Try gaming a mile in another character's shoes!

Why Nintendo Should Fragment Their Characters’ Genres More

February 6, 2015 by

Mario and friends have often stuck to the platforming genre, but Nintendo could see a lot of success if they tried mixing things up with their famous cast

Over the years, Nintendo has slowly built a nice little stable of characters that are usually seen populating the Mario games. As these new characters gain popularity and gamers demand more of them, it’s only logical for Nintendo to then spin them off into their own games. While the go-to transition was taking these Mario characters out of a platforming game and putting them into one of their own, these efforts hardly seemed to stir sales like the core Mario titles would. It might have taken them some time, but Nintendo has slowly developed a strategy here that works for them, by taking characters like Luigi, Wario, Yoshi, and Peach, and pulling them out of their usual platforming playground and inserting them into a new genre entirely. In fact, Nintendo would see even more success if they tried to fragment the genre of all their characters across the board.

One of the more clear examples of this genre shift is the case of Wario. Even though the character started with platforming roots all the way back in the Game Boy’s Super Mario World 3: Super Wario World, Nintendo’s recent efforts to rejuvenate Wario’s platforming career (like with GameCube’s Wario World or the Wii’s Wario Land: Shake It!) haven’t exactly been huge successes. What has worked for this twisted character is shifting his focus onto minigames. Wario’s WarioWare franchise has seen repeated platform-crossing sequels (with the latest Game & Wario hitting the Wii U), while the Wario Land franchise has stalled and stagnated. Even Wario’s current representation in the Super Smash Bros. series is of his WarioWare design, rather than his traditional get-up. Mixing things up here worked in a big way for Nintendo.

Ohhh, because his NAME is Wario! I get it!
Ohhh, because his NAME is Wario! I get it!

Another big example of taking a chance with a character paying off can be seen with Nintendo’s resident whipping boy, Luigi. Nintendo has tried a bunch to launch off some sort of platforming career for the green plumber, and even with them resorting to a “Year of Luigi” last year, these sort of games failed to see mass appeal, so don’t hold your breath for a New Super Luigi U 2 happening. But what has worked for Mario’s beleaguered brother is taking up the ghost hunting business, and while it might have taken some time for Luigi’s Mansion to find a real audience, the latest title for the 3DS, Dark Moon, has been a big success. It seems likely that this won’t be the last we’ll see of Luigi in his specter-hunting get-up, and we’ll certainly be returning to Luigi’s Mansion before we see another traditional Luigi-led platformer.

I mean, transitioning from platforming to ghost hunting is a pretty logical move...
I mean, transitioning from platforming to ghost hunting is a pretty logical move…

One of the most recent success stories with Nintendo trying to change things up for Mario’s cast has been with Toad. Rather than even trying to launch a platforming game that has Toad at the center of it, instead spinning off their Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker idea into a full title was a masterstroke. Putting Toad into the world of puzzles weirdly makes a lot of sense for the oddball character. It feels like there’s still much life in this new franchise and it’s exciting to see that a whole line of Toad games could be at our disposal, rather than one big, flashy, failed, Super Toad Galaxy U sort of debacle.

Look at all of that treasure for Captain Toad to track!
Look at all of that treasure for Captain Toad to track!

Even though Donkey Kong’s platforming life is far from over with the Donkey Kong Country Returns series being a recent favorite among many, Nintendo still experimented by displacing Donkey Kong into the rhythm genre in the Donkey Konga series. Clearly DK hasn’t stuck to solely the music scene, but the games did well and are another example of this sort of fragmentation working. You again bring in an audience that might have little interest in beat and rhythm games, but are fans of Donkey Kong, and you make this transition happen as a result.

Rhythm games are a whole new jungle for DK!
Rhythm games are a whole new jungle for DK!

While the above are the only examples of Nintendo running with this strategy so far, there’s a lot of potential with the idea, and thinking about where some of Mario’s other characters might go could spawn a lot of interesting hits. For instance, Yoshi has been a displaced character for Nintendo with his puzzle entries not really blowing anyone away and his platforming games merely seeming acceptable. It’s not as if we’ve been indoctrinated with a ton of Yoshi Story sequels, and the New Yoshi’s Island didn’t make the dent that it was expected to. That being said, this new “stylized platforming” technique that has been applied to Yoshi and platforming (like in the upcoming yarn-based Yoshi’s Wooly World) has seemed to be a step in the right direction for the character. So maybe all upcoming Yoshi games could have this, or a similar aesthetic applied to it as it’s new stamp.

This same sort of approach could even be done with Kirby too. His games certainly aren’t floundering any, but for his titles to adopt a clay motif shortly after using a yarn one, there’s certainly the impression of a unifying “franchise” going on here. Even if Kirby used this sort of look for its big event AAA games in the series; the equivalent of their Galaxy games. In that case, if Kirby games now become stylized platformers, maybe Yoshi could become a character anchored to something like a virtual life/raising game, in the same vein as something like Animal Crossing or Tomodachi Life. It doesn’t feel like that big of a stretch, and caring for blossoming Yoshi eggs as you co-exist on Yoshi Island has a lot of potential behind it.

Bowser has been a fan-favorite character for a long time, although he hasn’t really kicked off any franchises of his own yet. Sure, we’ve gotten minor tastes of getting to play as him in games like Super Mario RPG or the upcoming Mario Party 10, but Nintendo could see a lot of success if they spun Bowser off into his own line of strategy or RTS type of titles. It’d be a lot of fun to be Bowser, controlling an army of Koopas in battle. You could even have a nice subversion where you’re fighting against Mario and his crew, in a reverse of how things usually are. Trying to give Bowser a strategy series could be a big move for Nintendo, offering the potential to bring in a lot of gamers who might have otherwise not been interested in the genre before. And hey, you could even throw in a cameo from those wacky Fire Emblem guys to make everyone happy.

When Bowser's running the party everyone is promptly on time
When Bowser’s running the party everyone is promptly on time

Nintendo has given Peach and Rosalina an increased presence in their multiplayer titles, but rather than just featuring them along the sidelines, why not try giving them their own franchise of cooking games? Something like this might seem sexist, but Peach has a history of baking in the Mario games, and Rosalina and Luma could do some sort of star harvesting in a Harvest Moon-esque simulation. Putting these characters behind those genres could rejuvenate both of them and yield big results. I know a lot of people that would make the crossover. Even though you might think some ambitious platformer starring Rosalina and Peach would be a better idea than this, that sort of thing was attempted with Super Princess Peach and didn’t see much fanfare. That’s not to say that the right people couldn’t deliver a satisfying game, but instead of inviting the comparison, why not try doing something completely different with these ladies?

That's a weird looking outfit on Mario--oh, wait...
That’s a weird looking outfit on Mario–oh, wait…

Waluigi is no doubt one of the odder members of the Mario family. Many would likely say that there isn’t a need to have him headlining his own series of games, but with the character bizarrely being introduced in Mario Tennis, it only seems appropriate to let him be in control of all of the Mario sports franchises. This might seem like a drastic move, but Mario already has enough on his plate. He could stand to lose this, or the Mario Party franchise at least. Both of these lines of games have kind of been flailing lately and are in need of new life, so if these series were brought back with a wacky, off-kilter Waluigi slant to them, people would maybe show more interest. Throw in Bowser Jr. for good measure and these two could lead off some very interesting niche games (but leave golf to Mario, he’s got that franchise down on lock and it shouldn’t be messed with). The mind reels at what Waluigi Tennis or Waluigi Party would look like…

And naturally, of course, there’d be Metal Mario & Pink Gold Peach’s Fishing. It only makes sense.

While a lot of these titles are of course speculation, you can see the trend that Nintendo is moving forward with here. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that they might embrace this fragmentation as much as outlined here, but they’d be surprised at how well it could work for them. Nintendo has a lot of strong characters in the Mario universe, and spreading them out some and letting their individual styles lead off different genres, rather than putting Mario or platforming behind everything, could see some exciting results.

About Daniel Kurland

Daniel Kurland
Daniel Kurland is a freelance writer and comedian, who recently completed work on his noir anthology graphic novel, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Noir: A Rag of Bizarre Noir and Hard Boiled Tales and is the creator of the surrealist podcast, “Bic Zukko’s Forever Almanac”. His sketch troupe, Business Computer also performs a monthly show in Manhattan.