Jeneé Osterheldt

From the archives: ‘Mario’ is still super

Jeneé Osterheldt


Originally published Dec. 28, 2009

While video gamers across the world are playing “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” I’m trying to save the princess on “New Super Mario Bros.” Wii.

Sure, “Modern Warfare 2” broke sales records, making more than $310 million on its first day on the market, and was a sure hit for Christmas gifts. But for my money and time, nothing beats the charm of Mario and Luigi. And the game’s appeal is way bigger than the mustache.

These guys are about 30 years old. I didn’t know the Mario that made a guest appearance in “Donkey Kong.” I wasn’t much of an Atari kid. But when I was 10 I got a Nintendo, and my mama taught me how to play “Super Mario Bros.” I have been fighting that turtle-dragon named Bowser and saving the princess ever since. Once, the princess even got to save Mario.

Bright and animated, the Mario games avoid the kind of gun-play and war that are so popular.

It’s arty. It plays like an amazingly drawn cartoon. And it relies on simplicity. You jump, leap, swim and fly. Sometimes there is a penguin suit or fireball involved. But it doesn’t take a lot of complicated moves to pounce on a Goomba, which looks an awful lot like a mushroom with feet and eyes.

I think that simplicity caused people to think Mario couldn’t make it this far. When Nintendo fell off in the late ’90s and tried to make a comeback with the GameCube in 2001, it looked like the rise of the Xbox and PlayStation might make the gaming company irrelevant.

Video gaming was changing. Sports games remained steady. But family games were being ditched for the thuggery of “Grand Theft Auto” and explosions of “Halo.”

Don’t get me wrong, I respect the mind-blowing graphics Xbox offers. It’s like a macho man. And I’ve been known to stay up late playing “Sonic the Hedgehog” on the sexy PS3 -- the hot guy.

But when the Wii came along a few years ago, it represented something different. It’s like the family man in the crew. And “Super Mario Bros.” is the face of that. These games don’t make you want to shut out everyone until you finish.

They make you want to show a friend or ask a loved one to play, too. Much like the “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” games, the Mario series makes the player want a partner or at least an audience. It brings about fellowship.

The fact that after 30 years, Nintendo and Mario will see another decade and delight a new generation is a sign that the family man is still alive and kicking. In fact, he has a princess to save.