What do you think of Mario 64 from the perspective of 2020? Great game, huh?
It sure is!
Mario 64 still sits atop the entire Mario heap for a good many Mario fans. It's a respectable choice, too. Unquestionably revolutionary in 1996, Mario 64 confidently burst with innovation, including codifying analog control for 3D gaming. (Don't believe me? Just remember that Tomb Raider had you controlling Lara Croft with a D-pad on an invisible grid. Holy crap other developers were not ready for the polygonal future!)
I was a lapsed gamer by this point, a teenaged SEGA fan interested more in girls than any of these new-fangled 64-bit game consoles. I couldn't tell you the difference between a Playstation and a 3DO in 1996. But I did get the opportunity to play Mario 64 at my cousinís house one summer and it blew my Sonic speed shoes off. It was absolutely a classic from start to finish.
Well... about that. Maybe it wasn't exactly a classic from the very, very start. Because the moment we fired it up, I remember the complete rage I felt when I heard this for the first time:
To this day it's the most famous thing Mario has ever said. You can probably go to any city in the world wearing a red cap and say ďItís-a meÖĒ and most people will have an idea what youíre going on about.
Too bad it completely sucks.
I can already hear the gasps. ďBut Kris, this is the main character of your favorite game series ever! You donít just love Mario games, you love Mario himself!Ē And thatís all true.
But we need to recognize the voice in Mario 64 for what it is: A retcon.
Because I do love Mario. But I fell in love with him 12 years earlier when I played Donkey Kong for the first time. And sure, back then it wasnít possible to give Mario a voice in a video game (well, talk to Sinistar about that, but you get my point). You had to hear his voice somewhere else.
My first concept of who Mario actually was came from ďSaturday SupercadeĒ, an early 80s cartoon that's oddly little discussed and little watched by Nintendo fans. But this was the first place where a kid could watch Mario in action, running around with Pauline trying to catch Donkey Kong. This was my favorite show when I was 5 years old and I rooted for Mario every week. It set my personal concept of Mario in stone: Mario is a working class guy from Brooklyn with Italian roots.
Damn, he strong too!
That characterization continued in subsequent Mario games. While heís associated mostly with plumbing, Nintendo fans know heís worked many different manual labor jobs - jobs that donít come with a lot of glory (plumbing, demolition, constructionÖ uh, boxing referee). He was fundamentally a working class hero - just another hard working schlub like millions of Ďem out there doing jobs like this right now.
His status as a working class hero wasnít questioned for over a decade. The later Super Mario Super Show and its spin-offs continued that characterization with Captain Lou Albano. When the property was brought to the big screen, Bob Hoskins played him similarly. While I wouldnít consider any of these great examples of entertainment, the characterization of Mario was consistent.
So while you can argue that Mario never had his voice in a game before, itís dishonest to pretend the characterization in Mario 64 was consistent with how heíd been presented up until that point. It was a retcon, plain and simple.
I should say right now that I donít blame voice actor Charles Martinet. The decision to use his characterization goes above his head. Heís also supremely talented, funny, enthusiastic and by all accounts a friendly guy who loves to interact with Mario fans young and old. If I feel any consolation at the existence of his take on Mario, itís that at least the voice comes out of the throat of a person as cool as Martinet.
But the voice itself still sucks. It fundamentally changes Mario from a working stiff into an air-headed, unknowable cipher. Heís a pure cartoon character, now. He seems to have no inner life at all. He just seems to hang out in a castle with a couple of princesses, eating cakes and riding go karts until some adventure sweeps him up. Thatís a far cry from the plumberís life he used to lead.
Oddly enough Marioís arc reminds me of the character whose voice he most sounds like: Mickey Mouse. In fact, I call the Martinet performance ďMickey MarioĒ to distinguish it from ďBrooklyn MarioĒ the one I grew up with.
Both Mickey and Mario started out as working-class characters. Mickey lived in a farmhouse and played xylophone on a cowís teeth. Mario worked all those blue collar jobs. Both were early icons of a new entertainment technology - animation (especially sound animation) and video games. Both were also good-hearted rascals. Mickey got into all kinds of rough and tumble trouble in his black and white cartoons and Mario was famously a villain in Donkey Kong, Jr.
Pictured: Relatable Working Class Heroism
Whatís interesting is that both characters spent the first decade or so of their lives with these particular quirks but they were gradually sanded down until both could function as bland corporate mascots. I consider both instances a form of working class erasure. They just had the personality sucked right out of them.
Want proof? How many times have you heard people on this board say they donít like Mario all that much? That heís a bit of a prick? That they prefer Luigi? How many times have we had to listen to console warriors argue that heís a bad Italian stereotype? That accusation is probably not fair, but it didnít come from nowhere. He was definitely always Italian, but he didnít used to go around using broken English or shouting ĎMamma Miaí for no damned reason.
Itís interesting to me to consider the ridiculous number of hours most of us have spent playing Mario games and yet some of us still feel like Mario is more distant than characters weíve spent less time with. I havenít played nearly as many hours of Metroid, but I think Iíve got a better handle on who Samus Aran is compared to Mickey Mario. And she barely says a word at all.
It's no secret Iíve been looking back at Sonic the Hedgehog games lately. To my bones I believe the Mario series is significantly better. But I came across a Sonic fan the other day who had an interesting take: Mario fans love the Mario games because theyíre great games full of great gameplay. Sonic fans love the Sonic games because they love Sonic himself. As a partisan for Mario, thatís a gut punch. Do we love Mario games in spite of Mario? When I go to Sonic forums, theyíre full of fan drawings of the Sonic cast. I mean, it's just crappy drawings of Sonic as far as the eyes can see. Iíve even had a go myself and drawn Sonic and Tails a few times, recently. By contrast, Iíve been hanging out with Nintendo fans online since 2005. People donít consistently put pencil to paper and draw Mario. It makes you wonder.
Hanging it on the fridge like an absolute child, too!
Is this because he was lobotomized back in Mario 64? Iím not willing to say that for certain. But I can say that, like Mickey before him, he was certainly more interesting to me when was more of a regular guy.
It took several decades, but eventually Disney seemed to realize what theyíd done to Mickey. About 10 years ago they released the Epic Mickey games, which tried to reconnect the character to his rascally past. Recently they released a series of Mickey shorts that drew inspiration from more radical forms of animation, like Ren and Stimpy (to mixed results, I might add. But you gotta consider that progress. I canít imagine the Disney company I grew up with in the 80s doing anything that radical with Mickey).
My hope is that Nintendo eventually realizes their original concept of Mario wasnít broken and that they lost something when they turned him into more of a cartoony brand. I donít require that they get rid of Mickey Mario altogether - I want Charles Martinet to still eat - but I would like to see Brooklyn Mario reappear in some form or other. Maybe he could star in a series based on the original Donkey Kong. Maybe they could revive his working class roots with new takes on Wrecking Crew or Mario Bros. I'm not sure exactly how they could use him, but I'd be there day one.
You guys may be wondering why I'm writing so much stuff. I have a few days off from work and one of my goals was to finish up some old articles that I started a while back. Not sure I'll ever finish my epic Breath of the Wild review - and the Fall of Kid Icarus is never getting finished - but some of these shorter articles are getting wrapped up. Let me know what you think.
I've always thought of Mario as an egoless being whose defining characteristic is his amor fati.
He's just this unflappable dude who loves going on adventures and sees every problem as a new opportunity for fun. I think he's a great role model; how lame would it be to play a level in a Mario game with no enemies or obstacles? The same thing is true for our own lives.
Mario games are pure, prototypical gameplay. (That's why SMB can still get away with a blank protagonist and a save-the-princess plot: it did it first, and it did it best. It's earned the right!) This is just a crazy theory that's been on my mind lately, but I wonder if there's a correlation between struggling to find enjoyment in that because of an expectation for more in the way of story vs. being generally dissatisfied with life because of... uh, this. The Experiencing Self vs. the Remembering Self. I think that one's ability to find the fun in a Mario game might be indicative of that person's level of mindfulness in general. Life is about solving problems, there's no end state where we finally arrive and get to stop thinking. Mario understands that, so he enjoys it. One must consider Sisyphus happy, etc.
I mean, this is getting very philosophical, but that's not how I see Mario, personally. I know others on this board have said they think Mario is defined by his love of adventure and I do admit that he says "Here we go!" with a certain enthusiasm. But, to me, Mario is fun-loving but he also isn't a guy who goes looking for adventure. He seems like he'd be pretty happy just palling around that castle, eating cakes, and riding his go-kart.
First, if we're being really serious about this, we have to contend with Miyamoto's conception of the Mario gang as a troupe of actors putting on a play. In that sense the "real" Mario is unknowable. He's an actor playing a stock Mario character in a kind of stylized way, similar probably to a character out of Noh or Commedia.
But tabling that theory because it basically eradicates the need to even probe into Mario at all, what I see as Mario's defining traits are 1) His moral sense of justice, and 2) His determination. I think he saves Princess Peach all those times not because he loves going on adventures (which would be kinda shitty actually, to enjoy that Princess Peach got kidnapped because it means he can stomp some goombas again) or because he has the hots for Peach in particular, but because it's simply not right to kidnap someone. People like to joke about how Mario is always trying to impress Peach by saving her, but I have a theory that Mario would do the exact same thing for anyone. Bowser kidnaps a random toad? Yeah, Mario's suiting up in World 1-1 because you can't have that. He'll fight through 8 worlds of certain death because it's not right to kidnap someone.
As for why SMB can get away with a blank protagonist or simple stories, I tend to agree with you. When I mention that Mario fans love the games for the gameplay itself I didn't mean to suggest that's somehow a deficiency in the games. The mechanics are the whole reason people ought to play games! But what it is, in my opinion, is simply a deficiency in the Mario character. It's not necessary to have convoluted stories or dramatic characterization. It's not even preferable (somewhere on Negative World is my defense of that Mario game where the Koopalings plop a cake on Peach and carry her away. Fuck stories.). That's not really my point though. I'm saying we can have the same kind of fundamental Mario game and still have a Mario who doesn't feel like an empty-headed cipher. To me, Brooklyn Mario immediately makes those games better without changing the story that much.
Nope, I love Mickey Mario. I'm so happy with the direction they went. Gruff Mario would be so bad.
His voice and everyone else's was best in Mario Kart 64 though. Pinnacle of all those character's voices, even including Bowser and DK. I can't stand the obviously human stereotypical generic grunts and growls for DK and Bowser they use now. And MK64 Toad had the best voice.
Nice writeup and--outside of the fact that I do still like Mickey Mario--I pretty much agree (it reminds me of this poll I made a few years back). I wonder though if it's really Mario's personality that was retconned...or the fact that most of the reason we saw him that way was because of non-canonical, NOA-based stuff. Supercade, Super Show, SMB3/World shows and the movie were all American properties. You do have an interesting point that Mario tended to show up in lots of blue-collar game roles in the 80s such as the construction-centric settings of Donkey Kong (arcade) and Wrecking Crew. Perhaps they were getting a feel for the character and testing his versatility at that point?
It's interesting to consider what the Marioverse might be like if Mario had kept that slightly gruffer edge. But while I'd like Mario to be more Popeye than Mickey Mouse, I still have affection for the current Mario; that very enthusiasm keeps him at least somewhat original compared to other game characters and even other mascot-style game heroes.
Honestly, I remember some random discussion about this from before, but looking at the original thread itís actually much more in depth than I remember. I make basically the same points I do here and then some. And thereís some good back and forth discussion. Definitely worth reading through again.
I don't think I realised that people disliked the older Mario and that he needed defending. For me, I'm fine with both, and don't mind the change. I saw some of the cartoons when I was little, and the (terrible) movie, and actually didn't watch the Super Mario Super Show until after Super Mario 64 released, and I never felt anything was odd about SM64. This isn't the first time that Mario / Nintendo games had been inconsistent, so I s'pose I was already used to it.
At least in my case, you're spot-on about the gameplay-focused point. I've always been interested in the gameplay of games far and above anything else, with things like story and characters generally being on the bottom of my priorities list. That being said, I do find most other characters in the Marioverse to be more interesting than the man himself, and in any game with a playable character choice, I never choose Mario. Even in the Mario RPGs, Mario still isn't much of a character, and it's his travel companions who are reacting to the world around him and oftentimes even communicating for him as well. That does feel a bit weird at times.
@TriforceBun I knew this topic felt familiar! I thought I also mentioned that I never felt Mario's voice was all that similar to Mickey's (especially the SM64 voice which is still the best to me), but that doesn't seem to be in that thread. With that said, I also never really watched those cartoons and aren't very familiar with Mickey. I s'pose it's inevitable that any character with a higher-pitched voice will be compared to one of the first talking cartoons.
Ooo! You're in for a treat if you ever decide to read some Nietzsche. That guy was a freaking genius. He had one fatal flaw, but man besides that his thoughts were on point. Dang.
Lot of uncomfortable stuff, though, ha ha. He was a master of "if, then" and many of his if-thens revealed some things no one wants to think about. He is also one of those wonderful "quotable philosophers" like Chesterton. (And like Chesterton, he had a heck of a sharp wit and attitude.)
And this one shows some of that biting wit, ha ha. Always makes me laugh:
EDIT: Oh, I suppose I would be remiss if I didn't at least note to anyone who might be following along: Don't read ol' Fred if you are a Nihilist or Existentialist. That'll likely result in suicide. Gotta watch there, and I don't want to lead or push someone towards a very deep lake if they're liable to drown. Full warning.
Iím not sure itís clear. I kind of address it in the article but ultimately Iíd argue the origin doesnít matter. Because weíre not talking about a one off characterization (like the Captain N Kid Icarus) or a situation where localization teams took liberties that stuck around in certain regions (like the Robotnik vs Eggman debate). This was Marioís basic characterization for over a decade in multiple media forms, including a massive, big budget movie. So we canít just dismiss that version as DIC getting carried away or something.
I say this in T-Bunís thread, but my other point is this is a rare situation where I disagree with Miyamoto about Mario. Obviously I love the guy and understand that he is the creator and final say on what is and isnít Mario. But in so much as I can have my own opinion here: Brooklyn > Mickey.
With some recent talk of "where should 2D Mario go next?" after all the NSMB stuff and Mario Maker, wouldn't it be nuts if we got some sort of "first adventure" story with Brooklyn Mario stumbling across a pipe into the Mushroom Kingdom? Play up the plumber aspect of him and all; Bowser is seen as unbeatable except to a plumber, who's familiar with navigating pipes?
Ahh, it'd never happen. Never ever ever. But it'd be pretty wild.
Yeah, I know itís never happen. Thatís why I didnít even ask for it and went toward Donkey Kong or Wrecking Crew. But secretly Iíd love love love a whole Brooklyn Mario offshoot series. I feel like that version of his origin was never told very well.
They DID really seem to run with the "Brooklyn Mario" for many of the character's incarnations, didn't they? I'm not sure how tight Nintendo ran things back then (for multimedia things, I know they were Draconian when it came to their game hardware/software) but I'll admit it does raise a red flag that so many things were seemingly green-lit by Nintendo for the Brooklyn accent and whatnot.
I'm actually cool with both Brooklyn and Mickey...Ha, I kinda want to hear the opening to Super Mario 64 in a Brooklyn accent now! "HEY! It's me...MAH-RIO!"
An interesting perspective! As someone whose sole exposure to the extended Nintendoverse was Donkey Kong cereal (a.k.a. barrel-shaped Captain Crunch), I never really noticed Brooklyn Mario. Just never had much interest in the other media interpretations. So he went from silent gorilla assassin to "Wa-hoo!" for me. Which is fine. Super Mario 64 is probably the realization of what was in Miyamoto's head from the beginning. After the moustache/pixel thing. Although Popeye, which is kind of linked to Mario's origins, probably hews closer to Brooklyn Mario.
But, in the end, it's not like I love Mario as a character. He is a grinning, overly-expressive cartoon cypher. It works, but it's only actually interesting when they subvert that image or his surrounding world, like in the Mario RPGs.
Sonic definitely has a personality, but kind of a pandering off-putting one. Mario is like a Disneyland mascot.
That said, one of my younger nephews actively hates Mario, and refuses to play any game that includes him. (Which might stem from him getting skunked at Mario Kart by one of his friends.) He recently got a Switch, but won't even entertain the thought of playing a game that features Mario. Which, y'know... it's just not a good position to be in. I'm going to just Clockwork Orange him one day and make him watch me play through all of the Mario games.