"You know, you could put Mario in just about anything, and it would be awesome."
That statement, made by ScrewAttack.com's Craig Skistimas, might not be far from the truth. Take a look at the numbers: Appearing in over 200 games to date, Mario has gone above and beyond his roots as a turtle-stompin' plumber tearing through the Mushroom Kingdom. Since his arcade debut in 1981, Mario has played tennis, soccer and baseball; baked cookies and cured diseases; worked a demolition crew; snowboarded; and taught children how to type. He's been a lasting mainstay of the industry for 25 years, and while the industry around him has changed dramatically, the character has remained largely the same.
The debates over Mario's appeal and market viability often return to the same core argument, nostalgia vs. gameplay, and which of the two keep gamers coming back. Within these discussions lies another question: How would Mario fare if he were introduced in 2007? Super Mario Bros. was certainly fantastic, as evidenced by the leagues of imitators it spawned and the standards it set for platformers. How accepting would audiences be of the character and the surrounding universe if the primer - Super Mario Bros. and its successors - weren't woven into the very fabric of gaming history?
Let's assume Super Mario Galaxy would be the first Mario game on the market. There'd be questions, and lots of 'em, from the media and the public alike; the sort of questions you expect to be asked when a new property is in development. What's with the overalls? Why the fascination with stars, coins? Where does he come from, and what is his reason for hopping around planets and kicking the crap out of this league of ne'er-do-wells? What's with the exaggerated, cartoonish and stereotypical Italian accent? You got something against Italians? Wake thy lawyers, it's on!
It's no easy task to pick apart such a character. As an icon, Mario is inseparable from the medium he represents, a name practically synonymous with the pastime, and like other creations brought about in gaming's infancy, absolutely absurd. Stare too long and you realize he's an overweight, mustachioed Italian stereotype who battles sentient turtles and grows to immense proportions when he comes in contact with mushrooms. But these are conventions of a universe that we've had over 20 years to become familiar with. Why does the mushroom make Mario big? Because it's a super mushroom. Duh.