The Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario series were the main factors of the first great ‘console war’. Back in the 90s, it was these franchises and their respective hardware platforms that dominated playground and comic book store feuds far and wide. With such a heated history, it’s still kind of hard to accept the fact that these two are actually in association with each other now. After SEGA single-handedly ran its console business into the ground, it was the House of Mario in which the company turned to first in order to carry Sonic’s legacy on. Since then, things have been going very well between SEGA and Nintendo.
Even with the close relationship between the two companies, the fan-bases for each of the two franchises have kept to themselves for the most part. Even so, there seems to be one unanimous desire that has continued to be very popular among both groups—having a proper crossover title. Recently, even Yuji Naka, one of Sonic’s original creators, actually expressed the same desire.
It’s safe to say that many people want this dream to become a reality, but could it actually work?
I’ve been a Sonic fan since I was young. What drew me into the games is the main feature that the series is based on—speed. It was actually Yuji Naka who said in an interview that he got the idea for the gameplay concept behind the original Sonic the Hedgehog from playing Super Mario Bros. Mr. Naka talked about how he always tried to beat World 1-1 as quickly as possible, and that’s how the idea for Sonic’s fast gameplay came about. Right off the bat we can come to this conclusion, Sonic was always meant to be an anti-Mario game.
What I mean is, the gameplay concepts are pretty much polar opposites from each other. Mario’s games have always been about slow-paced, accurate platforming; being able to have proper control over the character so you try and clear obstacles and hazards as perfectly as possible. Sonic games on the other hand feel more frantic. Because speed is the core element, your primary objective is to get from the beginning to the end of the level in the shortest time possible. You only end up noticing most obstacles and hazards once you’ve bumped into them. The goal is to learn the layout of each level to the T in order to go as fast as possible and keep the momentum rolling, It’s all about locomotion.
Just take this subtle difference into consideration: Most Mario games use countdown clocks, while most Sonic games use stopwatches. Again, Mario’s gameplay is supposed to be slow and steady. Yes, you are racing against time, but that’s there simply to put extra pressure on the player. Sonic’s games on the other hand are more akin to that of an actual race—the better your time, the better your rank.
The biggest difference between the two series is the gameplay style. They’re both platformers, but are on two extremely different ends of the spectrum.
Having established the differences in design, just take a look at the design of games from both series. Whether 2D or 3D, there’s no denying that these games couldn’t be more different from each other. Mario’s formula has remained virtually unchanged in the past 30 years that the series has been running. That’s why his games have continuously received amazing scores; the gameplay has evolved with technology, but the core design is still intact. Compare Super Mario 64 to Super Mario 3D World: over 20 years separate these games, but they have a decent number of similarities. Yet, the gameplay is very different. Now compare this to Sonic’s situation.
It seems like Sonic Team still hasn’t let go of the mentality that SEGA had which caused it to lose its console business; the constant focus on having to change. SEGA flip-flopped between so many pieces of hardware until it just became too much for consumers and developers to handle. Likewise, Sonic Team has flip-flopped between so many gameplay formulas for Sonic, it’s disorienting. This primarily all started with Sonic Adventure. It was there that Sonic Team met their match. Super Mario 64 was already a few years old at that time, and it proved to be a perfect transition for the series into 3D. Sonic Team knew they had to produce similar results. Because of this, they tried experimenting with Sonic’s formula. While speed was still an element, it wasn’t the complete focus like before. By having multiple characters, each with their own unique style of gameplay, Sonic Team tried to use a ‘catch-all’ maneuver in order to find some balance. This has been the case ever since. Going through all the 3D Sonic games, it’s hard to fine a true line of consistency. The only real example of this is Sonic Unleashed, Colors and Generations, These games all shared the same basic formula. But then Sonic Team brought an end to this with Sonic Lost World—yet another revision to the formula.
I’ve said all of this to show just how much of a polar opposite the Mario and Sonic series are. They’ve grown in completely different manners, and there’s no denying that Mario has fared much better. But putting aside the sheer contrast in the level of quality that each series has, it’s really the styles of gameplay that separates them. By design, Sonic’s formula is meant to be the opposite of Mario’s, and that’s something that’s all to clear to see. If there really was a true crossover title, this is the primary hurtle that the developers would need to clear: make Mario faster, or make Sonic slower?
Do you make Mario faster or make Sonic slower? Each characters’ gameplay style would need to be significantly altered for there to be a balance.
Mario games can be pretty fast at times, that I will admit. But even then, it’s still not even remotely as fast as what we’ve seen in Sonic’s latest games. In like manner, there are (many) times when Sonic games do slow down for a bit. But that’s the thing, it’s always been uncomfortable. It goes against the primary element of the formula, making it just seem out of place. In fact, the one time when Sonic Team did try to take a page out of Mario’s book, the biggest complaint was that the gameplay was too slow. Ultimately, trying to combine these two gameplay styles is like trying to mix oil and water—it just doesn’t work.
Now then, let’s take a look at the Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series and Sonic’s appearance in the Super Smash Bros. series. The experience has proven to be much more natural in these settings. Why? Because there’s one common element in place. Neither of those series have anything to do with the main games. There, all of the characters are on equal ground, everyone following the same pattern. A crossover game could never work, because it would have to try and create a hybrid formula between Mario and Sonic’s respective styles of gameplay. In all honesty, the only way this could work is if the game happened to be a 2D side-scroller, Ubisoft’s Rayman Origins & Rayman Legends have proven to be a good example of having precise platforming and speed work hand-in-hand. So yes, a Mario x Sonic game could potentially work out that way, but that’s still only a possibility.
In the end, it’s probably best that these series stay officially separated. The collaborations that are already place serve as the perfect opportunities for the characters to compete on a balanced playing field. The only extra thing that should be done is having Sonic appear as a guest character in the next Mario Kart game. Other than that, let these series remain on their respective side’s of the platformer fence.