Craig Stitt, a game artist who worked on some of the original Spyro and Sonic the Hedgehog titles back in the ‘90s, says that Mario and Sonic are now "embedded in our subconscious".
You don’t have to be a seasoned game-lover - or even that well-acquainted with games at all - to know that the Mario and Sonic franchises have become more than a little influential since they burst onto the scene. Stitt, zone artist on Sonic the Hedgehog 2, senior artist on Spyro the Dragon and Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage, and senior art director at Insomniac Games, has recently discussed the impact Mario had on 2D and 3D platformers like the ones he worked on back in the day. “It would be hard to make a game and not have Mario have an influence on that game, be it 23 or 3D or VR,” Stitt tells Retro Gamer issue 252.
“Mario is now cemented in our subconscious and is part of that aspect of our brain that says, ‘This is fun, or this is not fun.’ Along with Mario, I also think Sonic and Spyro are part of that ‘subconscious designer’ in our heads.”
Of course, Mario and Spyro have notably thrived in glorious 3D while some other well-known 2D platformer mascots of the era - Earthworm Jim and Bubsy, for example - struggled to make the leap. On why this might be, Stitt says: “I think one of the main reasons is that the gameplay and controls were very simple in those games. Little kids could play, as well as mums and dads. Yet the gameplay was also complex and hard enough to keep serious gamers engaged.”
Explaining that he used to answer the fan mail for Spyro (which sounds like a lovely job), Stitt says that he got “a lot of letters from parents saying how much their entire family enjoyed the game” - and they’d even ask for a few tips from the pro if their kids were stuck at a particular point. “Then,” the dev adds, “many times, the parent would go on to say that they were stuck at a different spot and asked for help!”
“Sadly there are a lot of great games that didn’t go as far as they could have, or should have, because the publisher messed up the marketing or simply didn’t have any marketing,” Stitt adds.
Mario and Sonic continue to thrive, of course, with both franchises having seen plenty more games and some blockbuster movie releases in recent years. Sonic Superstars and Super Mario Bros. Wonder just launched this very month, and you can check out our reviews at those links.
Speaking of Mario, Super Mario Bros Wonder has become the fastest-selling Super Mario game ever in Europe after just three days. And, as Spyro the Dragon turns 25 this year, we’ve looked back at what made the purple platformer such a fierce fire starter.