overthrown Nintendo as the dominant video game console in America.
Both Mario and Sonic dominated video games. I remember going to Best Buy and seeing a giant screen flanked by a giant Mario and Sonic statue. This was what gaming was, Mario vs. Sonic, Sega vs. Nintendo, who was your favorite?
Fast forward 20 years later, and we're in a much different landscape, yet whenever a Mario or Sonic main series title is announced, gamers listen. And many purchase, given the fact these franchises are both still seen as big ticket items to both Nintendo and Sega. Sure, Sega is no longer making hardware and is really just a shell of what they once were, but last years Sonic Generations was a truly top-notch game that deserves all the praise it got. Mario may now have more spin-offs than we can count, but both the Super Mario Galaxy games rank among some of his best titles. The truth is, Nintendo and Sega are still making great Mario and Sonic titles, and people sometimes want to remember what it was that made them love video games in the first thing, something I think Mario and Sonic games still, to this day, do a great job of. The rivalry may be over, the game releases may be a little less significant, but Mario and Sonic are still great mascots, and will always remain an important part of gaming as a whole.
Also, if I had a time machine, I think I'd go back to 1993 and show everyone this. Forget iPads and smartphones, I think this would truly blow peoples' minds.