With the immense popularity of Nintendo’s new Super Mario 3D World for Wii U, we thought it was time to think about what makes Mario such an important and popular character among kids, tweens, and teens (and the namesake of kids’ favorite video game since YouthBeat’s launch in 2008).
For our YouthBeat readers who weren’t around then, Mario first appeared in the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong. Since then, he has appeared in over 200 video game titles and the Mario franchise games have sold millions of units. Mario, and the characters and world built around him, have surrounded youth in the form of cartoons, comics, films, toys and countless objects of play and design.
So, what makes Mario (the character and the franchise) so popular?
- Mario Lets Kids Learn as They Go. No matter the Mario title, players are slowly and methodically introduced to the key movements and elements of the game. Not only does this help players develop skills, but it also encourages players to challenge themselves and push further. With each new level, there are new skills to learn. And for mastery-loving kids, this chance to get good and test your skills serves as a recipe for success!
- Mario Can Fit Many Forms. Mario has done a lot of rescuing over the years, and he has shown that he can be a hero in any setting. Whether it’s a classic side-scrolling platform (Super Mario Brothers), 3D open adventure (Super Mario 64), a race (any Mario Kart), or a fighting game (Super Smash Brothers), Mario has the ability to adapt to any type of game. Mario, an archetypical hero with a rags-to-riches story (he is a plumber who rescues princesses), begs you to root for him in every scenario in which he appears.
- Mario is Familiar. While conventional wisdom might suggest that new is necessary to keep kids interested, Mario suggests another model. Mario serves as the guide to new genres that kids can explore. He represents a typical hero (he is a plumber who rescues the princess) whose quests are filled with tragedy, comedy, and overcoming monsters (Bowser!). Within the larger Mario franchise, there are numerous fighting games, RPG games, and racing games. Everyone can find a game to love in the Mario universe.
- Mario is part of the Family. Mario is about as family-friendly as video games get (little violence, cute images, and simple humor). With the release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Nintendo has also been using Mario to bring families together by making the games cooperative. With Super Mario 3D World, parents and kids can work, learn, and play together.
What lessons can content creators and marketers alike learn from Mario?
- Incorporate learning and growth. This allows entry-points for all ages and skill levels.
- Think outside the box. Moving across different platforms enhances appeal, not detracts from the franchise’s DNA.
- Think about family. Cooperative play not only encourages family time, but also makes games more social and fun.
Now, who’s up for some real life Mario Kart?