With games like Braid, Bionic Commando and Mega Man 9, 2008 proved that 2D gaming is back in a major way!
There once was a time when a hip mascot was the best way to make sure people remembered your company. Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic, Sony had Crash Bandicoot. Everybody had to have some sort of wacky cartoon character to sell people on the idea that they should buy your games. Thankfully those days are long gone. These days companies aren't forced to com e up with a stupid talking animal just to keep their name out there. Instead they can force real people like John Madden and Tony Hawk to do that for them.
While I don't miss the days when every company was trying to outdo Mario, I do wish we had more amazing platformers. I was extremely happy to see Braid bring 2D platfrming to the Xbox Live Arcade, I can only hope that more games like that will follow. In an attempt to figure out the best and worst mascot characters John Xavier and I are going to rank 13 different characters. To keep it fair we've decided to only have one mascot per company, so don't expect us to weigh the episode down with all of Sega's failed mascot characters. And while not all of these characters are from the 8- or even 16-bit era, they are all featured in 2D games. So get ready to find out what we really think about 13 of the most popular mascots of all time!
SUPER MARIO [Nintendo]
Details: We would be here for days if I tried to list all of the games Nintendo has used Mario in, but I can tell you that he's best known for platformer action games like Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario Galaxy, and the original Mario Bros. Beyond those titles, Mario has been featured on cereal boxes, on TV, on the big screen, in comic books and on every single Nintendo console ever made. He plays golf, baseball, soccer and has even went to the Olympics. He's Nintendo's go-to guy, perhaps you've heard of him.
John Xavier: Talking about Mario isn't something that one approaches easily. This character is beloved by millions and there are still those that feel that Mario and video games are synonymous. From simple beginnings, Mario has only really changed superficially, even leading up to his seminal releases on the Super NES. Whether he's starring in a side-scroller or in a kart racing game, Mario has always been the unassuming plumber in the blue overalls. His look is one of elegant simplicity and social grace. Beyond his design at conception, we've seen him go from genre to genre with no major overhauls to his character, a feat that is quite uncommon. He has remained the same polite, tactful plumber we met in Super Mario Bros. Though he is a plumber, and he does wear overalls, he sports no crack. He keeps his mustache neatly groomed and despite his heft has managed to star in several games that have him running and jumping like an Olympic athlete (sometimes literally). So what is it that makes Mario so memorable? Is it his simple, unassuming nature? Is it the fact that, sometimes the Mushroom Kingdom needs a hero, and he's taken it upon his shoulders to take action with no expectation of reward even in the face of repeated disappointment in the past (another castle)? If you were to ask me, I'd say it's because Mario is an everyday hero. Not only capable of saving a damsel from a power crazed reptile tyrant, but also from a leaky gasket. For his consistency as a hero, as well as a role model for younger games, I salute him.
Cyril Lachel: Like Mickey Mouse and Chuck E. Cheese, it's hard to find fault with Mario ... but I'm going to try anyway. This is Mario, one of the most recognizable characters in video game history. And while he's certainly gone from pixel to polygon, the truth is that he hasn't changed all that much. He still wears that red hat, those blue overalls and the same shoes. And I guess that's my problem. After all these years, there's no reason Mario can't find something else to wear in his closet. I especially don't like his white gloves, there's really no reason for them to be there. It's not like he's doing a lot of plumbing these days, so what does he need those gloves for? He's not getting his hands dirty, half the time he's just jumping on people. And even when he's not jumping on his enemies, he's still only punching or using a weird hose thing. Speaking of which, how weird is jumping on people? Anyway, there's more to dislike about Mario. For example, he always wears a hat with his initial on it. Does Mario really need to be reminded which is his hat? The other hat is green for crying out loud, surely he can tell the difference without having to be reminded with his first initial. There really is a lot to hate about Mario, but the truth is that I can't help but love him. He's a ridiculous character that says stupid things, yet he's consistently entertaining and doesn't seem to care that he's a fashion disaster.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG [Sega]
Details: He was the original mascot character with attitude. While others tried, Sonic was one of the few mascot characters to upstage Super Mario. He was fast, had a four-year-old friend and wasn't going to take crap from anybody. Not even you! Like Mario, Sonic has been in a lot of different games, including racing games, sports games and even board games. He's had his own cartoon and comic book, and unlike Mario he hasn't tortured us with a live action motion picture. And did I mention that he kicked Mario's ass at last year's Olympics? Well, it's true!
Cyril: Is it possible to review Sonic the Hedgehog's design without dwelling on the terribleness of his past few adventures? Unfortunately it's not, I'm afraid the taint of his next generation games is too much to stand. As a 2D character Sonic makes a lot of sense, he can spin, run really fast and has cool spiky hair. However, when you take him away from the 2D look you start to understand his limitations. When it comes right down to it all he's doing is jumping and rolling on the ground, and anybody can do that. Sure he can run fast, but how useful can that really be? If you're finding yourself in situations where you need to run away from people, then maybe you shouldn't be such a douche bag. Anyway, my point is that Sonic isn't really cool when you think about it, and then when he dabbles in bestiality, well, the whole thing is just a little too weird. But he does have that attitude, and as we all know the people with the loudest voice are often the most successful. Gee, when it's put that way it's hard to imagine why all of the new Sonic games are total trash.
John: Even after several spinoffs and misadventures in the third dimension I still put a lot of stock in the little blue mammal in the hot red sneakers. His attitude is exactly what my pre-adolescent psyche needed after a romp with our unassuming Italian. Beyond that, I've always felt that Sonic was a very well designed character. His minimalist attire well suited the fact that you were usually just seeing a red and blue blur. Naka may have been a bit sadistic with his level design, but even after catching 20 or 30 spiked walls to the face Sonic has came back with a finger in your face and a smirk on his. His concept is solid, and has stood the test of time (to some extent) and for that I'm proud to give him a high mark.
BUBSY THE BOBCAT [Accolade]
Details: Bubsy the Bobcat was a smart-mouthed mascot who starred in a couple of different 2D action games. He was so popular that he even managed to snag his own Jaguar game ... take that Sonic! Unfortunately the goodwill Bubsy had earned was squandered with a lame cartoon series and one of the worst 3D action games ever made. These days Bubsy is considered nothing more than a joke, a stain on the history of mascot characters. Harsh.
John: Though vilified through the ages due to several overly generic side-scrolling cash-ins, Bubsy is not a character without merit. From a design standpoint, he does at least make sense. Created with the intention of appealing to the younger crowd, an orange cat with a white long-sleeved shirt with an exclamation point on it is about as "safe" as you can get. Bubsy took notes from the plumber, and defeated enemies by jumping on them; and just like the Italian, Bubsy was exceedingly frail. So you have a bright orange cat that collects yarn and has an in-your-face attitude, what's not to like? Well I'd start with the fact that Bubsy doesn't seem like a very likable character to me. He has no gimmick, nothing that separates him from every other anthropomorphic cat that jumps on enemies and collects yarn. For that matter, there's not much that separates him from just regular old cats. I mean he's got an "in-your-face" attitude, and so does a cat who you were supposed to feed several hours ago. He collects yarn and has nine lives, and most of the cats you'll run into in reality have arguably the same traits. Worst of all, I'm pretty sure if you were to just put a normal housecat in a white long sleeved shirt it would be a great deal funnier than Bubsy. Bubsy does, however, show you the result of simplicity in character design going wrong. Given something that set him apart (not counting Nerf guns or extended family) he might have been able to make something of himself, but as it stands, he is mostly remembered as a running joke from a now defunct developer.
Cyril: Not every animal requires its own game. Sonic works because most of us don't know the habits of a hedgehog, but most of us are familiar with cats and anybody that has ever owned a cat can tell you that they aren't especially reliable in a pinch. Cats just sort of do what they want, not really caring what you want or think. They may snuggle up with you from time to time, but it's only because THEY want to, it's never the other way around. They are like a selfish lover ... except not in the weird bestiality way that you're thinking. Bobcats are like housecats, except that they have the power to kill you. And not that playful kind of kill you, I mean rip your body apart. They're dicks. And that's why Bubsy the Bobcat makes no sense. Instead of ripping fools apart, Bubsy would rather collect yarn balls. Yarn balls? Just how domesticated is this bobcat anyway? My other problem is that there are all these references to Bubsy having nine lives. I don't think bobcats have nine lives, I think they have one life ... one really hardcore life that allows them to rip you to pieces. I just don't understand how they couldn't get a good platformer out of a characters that can rip people apart.