Back in the year 1991, when Nintendo held vast swathes of the gaming market with their italian plumber leading the way, a star was born. That star was Sonic the Hedgehog, SEGA’s lovable mascot who would tackle Nintendo head on, stealing away a large portion of the market in the process.
Although history tells us that Mario never stepped down from his title of King, I know without a doubt that if Sonic the Hedgehog had been released in 1985, the name “Mario” would mean little to nothing. It cannot be denied that Super Mario Bros. was a landmark for videogames, but all evidence says that Sonic improved on just about everything.
For starters, Sonic the Hedgehog had the fastest gameplay. The feeling of having that momentum needed to race up a wall is far more exciting than bouncing off a Goomba in the Mushroom Kingdom. Sonic did not just have to be fast to get high scores. While Mario could take his time to save a princess, Sonic had to save the world.
SEGA knew that Mario’s games were hard, but not the good kind of hard. When a game is difficult, it should be the player’s fault, not the game’s. Nintendo was notorious for making unfair levels, frustrating even the most skilled players. Sonic had great level design almost all of the time, and gave everyone who played it a fair chance of actually completing it. The reason that Sonic’s easier difficulty level works is because it never gets dull. The game is constantly high-energy, and the fun never stops.
Nintendo and Mario defined control, while SEGA and Sonic advocated freedom. Sonic games are about exploration, and you have to go up, down, left and right at unbelievable speeds to get to the objective. Mario just moves to the right, in a predetermined path to the end. Few would rather have linearity over variety. With this variety, Sonic appeals to everyone, while Mario appeals to Nintendo.
After a short span of time, Mario games are dull and repetitive – every 2D game has been built on Super Mario World, and every 3D game on Super Mario 64, since those games were released. Sonic games offer new experiences and thrills every time – even if their new ideas don’t always succeed. Even the Mega Drive games started to innovate heavily – first with Tails, then adding Knuckles into the mix.
Seeing as Sonic was able to get started on a 16-bit system, it should be no question that his games look better. Not only did the detail massively increase, the vibrant colours add a lot. The graphics and sound of Mario games wouldn’t work with Sonic. A plain, blank blue sky from Mario wouldn’t look good with Sonic’s speed. The the background is needed to make players appreciate how fast the world is going by them. They can take a look around and admire the detail, or they can zoom off into the distance wherever they please. Mario has one setting – slow and in one direction.
As far as sound, Mario has the iconic soundtrack, that doesn’t get your heart pounding. Anyone who has ever played as Sonic will forever remember the sound of imminent drowning. In case you’re ever getting bored, it’s the easiest way to give yourself a heart attack.
In the end, all roads lead to Sonic the Hedgehog. It doesn’t matter that Sonic the Hedgehog was released 6 years after Super Mario Bros. When in comparison to Sonic, Mario’s only redeeming feature is that he came out first, and had enough time to grab everyone’s attention before they could realize the superiority of SEGA’s brainchild. It is simply a greater game in every aspect – and it will be enjoyed forever.
Go read Robin Wilde’s account of why classic Mario is better – then let us know who you think is right!