There's a question I often hear posed by many gamers and it goes something like this.
"Why is it that Mario games always seem to get a free pass when it comes to sequels and rehashes, yet game franchises like Assassins creed, God of War, Halo and the like get criticised and sometimes even marked down for it?"
Well I have a theory for why that seems to be the case and it goes as follows.
You see as much as this may seem to be a double standard (and I'm sure many will argue it is) there is a fundamental difference between games like Mario and Assassins creed, Mario in my opinion is very much like a Children's cartoon. Take the old classic cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, Stop That Pigeon and Road runner for example, we would all tune in expecting a certain repetitive premise each week, but with some minor variations to the plot here and there to keep the show fresh and interesting, however the main premise was almost always the same. Tom would concoct an elaborate plan to catch Jerry and Jerry would foil Tom's plans, the Pigeon would always escape Dickdatardly and so would Roadrunner escape the coyote, sure we get games like Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy and the Mario RPG, but they are often an attempt to revitalise the franchise or give us as peak of what it would be like to take the series it in a new and interesting direction, essentially it's akin to a network station bringing back an old classic cartoon series or doing a TV special, Same Yoshi different colour, if you get my meaning.
What Mario has become today, is an exercise in rehashing tried and true game mechanics and plot assets, and combining them with whatever current gen gaming allows, we've seen this whith games like, Super Mario Sunshine, Mario Galaxy and Mario 3D. The Mario games are for better or worse, a video game cartoon with a mascot as popular and versatile as Mickey mouse (if not more so) If you think about it, the very fact that we still get so many Mario games is testament to the very fact that Mario games offer us something enjoyable and timeless, whether that be classic platforming, enjoying a party game with your friends or family, or racing with them at a game of Mario Kart. Now most sequels of these games I've mentioned don't vary much from the games that preceded them, but I believe that's the point. No matter how much you may dislike Mario games they are a near perfect merger of game design meets nostalgia, new gamers will enjoy them because they are fun and accessible, while older gamers will enjoy them due to nostalgia and familiarity, that's not to say older gamers wont find them just as fun due to their game design, it's just that they are more likely to appreciate Mario games due to enjoying the familiarity they offer along with the variations each title offers.
Basically the point I'm trying to make here is that Mario games are so popular, because they offer us a kind of fun, repetitive and familiar enjoyment that's similar to the kind we would find in a long running cartoon series.
However, the problems faced by many games like Assassins creed, God of War, Halo and other such videogame franchises these days, is that often focus on an individuals exploits or an overlapping plot/story, is that the following games are expected to take the franchise forward, often also while remaining faithful to the previous games but doing enough to justify themselves as stand alone titles. These "sequels" also bare the unfair, but very important stigma of being judged as to whether or not they are an improvement over the previous installments.
Assassins Creed 3 came under some scrutiny when the choice of location was discovered to be 18th century America, before, during and after the American Revolution. The much smaller, scattered houses and monuments were certainly a far cry from the towering steeple tops of ancient Italy, although it's debatable as to whether or not such a change really posed as a negative, it is worth remembering that when the franchise was first announced way back when, the main features such as climbing tall buildings and performing assassinations were the main focus for Assassins creed, so seeing the franchise appear to be slowly moving away from this and focusing on other features such as tower defence mini games and sailing, is both interesting if not also a little disappointing to say the least. We'll probably have to wait and see how Ubisoft Montreal's Assassins creed 4 fairs which does look to be tacking the series in a more positive direction, before we assume that the Assassins creed franchise is growing stale.
Another sequel that ended up getting a lukewarm reception due to its predecessor is GTA IV, the game offered an improvement in both graphics and gameplay mechanics, yet many believe it to be inferior to GTA San Andreas as it's believed to have maybe taken itself a little too seriously by becoming a bland and boring in some places, though the fact that GTA IV was lacking certain features such as Jet packs and jet plains didn't help with the feeling that the GTA IV was lacking in comparison to GTA San Andreas. However, again it seems that Rock Star are about to fix that issue with their new entry to the franchise, GTA V which could quite possibly be the most content heavy and enjoyable GTA game to date.
God of War on the other hand, is a franchise that I personally consider to have pulled of the idea of sequels masterfully. The first game introduces us to the shamed Spartan Kratos, tricked by the God of war Aries, Kratos sets out on a blood drenched quest for revenge against the God who wronged him. The sequel then builds on the premise by furthering the extent to which Kratos is betrayed by the Gods, whilst also fleshing out Kratos as a character, and the added gameplay mechanics and improved combat helped to escalate the game above that of the original. The final game in the God of War trilogy brought the whole story to an epic conclusion, firmly closing the door on Kratos's journey. This actually takes a lot of guts to do for any developer, but because they were able to provide a concise trilogy (and some decent spin offs) the experience didn't feel tired or over done. Far too many games franchises these days try to milk a franchise for all it's worth, so then by the time the series is nearing its end many gamers have become bored and/or disillusioned with the overall repetitiveness of many games that exist as padding, at least until a official sequel is announced.
Once our hero (or heroes) have "finished the fight" or essentially completed their journey, adding any more to the cannon can make the experience feel cheapened, more so if it feels as if that the only reason a game exists is for the developers to milk some extra cash before dropping the IP completely.
So to summarise.
I feel that games like Mario often get a free pass because they are essentially like a cartoon, they often have a single premise with a story and gameplay mechanics that are constantly being, revised, restructured and rebuilt in order to keep the series fresh. On the other hand games like Assassins creed, God of War, Halo and Metal Gear Solid come think of it, all follow the exploits of a protagonist along their journey toward the inevitable end, the games they appear in are expected to constantly reinvent themselves all while keeping true to the original formula, and adding enough new content and gameplay advances in order to prove that the franchise is still relevant.
I'm sure many of you can think of games that follow the cartoon theory approach to game design similar to the one I propose Mario follows, and hopefully you all understand what I mean when I say that other games which follow a plot or story, that has an inevitable end should not be thrown in with games that are designed to be "endless" Anyway I think I'll wrap up here.
Thanks for reading my blog and as always if you want to add anything or disagree with any of the points I've made, please leave a comment.