He was a hero to me while growing up. I distinctly recall mimicking him by jumping with one fist up, my feet spread apart, and verbally shouting that iconic “yeh!” sound. But it’s been nearly six years since the plumber went on a truly unique adventure, my childhood hero’s career is only growing more stagnant as he ages.
I can’t really speak against the quality of Mario’s recent endeavors, the recent New Super Mario Bros. games have been just fine, if a little too easy, and the same goes for Super Mario 3D Land. But there used to be a time when the announcement of a new Mario game was an exciting occasion that promised an unforgettable adventure unlike anything prior. And for me, those days appear to be over.
This is pretty telling of my young age, but the first experience I had with overall-wearing hero was Super Mario 64. At the time, I was blown away by the game’s visuals, freedom of movement, and highly varied stages. It was a game I never imagined would be topped, until I heard about Super Mario Sunshine.
At my young age, I wasn’t really keeping my ear to the ground when it came to gaming-related news, so I was pretty in-the-dark on new releases, and often discovered games long after they arrived on store shelves. But I recall begging my parents for a snack called “Fruit by the Foot” that’s advertisements completely sold me on the rolled foot-long strip of pressed corn syrup. The day my parents relented and bought me the clearly unhealthy treat, I remember seeing Mario on the box. Apparently, this run of Fruit by the Foot was part of a Super Mario Sunshine advertising campaign, and each roll included tidbits of information on the upcoming game. I wasn’t exactly a great reader at the time, so I remember chowing down on the snack and handing the remaining strip of paper to my dad, he would proceed to tell me every bit of intel it had to offer. Super Mario Sunshine became the first game I had ever looked forward to the release of.
The wait was long and hard — at least for someone of my age. and as a result I was starving for more Mario goodness, but wasn’t knowledgeable enough to know where I could find it. A few years before I discovered Sunshine was coming, my mother gave me a classic Game Boy, a device I don’t really recall expressing interest in before, but was ecstatic upon receiving. Along with it she gave me Dr. Mario, Paperboy, Donkey Kong Land, and CosmoTank — a quartet of fun games that were likely pretty inexpensive at the time, as we weren’t a particularly wealthy family. But for some odd reason, despite my love for the system, I never even thought about getting more games for it. I cycled through the games I had for years, never even looking to see if this system was a gateway to more Mario. Perhaps I was just satisfied with what I had at the time. When I was on the go I would play my Game Boy, and at home, I would play N64. Then, at a small birthday party, I got my Mario fix.
I was, of course, still very young at the time. But for one of my birthdays my grandmother gifted me a Game Boy Advance along with Super Mario World. I was ecstatic. I recall playing it non-stop once I had gotten it. The night we drove home with it, I remember attempting to just catch a glimpse of what I was playing on the unlit screen while passing under streetlights to no avail. I was hooked. I started carrying around a small flashlight so I could play my new system, and this Mario game that was entirely new to me no matter what my environment’s lighting was like. The wait for Sunshine accelerated dramatically.
In fact, Sunshine’s released passed by without my even noticing it. I remember visiting GameStop’s website and seeing the game’s gorgeous screenshots, and realizing that it was available for purchase. I became excited for a moment, but then realized I didn’t have a GameCube to play it on. This moment resulted in one of the only childhood break-downs I can remember to this day. Luckily, I calmed within all of a few minutes, but still wanted to play the game. I remember getting my hands on it at one of my local electronic stores and wishing I could have it. But I knew I probably wouldn’t be getting it any time soon.
Flash forward to Christmas morning of what I believe was 2003. I was excited, but not expecting anything too incredible. That’s when it happened, I tore the wrapping paper off of a box that said “GameCube” on all sides, and along with it was a copy of Sunshine. Then, I experienced another kind of break-down, a happy one. Blown away by the graphics and seamless gameplay, I was sure this experience wouldn’t be topped.
Then the years passed with no news of a new Mario. I grew interest in shooters, sports games, and other things. But at the same time, I would on-average beat Sunshine once a year — a tradition I still try to keep up. So I didn’t feel particularly in need of a new Mario… until it was announced.
Everything about Super Mario Galaxy looked mind-blowing. I believe I had a Wii by the time it was announced, and was pretty confident I would be getting it on the day of its release, or at least shortly thereafter. And on the Christmas morning after its release, I got more Mario.
I was incredibly excited to play, and play I did. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it was missing something the previous games had, a certain “something” that I still haven’t quite identified. The only way I can really describe it is that the experience held less magic. I have trouble believing it was a sign of my growing age at the time, I was still very much in love with Sunshine and Super Mario 64. But that missing “something” never stopped bugging me. Though despite it, I did finish Galaxy, but it didn’t provide the same feeling of accomplishment that the other games administered. My experience with Sunshine was not topped.
And from there, time just sort of went on. I enjoyed the first New Super Mario Bros. pretty well, but again, that magic was gone. Another Galaxy released to the same situation. And I still can’t identify exactly what is “missing”. While I’ve gone back and played all of the classic Mario games and adored all of them, and still visit the worlds of Super Mario 64 and Sunshine on a somewhat frequent basis, I just don’t care about new Mario games.
Perhaps it’s that they all feel so similar, or that Mario is officially a cash-cow. But the status of the franchise saddens me greatly. The plumber has made successful treks into RPGs and fighting games, but I desperately want a Mario platformer that has that magic, and I can’t help but feel like the upcoming Super Mario 3D World wont. It is, of course, far too early to tell. The game may release and subsequently knock my socks off, and that would be wonderful. But right now, I feel so indifferent to it. Something has to change if Mario wants my attention back. If nothing does change, though, luckily there are plenty of new platformers that hold a magic similar to what the original Marios had. And I’ll always have the games I grew up on, but the idea of not being excited about a new Mario game ever again haunts me. I can only hope a miracle happens, and Mario finds his magic again.