Great Debate: Mario vs Sonic

Mario basically invented sidescrollers. Sonic brought the genre into the 90s. of these iconic mascots have been bitter rivals since the console wars of the early 1990s, when Sega and Nintendo were exchanging heated ad campaigns, and schoolyards were divided over which character was the best. Recently both characters have overcome their differences to appear in a few games together, but that hasnt put a stop to the debate.

GamesRadar houses hardcore fans of each mascot. The US team has Henry Gilbert, owner of far too many Mario toys, and in the UK is Justin Towell, a man that holds a world record in Sonic 2. Both took a side to advocate for their chosen characters supremacy. And, just to keep things interesting, their discussion focuses on the characters and their history, rather than individual games. Who wins? Thats for you to decide.

Henry says: Mario innovates, Sonic imitates

Henry: For all his speed, Sonic has always been playing catch-up to Mario. Virtually every core Mario game is built around new, Inventive-yet-simple concepts, while Sonic adapts at a snails pace, with inconsistent results. Which would you rather have: A tail that allows you to fly, or stretchy werewolf arms? Star portals that shoot you around outer space, or fishing with Big the Cat?

Justin: Tsk, Henry! First talking point, and already you've had to resort to game design over "who's the better hero." But OK you wanna talk innovation? Sonic literally kick-started the modern age of gaming. Basically, there's the dinosaur age (NES, Super Mario Bros), then the modern era (1991 onwards). Not to mention the fact that the cancelled Sonic X-Treme for Sega Saturn demonstrated all of Super Mario Galaxy's core concepts in 1996. And that wasn't even deemed up to the hedgehog's standards, so was scrapped! Finally, where's the innovation in New Super Mario Bros 2, eh? You literally said yourself "The formula is getting too familiar."Mmmm. Innovation.

Justin says: Sonic's the more entertaining showman

Justin: Sonic can accelerate to ridiculous velocities, giving the player the sheer white-knuckle thrill of a rollercoaster. He runs up walls and across the ceiling, hurtling down grind rails, grabbing hold of rockets, using a metal door like a surfboard down San-Fran style streets and even holding on to a missile just to hitch a lift. This is more exciting than emerging from a pipe, saying Wahoo! to imply at least he's having fun, and dressing up like a ninny.

Henry: I cant argue that Mario is as showy as Sonic, because Sonics biggest problem is valuing style over substance. All the cinematic instances you mention were used to obscure the fact that his games are designed to be raced through as fast as possible, lacking in depth or replayability compared to Marios games. But if you want showy moments, jump through any star portal in Mario Galaxy to see something really impressive.

Henry says: Mario got 3D platforming right the first time instead of never

Henry: Before Super Mario 64, the people developing 3D platformers had no clue what they were doing. Mario invented so many of the rules for 3D gameplay, and his titles innovate with every sequel. Conversely, Sonic struggles with 3D gameplay to this day. Last years Sonic Generations remained filled with missed jumps, bad camera angles, and demoralizing deaths. After so many games, will Sonic Team ever be able to grasp the third dimension?

Justin: Sonic's first experiment with 3D platforming (his Christmas NiGHTS appearance doesn't count) was the Sonic World bit of Sonic Jam. The slower speed (about right compared to 2D Sonic's platforming) was perfectly weighted and controlled just fine. A game built around that would have rocked, but instead we got Sonic Adventure. Which, while admittedly dodgy control-wise, at least had more gameplay variation than any Mario game. Platforming, pinball, bumper car racing, exploration, fishing, shooting, flying even an entire virtual pet-raising minigame.

Justin says: Sonic's character design is intrinsically cool

Justin: Sonic scythes through enemies by effectively turning his spines into a buzzsaw. Just picture that for a second. A razor-spined hedgehog curled into a ball and spinning around so ferociously, he can carve through metal. Sometimes even rock. By comparison, what can Mario do? His bum is a mass of such blunt, bludgeoning inertia, he can use it to smash bricks. What an undignified 'ability' that is.

Henry: Please Sonics design is forever mired in the 90s. He may look extreme and radical by those standards, but these days he has the same qualities of Poochie from The Simpsons. Marios design is so timeless he doesnt need sharp edges and fancy shoes to be memorable. And bonus points for his character design somehow making a fat, mustachioed guy in overalls cute.

Henry says: Mario has more skills than jumping

Henry: Sonic might be faster, but can he play tennis, golf, drive a motorcycle, and bowl all while being a doctor on the same day? Marios immediately great at every new sport or hobby he tries, no matter if hes an archeologist (Marios Picross) or takes over a team of role-players. What does Sonic have to brag about? Being an air rider, driving a car thats much slower than him, and becoming a crummy pinball?

Justin: To answer your questions: Can Sonic play Tennis? Yes: Sega Superstars Tennis. Can he play Golf? Yes: Sonic Golf DX. Ride a motorcycle? Yes: The Hot Wheels Sonic The Hedgehog pack. Bowl? He is the bowling ball in Twinkle Park in Sonic Adventure. Being a doctor? Well, Sonic beats a Doctor in every game. Archaeology: Seriously? You're using archaeology in an argument about 'who's best'? And as for role-playing: Freakin' BioWare made the Sonic RPG on DS. Bio. Ware.

Justin says: Mario's a mass-murdering scumbag

Justin: Have you seen how many creatures Mario has crushed to death? As opposed to Sonic, whose sole motivation is helping his woodland chums. See those robotic enemies? Inside those are cute little bunny wabbits and birdies. Know what's inside the Goombas that Mario stomps on all the time? Squishy guts and sadness. It's horrific to think about what Mario actually does to the many innocent inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom. FOR SHAME.

Henry: This attack on Mario is the same stance politicians take against Grand Theft Auto when they call it a murder sim. Much like Niko Bellic, Mario can run through the game avoiding virtually all of his enemies, aside from his boss fights, and those practically force the battle by trapping him in a room. Hes only as much of a killer as you want him to be. And dont try and make Sonic sound eco-friendly. Just imagine how much damage he did by blowing up multiple Death Eggs in Earths atmosphere.

Henry says: Mario's friends aren't the worst characters ever

Henry: I may loathe Waluigi, but I wouldnt trade him for any Sonic character created after 1994. Egg Man, Tails and Knuckles are fine, but losers like Charmy Bee, Cream and Silver are still totally lame in comparison to the annoying baby versions of iconic characters like Donkey Kong, Peach and Yoshi. Plus, for as strange as some Luigi and Birdo fans might be, thats nothing compared to the mass of furry fandom that characters like Amy and Rogue attract.

Justin: Everyone knows you judge a man on the strength of his enemies, not his friends. In which case, Mario is equivalent to a dinosaur who's a couple of coins short of a one-up. Sonic's up against a certified genius. You wouldn't catch Robotnik standing on a bridge over lava and leaving an axe by it. And if you wanna talk friends, Sonic's have better theme songs, have no 'Weegee' equivalent (shudder) and not one of them has nuclear-grade flatulence. Win.

Justin says: "Super" Mario can't even touch regular Sonic's abilities

Justin: Mario needs to resort to (rather dubious) mushrooms to become Super Mario, at which point his abilities are only verging on the resting state of regular Sonic. Comparing the two characters' Super states has a clear winner, given that Super Sonic is frickin' invincible. Mario, however, turns small again with just one hit. Thats rubbish. Super Sonic can jump some six times his own height, turn on a sixpence and sports a huge, flaming manga hairstyle while he's doing it. And that's not even mentioning Hyper Sonic, who can soar through space, smashing through asteroids with his face.

Henry: Ill admit that Mario doesnt unabashedly rip-off Dragon Ball Z when he transforms, but all this sounds like Sonic is overcompensating. Marios different powers are all about nuance and grace, not flying as fast as you can to the end. And by the way, no matter how small he gets, Mario can breathe underwater, which is a lot more than I can say for Sonic.

Henry says: Sonic 2006

Henry: I mean, cmon

Justin: Thats low.

Justin says: Hotel Mario

Justin: Right?

Henry: Not cool, man.

Where do you stand?

So where do you stand in this culture clash? And more importantly, which editor do you think won the debate? Explain in the comments and vote in the handy poll below!

Who do you think won the debate?

Need a crash course in both of these characters? Check out our list of the best Mario games and the best Sonic games.

Great Debate pits two editors in a head-to-head battle to debate some of gamings hottest topics. Have a subject you want them to discuss? Let us know in the comments and well wrangle some editors to talk it over.

Justin Towell

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine,, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.