My introduction to the world of video games came on Christmas Day of 1990, when I unwrapped a rather large box to reveal a Nintendo Entertainment System, packaged with Super Mario Brothers. I don’t remember how long it took me as a child – going on six years old at the time – to conquer the Mushroom Kingdom, but it planted a seed in me that sprouted and has been growing ever since. Twenty-two years later, I own all three major consoles and enjoy a wide variety of genres. I readily and happily identify myself as a gamer, which helps make me sound legit on this website.
As time has passed, I have not only grown but watched the world around me change. I have lived through celebrity and political scandals, terrorist attacks and relationships that went sour. As I matured, the video game industry – specifically, game consoles – began to age as well. More than just showing massive amounts of lifelike severed heads, games began to take on the ability to tell us a story not meant to simply entertain a child whose parents needed a babysitter they didn’t have to pay. Sure, most people seek entertainment in different mediums as a means of escape. I, however, began to enjoy things that changed the way I think about preconceived ideas. I’ll never forget the antiwar message of Metal Gear Solid or the star-crossed tale of Tidus and Yuna from Final Fantasy X (if you ignore the load of shit that was the plot of the direct sequel). If you’ll allow me one cliché in this article, my jaw hit the floor when the identity of the Origami Killer was revealed in Heavy Rain.
Video games will remain a part of me for as long as they continue to be produced, and those games include anything to do with a certain red hat-wearing plumber. For over a quarter of a century,. Nintendo has continued to give us standout gameplay experiences featuring Mario that remind us why we picked up a controller that first time. We see Bowser kidnap the Princess, we get our fingers limber, and we set off to save her again.
Here’s the thing, readers: I enjoy playing Mario games for what they are. I truly do. There is a magical element to them that has remained untouched by any other developer who has tried and failed as many times as Peach has been taken hostage to recapture the spirit of a Mario adventure. Some of this magic can be attributed to Nintendo’s formula: rescue the Princess, and along the way, collect a bunch of things. Nothing is inherently wrong with this process, and they are obviously doing something right in a series that has sold the astronomical amount of games they have.
Nintendo has taken many steps throughout the previous decade to establish themselves as more than just the “kid-friendly” home for consoles. The Gamecube initially had to fight off this image thanks to its compact system design. While we were treated to Eternal Darkness and the remake of the Resident Evil series, we were also given the most controversial visual makeover for the Legend of Zelda since its inception. As for the Wii? Well, you tell me how many articles you read about children, parents, and grandparents joining together to play Wii Sports vs. how many people you know who have copies of No More Heroes, MadWorld, and House of the Dead: Overkill. Third party developers have taken steps in the past to embrace the tools Nintendo gave them to experiment and create a new beast. This makes it all the more strange that the company who gave birth to such a revolutionary idea (no pun intended for you true geeks) has been so afraid to try something new.
In the past, there have been attempts, for better or for worse, to take an existing franchise and make it appeal to the more “mature” gamer. Jak and Daxter started as a whimsical, fun platformer in the vein of Naughty Dog’s previous Crash Bandicoot trilogy. Jak II saw a newly dark version of Jak who had been locked in a prison for years and been subjected to experiments involving Dark Eco. The second entry in the last-generation Prince of Persia trilogy, Warrior Within, transformed our nameless hero from a sarcastic yet noble hero into a brooding, cursing caricature of a male protagonist. Over the years, more mature content has been allowed into games already designed for an older audience – uses of “shit” and “fuck” in the newest Resident Evil and Silent Hill entries, for example. L.A. Noire is one of the best examples I can provide for a game meant to appeal to a mass of adult video game players like myself.
So what the hell is stopping Nintendo from trying to do this with the single most-recognized character in the history of video games?
The first thing I asked myself is, if Nintendo were to go such a route (and this will NEVER happen, mind you, but it’s fun to think and hopefully read about), what kind of story would there be to tell? What direction would they go to steer away from the usual tale of the woeful Princess, if at all? My first idea was some sort of reboot/origin story, but the image of Metroid: Other M spraying diarrhea all over Samus Aran’s character immediately scared me off. Admittedly, that was the fault of Team Ninja sans Tomonobu Itagaki, a gutted production staff who just recently castrated the beloved Ninja Gaiden franchise. Since I’m proposing this as a hypothetical scenario, let’s introduce the biggest variable possible:
What if Mario finally said “No. I’m not saving you this time, bitch. Get fucked and take your cake with you.”
Harsh words from the lovable plumber, but that’s just the kind of drastic 180 you need to get people’s attention for this sort of thing. Imagine this world where, for the first time, Mario does NOT set off on a grand adventure through the Mushroom Kingdom, defeating any combination of Bowser’s minions and children (whose mother may, in fact, be the Princess after all) so that he can rescue the girl, get his goddamned cake and, if he’s lucky, a peck on the cheek.
I can see the Kingdom falling into a post-apocalyptic ruin under the totalitarian regime of Bowser and his new Queen Peach. All of the Toads become enslaved. The Power Stars and Shine Sprites are obliterated or harvested for Bowser’s continued reign of terror. The universe has gone to hell, and a broken Mario, seeking redemption for his lack of initiative, seeks to make things right, or at least fix what he can.
Without the bright and squeaky-clean image bestowed on him in previous iterations, Mario can expand on his weapons and power-ups. He could be a warped version of a black mage, utilizing the remaining energy in the world to strengthen his fireballs. He could be a rogue hunter, tweaking FLUDD to make it the powerful firearm once hinted at by the team behind Super Mario Sunshine but never fully realized due to the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Hell, he could simply be a psychedelic enthusiast, experimenting with every type of mushroom he can find until he formulates the right combination to ward off armies of Koopas.
You don’t need a happy resolution to all of this, either. At the end of Mario’s hard-fought journey, with a torn plumber suit and dozens of scars, a final fight to the death with Bowser could yield a multitude of endings. Peach sees how badly she fucked things up and begs his forgiveness. Peach could also be the orchestrator of everything, luring Mario to his bitter end to simply demonstrate how easily manipulated and soft a man he is. And let’s not forget Luigi – how does a brother become a part of this tale? Is he loyal to the bloodline, or does he have his own agenda? Is he secretly working with Peach the entire time?
I’m sure ideas like this have been touched on in dozens of atrocious Nintendo fan fiction, possibly also incorporating Peach and some tentacle rape. What I would love to see from the company who got me into video games is an honest attempt at a game like this. It doesn’t even have to be a legitimate entry into the Mario franchise – some kind of side story, offshoot or downloadable experiment. I’ll concede that this will never happen, and this is just me spouting off bullshit fantasy programming the way talking heads on ESPN explain how much better they could have coached the previous days’ games. For now, I’ll continue my quests to collect everything in every Super Mario entry while pondering what the man in the plumber suit is really thinking after every jump.