Dungeons & Dollars

Dungeons & Dollars
Exploitation of Icons

Dana Massey | 30 Aug 2005 08:02
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Every year, dozens of gaming legends are subjected to cruel and unusual treatment in the name of profit. Such animated icons as Mario are forced to perform tasks beneath their golden standards so their owners may earn a few extra dollars. Do you have a ridiculous game idea? Throw Donkey Kong in there and suddenly you're sitting on box-sales gold! I come to you today with a plea; a fervent hope for a cause that I hope many players will join: We need to stop the exploitation of gaming icons.

The ultimate example of a game company taking a game believed to be "unmarketable" and transforming it into a massive success by using an icon, is the NES title Super Mario Brothers 2. You see, Mario was not supposed to be in it. Originally released in Japan under the title Doki Doki Panic, it carried with it a play-style similar to the original Super Mario Brothers. Rather than release the game in a tried platform, with new stars and a new theme - the way the game was originally conceived - Nintendo proclaimed Doki Doki Panic the sequel to the beloved originator, Super Mario Brothers. After a few character swaps, suddenly the game featured everyone's favorite Italian plumber!

Although in recent years the genesis of Mario 2 has become a part of gaming lore, I am sure any child of the Nintendo generation can recall playing the first three Mario games and wondering what the heck was up with the second one. For me, it is the only one of the original three that I never bothered to finish. It was Mario, but it just was not the same. I was not terribly shocked when I discovered the origins of Super Mario Brothers 2 years later.

Unfortunately, the damage was done. We voted with our dollars and Mario continued to be a hallmark of gaming profitability. The result? Nintendo continued to march on with a slew of games, many of which have become classics and others just make you wonder what the heck they were thinking. He now plays golf, races cars, fights his fellow Nintendo characters, enjoys tennis, hosts parties, was reincarnated as a baby, referees Mike Tyson boxing matches, earned a medical degree, teaches typing and math, developed an evil twin with a 'W' in his name, and has earned a slew of merchandise from action figures to ice cream bars. And to think I was plenty amused jumping on goombas!

Finally, just when I thought they could go no lower, comes Dance, Dance Revolution: Mario Mix. Yes, now the old plumber has learned how to dance. Apparently, Britney Spears simply is not marketable enough, so why not do it with ye old staple! This kind of mass exploitation confirms two things. One: People like Mario. Two: Nintendo is well aware of this fact. This fall he takes to dancing; I do not even dare speculate what they will have Mario do next.

At E3 2005, I attended the Nintendo press conference where their combatant in the impending console wars was unveiled. Since that conference, I have heard little but negativity about the Nintendo Revolution. Generally, the perception is that Sony and Microsoft are the undisputed leaders and will continue that trend when the three new consoles hit. Yet, for the hour I sat in on the Nintendo press conference, you never would have known. The room, supposedly full of media, would break into applause at the mere sighting of Mario, Link or Yoshi. At one point, a marketing executive said to the room that the other companies (Sony and Microsoft) were throwing lots of numbers at the press (you know little information like what their systems are capable of) and that he too had a number for us. That number? Two. This proclamation, punctuated by a two appearing on the screen behind him, was met with a ferocious round of applause. I sat there baffled. What were they clapping about? To this day, I cannot recall what two stood for, but I recall it having nothing to do with the reality of their system. Yet, when Nintendo says "two" we had better be impressed.

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