Would Mario games benefit from having a better storyline?
No one deducts points from a Mario game for having a poor storyline. It’s already something that’s expected – Princess Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser. Sometimes it has to do with some cake she’s baking or party she’s planning. End of story. No one comes into a Mario game hoping to be wowed and dazzled by a complex, ten-layers-deep story with a surprise plot twist at the end. They know that when it comes to Mario games it’s all about the gameplay and having fun.
However it’s time to start rethinking this whole concept. Mario games used to be rare releases, coming out once or twice every generation. From the NES release in 1985 until the end of the GCN’s lifespan, there were nine core Mario platformers: seven console games and two original Gameboy games. From the release of the Wii and DS until the end of this year, we will have seen eight core Mario platformers. Some would say the formula is beginning to lose its freshness. There’s no question that the gameplay has been refined and tightened to an unmatched level of precision. But, it’s clear that in terms of the 2D Mario games, Nintendo is looking for a new angle to provide a fresh experience. For example, with the recent New Super Mario Bros 2, the core gameplay was nothing new. But, there was a new “spin” added to the game, by way of the addiction to collecting tons of coins.
It could be Nintendo should look towards evolving other aspects of the game, as well, such as the storyline and gameplay. But, the storyline is what I’d really like to examine.
Some gamers would feel disgusted by the thought of having a more complex story in a Mario game. It just wouldn’t feel “right”. It wouldn’t feel like a Mario game if the story began to take more of a focus than it has in the past. It’s similar to why some gamers don’t want voice-acting in the Zelda games. They want to preserve the tradition and feel of Zelda. But, the problem is that our brains are just too used to the Mario formula. It may help us retain the “image” we’ve developed over the years, but we will lose the excitement and passion we once had for a new 2D platforming Mario game. We need something that will surprise our brain and make it say, ‘Oh, this is something I’m not familiar with! I’m excited to see what’s going to happen!’
So, the question is how a Mario game should approach its storyline in a way that would actually benefit the game. I don’t think anyone would be happy if Nintendo brought in some well-known writer to work on a sophisticated and complex plot involving parallel universes and a philosophical subtext of Man’s fight against religion. Nor do we need a treatise on the psychological side effects of the jealousy Luigi feels towards being the lesser of the two brothers, as Luigi slowly joins the dark side. And we definitely would pass on a story focusing on Peach’s romantic feelings towards Bowser interfering with Mario’s attempt to save her.
The story would obviously have to be kept light, humorous, and whimsical; enjoyable for all ages. But, light-hearted doesn’t have to mean boring or repetitious. It could even be predicated on the age-old tradition of Peach being kidnapped. But, do we honestly think Peach falls into the same trap every time? How many times will they fall for the same thing. Here’s an example of a slightly altered storyline: The Princess throws a party and Bowser shows up to kidnap her. Mario saw it coming, though, and made sure to be the Princess’ personal bodyguard. He thwarts Bowser and saves the day. Bowser comes up with a new plan. While Mario is at the party, Luigi is back at home, in bed. Bowser and his minions kidnap Luigi while Mario is off with his gal. The first four worlds in the game could involve Mario chasing after Bowser in order to save Luigi. At the last castle, Mario encounters the Koopalings. He has to all seven of them, one after another. While he’s all tied up dealing with the Koopalings, saving Luigi, Bowser and an army of dry bones break into the Princess’ castle and kidnap her. After saving his bro, you can play as either Mario or Luigi as you make your way to the final confrontation with Bowser.
It’s simple and lightweight; it doesn’t require that much more of a focus on the story, but it’s enough to add a bit more of a compelling nature to the story. The conflict adds a bit more tension and motivation. It’s simple enough that a six year old who watches cartoons can understand it, but it’s enough that you don’t feel like Nintendo is being lazy about the storyline.
The truth is that Nintendo has always had Mario storylines in their Mario RPGs. Paper Mario has a light and positive feel to it the whole way through. The characters, villains, and side-characters are loads of fun. The Mario & Luigi RPGs are always humorous and silly. A simpler version of those plots or characterizations would work just fine for a Mario platformer.
So, what do you think? Would Mario games benefit or lose from a better storyline?