We all know the story. Mario was great, then Sonic was newer, then Mario was great then Sonic was worse, then it was Mario Week on GamesRadar... But what if things had gone the other way? What if it was Mario who suffered a decade of missteps while Sonic went from strength to strength, trailblazing his way into gaming history by constantly reinventing himself like a spiny, blue… er… Madonna. Let's see how that might have panned out if the roles were reversed...
1985: Super Sonic Bros. is released
Everyone falls in love with Sonic and his cute little brother Tails. Fanboys later geek out over trivia like the fact Tails was only given two tails because with the limited pixel palette of the day, one tail just looked like a backwards wang (some pictures still exist - see above). Sonic's place in history was guaranteed, but the immediate follow-up was deemed a bit too radical for the West, so our 'Sonic 2' was really just a reskinned version of Dynamite Headdy.
1991: Mario the Plumber is released
Just five years later, Sonic's reign as platform king looks over as plucky newcomer Mario – the plumber with attitude – leaps into our lives with a 'wa-hoo' and a moustache. Mario's block-smashing gameplay is a revelation after the senses-shattering speed of Sonic's games. 'Ass Processing' becomes the buzzword of the moment as fanboys everywhere argue about which console could render Mario's block-smashing posterior 'best'.
1993: Super Sonic Bros movie hits theatres
Danny DeVito stars in a movie based on the Sonic The Hedgehog universe. Even with a dreadful script, having Al Pacino as Doctor Robotnik secures the film's place in cult history. And it transpires that Sonic's surname is 'Sonic'. As in 'Sonic Sonic' and 'Tails Sonic' – the two Sonic brothers. Of course it is.
1993: Ron Jeremy parodies Sonic Bros
The 'adult film star' makes regular, game convention cosplay look totally normal. He also creates two parodies of the Super Sonic Brothers movie, entitled 'Super Sonic Lovers' and its sequel 'Super Sonic Lovers II'. Sega gets them banned, which really is a shame - the content was arguably more authentic than the real Sonic Bros movie. During an interview with Playboy, Jeremy jokes that if Mario were more popular, he'd feel right at home playing him in an adult film, too.
1994: The Mario cartoon tackles important issues
The Mario The Plumber cartoon creates an all-time classic WTF moment as Mario starts talking about what to do if you're 'inappropriately touched' by someone. This end-of-episode advice section is named 'Mario Sez' and is cut from the UK broadcast on its first run for being... a bit weird.
1995: Sonic Galaxy kick-starts the 3D generation
The prototype of Sonic X-Treme gets the full backing of Sonic Team, only it's renamed 'Super Sonic Galaxy' thanks to its switching planes of gravity around 3D globes. It's a masterpiece and propels sales of Sega Saturn into the stratosphere.
1996: Super Mario 64 gets canned
After a protracted and painfully troubled development cycle, Nintendo finally pulls the plug on the innovative yet ugly Super Mario 64, leaving Nintendo without its biggest mascot for most of the generation. As a quick damage limitation exercise, Traveller's Tales ports an isometric 2D Mario game from SNES and then makes an awful rip-off of Sonic's magnificent multiplayer racer Sonic R and calls it 'Mario Kart'. It's a blatant rip-off and everyone sees straight through it. N64 dies two years later.
1999: Sonic wows at the dawn of the 128-bit era
Dreamcast launches in Japan with Sonic Adventure. Sonic's leap into the 128-bit era cements the groundwork done by Super Sonic Galaxy and shows everyone once and for all exactly how you control a character and a camera in 3D space. Incredibly for such an ambitious launch game, it's 100% bug-free, ages like a fine wine and contains the best voice acting in any game ever. "Watch out! You're gonna crash – Ahhh!" becomes an overnight rival to Shakespeare's 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?'
2005: Mario Heroes enjoys a full summer on top of the charts
Turns out Mario's image can still sell games, even when they're dodgy to control and reduced to ludicrous gimmicks. This one sees Mario, Luigi and Toad standing on each others' shoulders like a totem pole to navigate the Mushroom Kingdom. But only the one at the top can use their moveset. Cos that makes total sense. Still, Nintendo's making some money again after the disastrous Gamecube forced them out of the hardware market.
2006: On the one hand, Driimcast launches...
After third-party publishers stayed away from Sega's previous hardware generation in acknowledgement they could never match the success of Sonic on his home console, 'Driimcast' is launched with a revolutionary new controller that attracts new gamers like never before. Sonic Galaxy 2 is the icing on the cake for the hardcore, embracing Saturn nostalgia while delivering the most beautifully balanced 3D platforming ever.
...while Mario plumbs new depths of awful
In a bid to reinvigorate the ailing Mario The Plumber franchise, Nintendo creates a new 3D Mario reboot for the two non-Sega next-gen consoles. It's a shocker. "The most broken game I've ever seen" declares GamesRadar's Henry Gilbert, wiping his tears with $60 worth of refunded dollar bills as he exits his local GameStop. Lucky for poor Henry, he didn't even get to the end of the game where Mario puckers up and kisses Birdo.
2009: Mario Unleashed
Nintendo decides it's time to turn Mario into a were-man. No, sorry, werewolf. If this were a parallel dimension and Sonic were turned into a were-hog, that wouldn't even make sense. Oh, anyway, what does it matter. The transformation does more harm than good, Mario's classic block smashing levels are well-received and point to what still could be… while Sonic mops up the all-formats chart with New Super Sonic Bros.
2010: Mario The Plumber 4: Episode 1
Backtracking on its own reboot, Nintendo decides it's time to make another numbered sequel to Mario The Plumber, only releasing it episodically so it can gauge audience reaction and give the fans what they want by Episode 4 or 5. It's actually a good game, but undermined immediately by the announcement of the retro-tastic 'Mario Generations', which does everything Episode 1 does, only better. Quality's on the rise, but Mario's a mess.
2012: GamesRadar runs a Sonic week...
...and puts in a single day, for a laugh, where it's actually 'Mario Week' and ponders what it would have been like if the roles had been reversed and it was Mario that set all the trends and Sonic made a series of disappointing mis-steps. Jokes like 'Super Mario Galaxy 2' and 'Sonic kisses a human' don't go down too well with a fanbase that's too hurt to find it funny. Except for the writer who will always love Mario and grudgingly accepts that Sonic's OK.
If you're not thoroughly confused at this point, congratulations – you win at the internet and you may post in the comments below as your reward.
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