The Sonic vs Mario debate has been going on pretty much since games console became a standard phenomenon in the household. Many gaming heroes have come and gone since then, but every time a list is made debating gaming’s greatest icons, the sheer longevity of these two rivals means that they’re usually battling it out for top spot. After many months (OK, hours) of research, I have charted the lifespan of these two legendary games series, and have come to a pretty solid conclusion on who’s come out on top. Read on to find out.
DISCLAIMER: I have at various points owned both Mario and Sonic games. I’m not currently an owner of either and as such this article is free of any bias. So no comments accusing me of being a ‘SEGA-sucker’, ‘Nintentard’ or any other similarly irritating terms. If you dislike the article for reasons other than the aforementioned, then feel free to express them.
The 2D Days
It goes without saying that Mario is the more experienced of the two characters, having first appeared on the scene in 1981 in Donkey Kong, 10 years earlier than Sonic. By the time of Sonic’s debut, Mario had already brought the series a long way with the brilliant Super Mario Bros. 3. However, Sonic definitely shook things up when he appeared, offering a faster style of gameplay, loop-the-loops and flashier visuals. Things were looking promising, and the early sequels, Sonic 2, Sonic 3and Sonic & Knuckles established Sonic as a worthy rival to Mario.
Despite Sonic’s early success, Mario always seemed to have his nose just in front. Keeping Mario ahead of his rival was the release of Super Mario World and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, which made huge gameplay advancements for the platformer genreand introduced the charming Yoshi to the world. While the Sonic games remained fundamentally the same, Nintendo showed with Yoshi’s Island that they weren’t afraid of innovating their games.
Attempting To Breach the 3rd Dimension
In an attempt to keep things fresh for their fans, SEGA also tried to take Sonic in new and interesting directions, but their attempts just weren’t that successful. The release of Sonic Labyrinth in 1995 and the deceptively-titled Sonic 3D Blast in 1996 took Sonic into a strange isometric world in which you had to move around at awkward diagonal angles instead of the traditional left-right routine. While SEGA’s efforts to take the platformer in a new direction were noble, they paved the way for their rival to go one better.
It’s hard to believe that the same year as 3D Blast was released, Nintendo released the incredible Super Mario 64 as a launch title for the Nintendo 64. With this game, Nintendo revolutionised gaming by creating a beautiful 3D world for the fat plumber to bounce around in. As with Super Mario Bros back in 1988 and then Super Mario World, it set a new benchmark in platform gaming, and platformers to this very day use the same fundamental formula.
SEGA’s chance to bounce back came with the release of the powerful Dreamcast in 1998, where Sonic Adventure promised to wow the world. In fairness, it was a very good game, but despite its crispy clean graphics, it still felt fairly linear and was certainly not as ground-breaking as Mario had been just a couple of years earlier. Furthermore, it was released on a console that was doomed to die a premature and painful death.
Sonic Loses His Home: 2001-present
It’s safe to say that the events of the last decade haven’t been kind to Sonic. With SEGA discontinuing console production in 2001, he has effectively become a mercenary, having to feature on consoles he would never previously have been seen dead with just to make ends meet.
Without his own console to be the figurehead of, it is unsurprising that in Sonic’s subsequent outings, such as Sonic Colors and Sonic Riders, the once-proud blue hedgehog has become a mere shadow of his former self. Adding insult to injury is the fact that he seems to have lost his marketing touch. His best-selling games in recent times have been co-features with his nemesis Mario, and while Mario and Sonic at The Olympics and Super Smash Bros Brawl show that Sonic still has the fire in his feet, it is unlikely that he’ll ever recover his pride after becoming dependant on his one-time rivals at Sony and, in particular, Nintendo.
Mario, meanwhile, continues to dazzle audiences by enhancing and re-defining platform gaming with titles such as New Super Mario Bros Wii and of course Super Mario Galaxy. There have been some minor slip-ups, with Mario Kart Wii not living up to the legendary standards set by Mario Kart 64 did, but the overweight plumber remains as relevant and self-selling an icon today as he was over 20 years ago. While Nintendo have been going through a tough time recently in terms of finances, their reputation as industry innovators means that Mario will always be there to provide gaming with a breath of fresh air… tinted with a nice dose of nostalgia.
Time hasn’t been kind to Sonic. The free-running hedgehog, who once seemed like the perfect lifelong rival to Mario, hasn’t been the same since the halcyon days of the Mega Drive. Meanwhile, Nintendo have lovingly continued to nurture Mario into the undisputed icon of video-games.
So the dispute is settled. The question is, where does Sonic go from here? Recent outings have shown that as a pairing, Sonic and Mario go quite well together, so why not unite these heroes of gaming in an adventure that’ll be remembered throughout the ages? A co-operative platformer in which players must use both characters’ trademark abilities to fight against the combined force of King Koopa and Dr Robotnik. All speculation for now, but this really could be the start of a beautiful relationship. Launch title for the WiiU, maybe?