Throughout the history of gaming, we have met a range of colorful characters and helped them jump, punch, and race through level after level. As the years have rolled by and as gaming has become a little more “serious”, new faces have emerged, but classics like Mario and Sonic remain staples of the gaming landscape.
Mario can trace his roots back nearly 40 years, making his first video game appearance in Donkey Kong, in 1981, and going on to star in more than 20 games, while playing cameo roles in dozens more, including modern franchises like Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart.
Though many of today’s gamers weren’t even alive when Mario arrived on the scene, most recognize his synonymity with the industry and are able to feel a connection to him almost instantly.
Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, believes the pitfalls faced by the pixelated plumber in many of his early games made him relatable to gamers, helping him to become an instant hit.
He explained: “I think that Mario became so popular because the actions in the Mario game are something that are innate to humans everywhere.
“Everyone is afraid of falling from a great height. If there is a gap that you have to cross, everyone is going to try to run to jump across the gap."
Though the pair now often star together in games, Mario’s major rival in the late 80s and 90s was SEGA's Sonic the Hedgehog, whose own history in gaming stretches back to 1991, when the gaming franchise of the same name debuted on the Sega Master System.
Like Mario, Sonic also continues to enjoy a huge pop culture profile in the modern-day. His continued popularity is perhaps most emphatically emphasized by his starring role in a new 2020 live-action film, with Jim Carrey starring as Dr. Robotnik.
Like Mario, gamers of all ages feel an instant connection to Sonic. While other console mascots, like RPG icon Zelda, remain firmly in the plans of game developers who are eager to captivate a new generation of gamers, as the industry landscape continues to evolve.
Old school appeal
Many of today’s biggest selling games lack an identifiable mascot and instead rely on the players themselves to cultivate their own characters – or avatars. This is usually done by making in-app purchases in order to equip their character with custom clothing, accessories, and even theme music.
That model has become hugely lucrative for game developers, who may typically charge less for the up-front purchase of a game – or even give the game away for free – and instead generate revenue from players through in-game purchases that enhance their experience while they are playing, or unlock new characters or levels.
Even more recently, developers and publishers have started to experiment and roll out subscription models, which some industry insiders predict will once again change how gamers interact with the product in the marketplace.
This is a far cry from previous generations of consoles, where gamers would typically pay an up-front cost for their game and have instant access to everything, although characters like Mario, Sonic, and Zelda have withstood this transition.
In fact, utilizing the biggest names of yesteryear has helped gamers adjust to the changing landscape of gaming and make the transition from the old “pay upfront” model, to the “pay as you go model” that is now proving so popular.
But it isn’t just in video games where throwback themes are utilized to help enhance the player’s experience. Casino gaming carries classic themes from movies, TV shows, and even video games to offer a more colorful, recognizable, and all-round more immersive experience for players.
Major TV franchises to have received the casino treatment include Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black and Vikings, while big-screen titles like The Godfather, Ghostbusters and even Forrest Gump can be enjoyed in the form of slots games.
However, it can be fairly expensive to license globally recognized brands like Game of Thrones, so casino providers often choose to keep their themes a little broader, while retaining all of the color and aesthetic that makes them so engaging.
One of the most classic retro themes utilized by casino game providers is that of Ireland and its more playful cultural elements, like pots of gold, rainbows, leprechauns, and four-leaf clovers, typically associated with good fortune.
These kinds of elements, alongside the game's RTP, are used to engage players and attract them to try a particular game. RTP stands for return to player, and many websites now helpfully display this information alongside popular slots, allowing users to see which slot games offer the best chances of winning.
The combination of statistics and a pleasing aesthetic is often key to the success of games in this sector, and much of the imagery used relates to the theme of luck and "winning big". In this case, it's interesting to see how modern methods, in regards to winning, combine with older, more retro motifs to create titles that successfully utilize players' need for nostalgia, and want for innovation.
So, while gamers and casino game players will always relish trying out the latest tech and methods in order to innovate their experience, and to make it more exciting and immersive, undoubtedly, there will always be a place for the classic characters and themes of generations past.