Editorial: Where have you gone, Super Mario? / A nation turns its lonely eyes to you / What's that you say, Princess Toadstool? / Mario has left and gone away
In 1967, Paul Simon wrote "Mrs. Robinson", his now famous ode to forgotten heroes and times gone by. Mario wouldn't make his video game debut until fourteen years later, but the parallels between Nintendo's heroic mascot and Paul Simon's most famous composition are hard to ignore.
For the first fifteen years of his existence, Mario ruled the video game roost. From his 1981 debut in (as the simply named "Jumpman") to his 1996 Nintendo 64 launch title Super Mario 64 (which is still considered the definitive 3D platformer), no other game character starred in as many classics as Mario. And then everything began to change.
The rise of the PlayStation brought with it the rise of the "mature" game. As opposed to the colorful fantasy worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom, these "mature" games included the gory zombie apocalypse of the Resident Evil series, the hypersexualized adventures of Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider series and the "Real Driving Simulator" that was the Gran Turismo series. All of these games managed to expand the market for video games considerably, but they also began to marginalize more family-friendly fare like Mario.
Today, in a world where the Master Chief is considered the "face" of video games and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has monopolized the news cycle over the last few weeks, you'd be forgiven if you didn't know a new Mario game came out on Sunday.
But is that really a fair description of the latest adventure of one of the elder statesmen of the video game world?
After Joe DiMaggio died, Paul Simon recounted a run-in between himself and the famous ballplayer. During the meeting, DiMaggio expressed disbelief at the famous lines in "Mrs. Robinson".
"What I don't understand," [DiMaggio] said, "is why you ask where I've gone. I just did a Mr. Coffee commercial, I'm a spokesman for the Bowery Savings Bank and I haven't gone anywhere."
Simon replied "I didn't mean the lines literally" and "I thought of him as an American hero and that genuine heroes were in short supply." And so it goes with Mario. Video game "mascots" have changed since everyone's favorite plumber began his reign as video gamedom's king. As I said, the Master Chief probably reigns supreme today, but the list is mighty short after that. There's Kratos, of course, and Sony is attempting to push Sackboy on the gaming populace with little success (don't misunderstand, LittleBigPlanet is deserving of all its accolades, but Sackboy isn't fit to carry Mario's hat). But most of gaming's new heroes are anonymous, even if they have names like Grand theft Auto IV Niko and Marcus Fenix from Gears of War.
But for as much as Mario has been pushed aside, he hasn't gone anywhere. Not really.
At Game Rankings, Super Mario Galaxy is the highest rated game of this generation. And not only is Mario popular with critics, but his most recent games have all sold in excess of eight million copies. Some, like New Super Mario Bros. on the DS and Mario Kart Wii, have sold over 18 million copies. No PS2, PS3, Xbox 360 or PSP game even comes close. While it might not produce the same day one sales as Modern Warfare 2, gamers everywhere will still follow the Mario Bros. into the Mushroom Kingdom with each new adventure.
So where does Mario lets-a-go from here? Anywhere he wants. If Nintendo of America Reggie Fils-Aime is to be believed, Mario's first side-scrolling console game in 18 years, New Super Mario Bros. Wii will eventually outsell Modern Warfare 2. The reaction among the gaming community is one of skepticism and has included comments like "Oh that Reggie. Doesn't he know real gamers don't care about Mario anymore?"
But Mario is more than your average video game character. He has become an icon the likes of which the faceless soldiers from Modern Warfare 2, the Master Chief, Kratos and Nathan Drake may never be. Discussing this with fellow Gaming Target writer Matt Swider, we hit upon the realization that "Mario is becoming Mickey Mouse, a bit." Like Disney's mascot, Mario may not always hold the attention of every gamer around the world like he did once upon a time. But Mario will always have a place among the heroes of the video game community, probably right near the top. Even if some people don't realize it.