Ah, Nintendo. With what words to express thine legacy? Most people who have even touched the controls to a video game system these days know the name Nintendo – even if they’ve never played one of their past or present systems, nor ever care to buy one. Nintendo’s most recent, and widely successful Super Smash Bros. title for the Wii U and Nintendo 3Ds is what keeps these characters fresh and relevant for long-time fans and new gamers. But for many of these gamer “millennials” or “generation-y’s” (both terms I loathe to use), Nintendo’s selection of flagship characters, all of which are playable in Super Smash Bros., could seem like quite a strange selection at first glance. In fact, Nintendo’s characters are weird.
Granted, Sony’s PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, a game with a very similar play style, had quite a motley group of playable characters featured from some of their most famous titles (and strangely, leaving out a few big ones like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot), but none of those characters come close to having the longevity and influence that the majority of Nintendo’s characters have had on the gaming world. I wouldn’t even hesitate to say that Mario and Donkey Kong are like the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck of video games. They’re just that recognizable. But let’s take a closer look at Mario for a moment. If you saw an image of the character, but knew nothing else about him, it wouldn’t surprise you if someone told you he was one of Ronald McDonald’s buddies. The bright colors, the happy demeanor, the simple shapes – but no, because we know so much about him, we know that he’s an Italian plumber that can jump really well and he saves a princess from a giant dinosaur; Mario is awesome! He’s cool! Then again, if you discovered all of those facts about Mario just now, I’m sure your reaction was: Uh… what?
Again, if you’re familiar with this character, and especially if you have been for the last twenty to thirty years, those are things you just don’t ever question. These classic games and their flagship characters were released during a time when story meant almost nothing to the game – all that mattered was the gameplay itself. Developers didn’t need to give a whole lot of backstory to a character that was only made up of a few pixels. Even The Legend of Zelda (1986) didn’t have all that much explanation save what was written inside the game’s instruction manual: a bit of in-game history and world building, the evil Ganon’s thirst for power, Zelda’s act of splitting the Triforce into eight shards, and Impa’s quest to find our main hero. Which brings us to another strange character: Link.
Let’s Get Weird
Alright, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. At least Link lives in the cohesive, high-fantasy world of Hyrule, unlike Mario, who exists in the very colorful and surreal Mushroom Kingdom, which is laced with pipes that essentially act as wormholes. He totally has a good reason to sport elf ears, and wear a kilted tunic, and barely ever mutter a single bit of dialogue save for the over-the-top “hiya!” whenever he swings his mighty blade… Right? I don’t know, damn it! It doesn’t end there, folks. The star of the Star Fox franchise, Fox McCloud, was portrayed by a terrifying puppet on the cover of his first game, Star Fox in 1993 for the Super Nintendo. I can vividly remember seeing his likeness in magazines and being legitimately scared. Lately, however, Nintendo’s opted to give him what I like to call the Shrek Design: a simple, kid-friendly CGI look.
But still – what do we know about Fox McCloud? I’ll tell you one of his defining traits: He’s a cocky jerk. That’s right, I said it. Especially in Star Fox Adventures (2002) when he basically started acting like a teenager and effectively put him in Sonic the Hedgehog territory (though granted, that was a pretty good title). But hey, you could always argue that furry creatures in space aren’t that weird anymore thanks to Rocket Raccoon’s appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy last year (two articles in a row I mention that movie – damn you, James Gunn!) so I guess we can let Mr. McCloud slide for now. Nintendo’s science fiction characters might suffer from this plight the least – one of their coolest flagship characters, Samus Aran from the Metroid series exists in space, along with a relatively not-so-weird character, Captain Falcon from the F-Zero racing games. Unfortunately however, not even space is safe from Nintendo’s weirdness; a star-shaped planet called Dream Land exists out in the Nintendo cosmos, where resides one of Nintendo’s strangest: Kirby.
Kirby is Kind of Scaaary
He’s tiny, round, and pink, with giant eyes and massive red feet. Try and imagine something like Kirby actually existing for a moment. Now imagine it pissed off at you. Now imagine it sucking you up like a plate of eggs benedict, spitting you out (because it probably doesn’t have an efficient bowel system), and then looking a little bit more like you. Now that’s spooky! This cute, friendly, alien creature robs you of what makes you unique and then flaunts it. He basically attacks you emotionally. I may be forced to give Kirby the “Weirdest Nintendo Character Ever” award, with Mr. Game & Watch, star of Game & Watch (1980), and all of the Pokemon (especially the newer ones) in a tight second. Mr. Game & Watch, according to the storyline in Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008), is a creature made up of some primordial juice, and at one point allows his makeup to be used to expedite an act of evil, because he can’t tell right from wrong. And hopefully, if you’ve stuck along with me for this entire article, I don’t need to tell you why Pokemon are weird.
Whether you were a kid trying to catch ’em all, or the parent of a child who wanted to catch ’em all, you always felt something was wrong with enslaving the essence of a creature inside a sphere no larger than your fist. I’ve only scratched the surface of Nintendo’s vast array of recognizable, and no doubt weird characters. But it’s most of these characters that will define a very new form of entertainment for years to come. They were there when it all began, and they’ll probably be around when it ends – if it ever does. While Nintendo might be lagging behind in terms of appealing to most gamers in the wake of Sony and Microsoft’s console giants, the legacy of even their weirdest characters continues to endure.