In addition to being a new cash cow for Nintendo, the series also proved the profitability of a new kind of game design. Not only did it pave the way for future titles such as Rayman Raving Rabbids, but the series also showed the potential for mini-game based multiplayer in titles that might otherwise not have warranted it. Furthermore, it opened up a new avenue for publishers to manufacture easy to make titles for the expanded audience, especially with the introduction of the Wii. For better or worse, it's unlikely that without Mario Party, titles such as Carnival Games, Tamagotchi: Party On!, and Family Pirate Party would have ever seen the light of day.
Whatever influences Mario has had on other genres, however, is arguably trumped by what Nintendo has accomplished with its famous Mario Kart series. Whereas most genres manage to diversify if given enough time, it's much more difficult to say the same for kart racing. Through Mario, Nintendo essentially invented the sub-genre, and 18 years later, absolutely no new kart racing game is released without the shadow of Super Mario Kart hanging over it, not even one from Nintendo.
The gameplay of Super Mario Kart is a drill that should be well known to anyone familiar with the genre. Take one part cast of colorful and already familiar characters, seat them in little high-powered vehicles, add a healthy helping of fun power ups, and then race them around increasingly nutty themed tracks. It's a combination so strong that any attempt to copy it can inevitably be summed up as "Mario Kart with X". Diddy Kong Racing is Mario Kart with Diddy Kong and friends. Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is Mario Kart, Sega style. Crash Team Racing is Mario Kart with Crash Bandicoot. Even games that aren't "Kart" racers, per se, can get the label attached to them if they follow the basic gameplay close enough, such as Blur.
The reason the game has been around so long without anyone figuring out a truly fresh spin on the genre could be anyone's guess. Perhaps Nintendo just perfected the formula its first run out. Maybe it's just that no one has managed to look far enough outside the box yet. Should anyone manage to find a way to improve on the formula, however, it should be safe to say that the person or people responsible should have a bright future ahead of them.
Who know, maybe it'll be Mario himself who gets to it first. That is, if he's not busy defining some other genre in the meantime.
Michael K. Stangeland Jr. is a freelance writer from South Dakota. He wouldn't mind it at all if he somehow succeeded in writing a defining work of his own someday, but isn't holding his breath on it happening.