Friday, November 5, 2010

Tracing the popularity of the King of Koopas



The latest game in the Mario RPG series is Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. Where Bowser joins in as one of the playable characters. This is not the first time he has stepped out of his traditional role as the fire breathing final boss. He was one of the playable characters in Super Paper Mario and then of course there are all the Mario sports games, where he is an obvious star.

This honor surely stems from the vast love for King Koopa among Nintendo fans. But this begs the question why is Bowser so bellowed when most gamers struggle to remember the names of his fellow final bosses. Who remembers Wart, the evil humanoid frog you face at the end of Super Mario Bros 2? What about King K. Rool from the Donkey Kong games, when did you think of him last? Or what about what about Emperor Andross from the Star Fox series, even I had to look up that guys name. Mario is arguable the most famous video game character so some of that fame is bound to rub off on to his archnemesis but I feel that this is an insufficient explanation, Bowser is simply too popular. Instead I would like to trace the popularity of Mushroom Kingdoms infamous bad guy back to design of the very first Super Mario Bros. The game where Bowser first made his appearance.

Unlike later platformers the original Super Mario Bros only had one boss, you had to face him in a number of incarnations of increasing difficulty but it was always the same guy, the same crazy eyed sprite. At the end of the forth level of every world you came face to face with Bowser. This ensured that every kid growing up during the NES-era had to battle him innumerable times. Unlike your traditional last boss which given the difficulty of games back in the day, only the most skilled kids ever got to even see. I was never good enough at Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World to reach Bowser back in the day. But I surely got to develop a close relationship with him in Super Mario Bros.

Back when games had a minimal story and hair tearing difficulty the last boss all too often remained a mystery, not Bowser. When I think about it the only antagonist that can rival Bowser in popularity would be Dr. Robotnic. The early Sonic games like the Mario games had Sonic facing off against Dr. Robotnic at the end of every zone. Another case where this type of game design surely contributed to the popularity of one of the mediums best known bosses.

19 comments:

JJS said...

You're right, showing up at the end of a quarter of the levels of one of THE pivotal games in the medium is a pretty good way to get some recognition.

Also, since you mentioned a few games where Bowser joins up with the protagonists, I think the first time this happens was the original SMRPG. At the time, that was a pretty shocking surprise to me.

lx4 said...

I'm ashamed to say I never played SMRPG. I guess I can partly blame it on living in Europe, it was never released here. But now there are so many ways to play old games that's not really a good excuse.

JJS said...

I'm not sure what someone would make of SMRPG going into it fresh now. Simple fun, but both the M&L and Paper Mario series built onto the timing-based battling SMRPG introduced, and without now-ugly low-color CG graphics.

lx4 said...

Yea those pre-rendered DK country style graphics look really rough, but if the game is good enough I'm sure I could get used to them.

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