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Super Mario Oddities

Super Mario Bros.–that classic of classics–turns 25 years old today. On September 13th, 1985, Nintendo released the seminal video game for the Famicom (the Japanese equivalent to the NES), and it made its way over to the States early the next year. With the possible exception of Pac-Man, no video game franchise symbolizes the art form more completely.

Since Super Mario Bros. has touched the lives of so many people (it was the top-selling video game of all time until Wii Sports eclipsed it recently), many works of art, culture, and merchandise have been inspired by it. In the spirit of this anniversary, let’s take a look at some of the oddest ones.


The Wii is Back, Baby!

Sales figures can be kind of drab to talk about, but wow, the Wii absolutely crushed in December 2009.

According to The NPD Group (via Wired), Nintendo moved 3.81 million Wii consoles in North America last month. That’s 1.66 million more units than December 2008, and the record for most consoles sold in a single month. No surprise, then, that the games industry had a record month overall, besting December 2008 by 4 percent.

When you compare those sales with the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, which by any other standard had a good month, it’s just embarrassing. The Wii sold almost three times as many units last month as either of the other two consoles.

Nintendo had just as bountiful a month on the software side. The top-selling games of December were New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2.82 million), followed by Wii Fit Plus (2.41 million), followed by Wii Sports Resort (1.79 million). Only then came the blockbuster Modern Warfare 2 for the Xbox 360 and PS3, selling 1.63 million and 1.12 million units, respectively. A couple months ago, EEDAR analyst Jesse Divnich predicted that the new Mario game’s lifetime sales would eventually surpass those of Modern Warfare 2. He’s on track to be dead-on.

A couple other things to note:

-To date, Wii Sports Resort has sold over 4.5 million units. That means there are at least that many homes with an accuracy-boosting Wii MotionPlus attachment, and probably more when you consider other pack-in games such as Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10. That bodes well for more titles that support the peripheral down the road, especially when the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 introduce their own motion control devices this year.

-Third-party Wii titles are nowhere to be found in the top 10, as has been the case since The Beatles: Rock Band debuted in September. That’s got to be frustrating for publishers, and could be a problem for gamers if third-party support wanes — provided they ever get tired of Mario, Zelda and the sight of their own Mii characters.


Mario, and Why the Wii Will Still Reign

Super MarioIt’s been rumored lately that Nintendo will cut the Wii’s price from $250 to $200 some time this month. That wouldn’t be a surprising maneuver, as Sony and Microsoft have recently tinkered with their own home console pricing.

But at first, I laughed off the news. Nintendo doesn’t even have a killer app for the holidays, I thought to myself, wondering whether a measly $50 price cut would really help juice the lead between the Wii and its competitors.

Then again, I initially forgot about Mario.

Confession: I’ve had enough of Mario ever since 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy — hailed by critics as nothing short of perfection. In my eyes, Mario 64 was the last game to bring with it a sense of magic, so either I simply grew out of Mario, or Nintendo dropped the ball. Either way, after 20-plus years of playing video games, I approached Galaxy with a “been there, done that” mindset, and the game didn’t sway me.

But I’m in the minority, and sometimes I lose sight of Mario’s enduring popularity. That’s why, when I looked at NPD’s August sales figures, I was shocked to see New Super Mario Bros., a Nintendo DS game that is 3 years old, hanging in 12th place for software sales. And that doesn’t count the number of people who bought a used copy of the game. The Nintendo DS was the top-selling console last month, at 552,900 units, and I’m sure many of those consumers chose New Super Mario Bros. as one of their first purchases.

Here’s the kicker: New Super Mario Bros. Wii is coming out in November. It’s essentially the same side-scrolling, 2D Mario game you’ve been playing for decades, but with up to four players at a time. The idea couldn’t bore me any more, but I know people will lap it up. Pair that with a Wii price cut, and Nintendo’s golden again.

I know, I said 2009 is the Year of the Playstation 3, and I still believe it, in that Sony will hit a major turning point this year. But Nintendo, which has reigned since the Wii debuted in 2006, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.


Is Wii Sports Better Than Super Mario Bros.?

Super Mario Bros.In terms of units sold, the answer is “yes.” VGChartz, a Web site that gathers game sales data, says the Wii’s flagship title passed Mario’s first big adventure as of December 27, 2008.

But not everyone is happy about this. CNet columnist Don Reisinger says it’s an “insult” to compare Wii Sports to Super Mario Bros. and other classics. “It’s not that I dislike Wii Sports or haven’t enjoyed my time playing it,” he wrote. “I just don’t see how it can be held in the same high regard as Super Mario Bros.”

Respectfully, I disagree. To play Super Mario Bros. now is to experience a rudimentary platform game with slippery controls and repetitive play. In other words, it’s not very good, but it opened the door to a new world of gaming. Reisinger calls Wii Sports a “proof of concept,” but how could we view Super Mario Bros. any differently?

Better games for the Nintendo Entertainment System eventually came along, and I suspect the same thing will happen to Wii Sports, but both games — and the systems they came bundled with — arrived at time where the game industry was at a crossroads.

A year before the NES reached the U.S., the American game industry crashed. Consumers were tired of the same old shovelware, and the bubble of new consoles and games simply burst. Mario and his cohorts opened new creative doors, and suddenly video games were back in style.

Today’s game industry, though healthy, is also in a rut. The core gamers that support blockbusters like Halo and Grand Theft Auto are but a slice of the general population. When Ninendo’s “Revolution” project came along, with its motion controls instead of shinier graphics, the company was laughed at — until the Wii became the most sought-after console on the market. And it’s not because of the system as a whole. It’s because people want to play Wii Sports, a game that offers new possibilities, but remains simple and fun like gaming used to be.

Personally, that’s not what I look for in a video game, and if I were king, I wouldn’t dub either of these titles as the best of all time. But Super Mario Bros. and Wii Sports both equally deserve their accolades, not insults.