Mario ushered gaming into a new age twice over: once with 1981’s Donkey Kong, and once again with 1985’s Super Mario Bros. The former revived Nintendo’s sagging performance at the arcade and injected new life into a market that was dominated by shooting games. The latter brought structure and story to the action genre and helped revive the decimated video game market that Atari had left in its wake.
Mario is still with us, and his games are still awesome. But once in a blue moon, a Mario game will be a little less than awesome. New Super Mario Bros 2, for instance, has taken a lot of flack for rehashing graphics, music, and ideas that have already been thoroughly explored in previous Mario games. And any time Mario’s performance is less than stellar, the Internet pipes up with an idea: “Maybe it’s time for Mario to retire.”
How about it? Should Mario pack up his things, retreat to Brooklyn, and go back to unclogging drains (or whatever he did for a living before stumbling into the Mushroom Kingdom)?
In a word, no. There are several reasons why Mario still has the right to endure, and the simplest one is that the weakest entry in the Super Mario series is still better than the majority of platforming games available on any system.
(Excepting illegitimate children like Hotel Mario for the CD-I and Mario is Missing! for the NES and SNES, but the less said about those misbegotten games, the better.)
Yes, New Super Mario Bros 2 is a bit familiar. The mechanics that could have set it apart from its predecessors—particularly the challenge to collect a million coins or more—are under-realized. But it’s not as if the game is glitchy, bug-ridden, or suffers from poor controls. The levels in New Super Mario Bros 2 are still perfectly fun to travel through. Koopa-stomping is as addicting now as it ever was. Mario’s supposed “downslide” is far, far less obvious and painful than the ride into digital hell that the Sonic the Hedgehog games took before they started to scramble back upwards into something resembling respectability.
This segues into the second reason why Mario should stick around: kids love him. Seriously, watch how kids—boys and girls alike—react to Mario’s games, not to mention the character himself. They clap, they laugh, they shout in recognition. They’re every bit as mesmerized as we were in 1985. If you’re a twenty- or- thirty-something, it’s easy enough to scoff about how New Super Mario Bros doesn’t hold a candle to 1988’s Super Mario Bros 3. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. The point is, Mario isn’t exclusively for us. He’s for everybody.
None of this is to suggest that Nintendo should rest on its laurels, or that it shouldn't bother working on new intellectual properties and ideas. Ultimately though, Nintendo gets to decide of Mario lives or dies (hint: he’s probably going to live for a while longer). In the meantime, loosen up and enjoy the modern games. If you’re incapable of doing that, then stand aside and let the kids have their fun.