What Super Mario Is

I recently heard from a reader who didn't understand what was wonderful about The Legend of Zelda games. I tried to explain. And then I heard from him again.

What, he asked, about Mario? What's special about all these Super Mario games?

I will try to explain:

  • It's running. Then jumping. Then falling down a bottomless pit. Re-starting. Running again. Thinking you'll time that leap differently this time. It's getting carried away by the music and the momentum and then jumping at the exact same time you did the first time, then falling down that bottomless pit again. That's Mario
  • It's being the kind of guy who wouldn't normally be asked to save the princess, but doing it anyway. That's Mario
  • It's about a jungle gym in two or three dimensions. Always with things to bounce on or crush or break through. That's Mario
  • It's also happiness. Happy to be there. Happy to yelp with each jump. Happy to fireball happy enemies. Happy to pop up in a new game genre and make that one bouncier and happier too, and happy to do it, ideally, without speaking more than four words. That's Mario
  • It's the dynamism of exaggerated action, beating up your enemy by smashing down on them butt-first, about climbing to the top of a tree and then doing a handstand on it, about always running because walking is too slow. That's Mario
  • There's a spot in World 1-2 of Super Mario Bros. Anyone who played the game as a child knows where it is. A stack of platforms roll up the screen. You don't pass across one of them, like you're supposed to. You ride it to the top of the screen and then run on top of the level, your character hustling through what was supposed to be the part of the screen used to display your score. And soon you find a trio of green pipes that connect to levels later in the game. It's a secret. It's a shortcut. It's sanctioned defiance of how the level was meant to be played. It's what you're always looking for in these games. That's Mario
  • Seeing a bullet fly toward you and thinking: "I can jump on it, bounce off it, ricochet off another one and reach that cloud." That's Mario.
  • It's caring about whether the next level of the game auto-scrolls forward or not. Caring about whether a raccoon tail lets you merely fly or float. Caring about the quality of the music that plays when you're swimming. That's Mario.
  • It's entirely about the 1-second arc of a jump. Up leads to discovery (break a block with your head and find a fire flower power-up in it!) Down leads to destruction (down onto a turtle who is squashed to a shell and shuttled away, knocking out the three dopes who followed him). That's Mario.
  • And this. It's Mario, too:



Make sense now?


What Super Mario Is

What Zelda Is

I got a message from a reader the other day. He noticed that I write a lot of articles about Zelda games (like this one and this one, both about the new Zelda, Skyward Sword). More »


You can contact Stephen Totilo, the author of this post, at stephentotilo@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.