At first glance, you might assume that Mario and Sackboy have very little in common. And, for the most part, you'd be right. The two come from very different worlds. Mario, Nintendo's mascot, is a kid-friendly, jolly little fellow who can be, in his own way, kind of a badass. For a while, Sackboy was held up as the new adorable mascot for Sony's PlayStation. He's an innocuous character—a silent protagonist with mysterious origins from a mystical world where the laws of physics are a bit unreliable. But his role as a PlayStation icon didn't stick. Is it because Sony fans aren't that into cute and wacky characters, or is Sackboy just not mascot material?
Mario has a history dating back to the 1980's, when he first captured hearts as a humanoid blob of pixels. Since the wide success of Super Mario Bros. on the NES, he's evolved into the bright-eyed, chubby Italian that we know today. His role is well-established, and his place at the head of Nintendo characters is uncontested. Sackboy—while an intriguing concept—was dropped into the PlayStation world long after Sony had hit its stride. He has to compete with other beloved Sony icons, including Solid Snake, Lara Croft, and Ratchet and Clank. Plus, LittleBigPlanet didn't even come close to matching the success of Super Mario Bros. While Sackboy met all the requirements for being a good mascot (cute and simple design, a silent role, and an oversized head), his games didn't make enough of an impact in the midst of all the other hot releases of the time.
It's not that LittleBigPlanet isn't a good game; the developers certainly went out of their way to give it a unique style. For the most part, the strangeness is charming (if not occasionally creepy). In fact, Sony may have borrowed from Nintendo's book when they decided to make LittleBigPlanet a bit weird. What's weirder than an Italian plumber using the power of mushrooms to defeat a bunch of turtles? But the Mario Bros. games were innovative. They paved the way for today's platforming games and had a huge influence on the industry in general. Of course, that was a lot easier to do back in the early days of console video games. However, that doesn't change the fact that beneath the bizarre characters and strange-yet-catchy music, LittleBigPlanet is just another platformer. The level-building aspect wasn't fun enough or innovative enough to make up for that. Poor Sackboy stood no chance of measuring up to Mario.
But could Sackboy measure up to Mario even if his games had been good enough? What does Sackboy have going for him? He's cute; there's no doubt about that. But he doesn't do a whole lot. It's obvious who would win in a fight. Mario can double his height, shoot fireballs from his hands, and turn invincible with the right equipment. Sackboy can only run, jump, shoot paint, and grab things (although he would have a serious advantage in a fashion contest). We also know very little about Sackboy. Mario has years of history behind him now. He has an extensive list of co-characters to support him, and his role in the Mushroom Kingdom has been made very clear. Sackboy's role is yet undefined. Where did this unremarkable sack come from? How does he fit into his ever-growing world? Why does he have to be the one to run around and solve everyone else's problems?
Though Mario was as much of an enigma when his first games came out, Sackboy has less potential to be given an identity. Sackboy is not even a concrete character. Players are given almost total control over his appearance and even his emotional state. Sackboy has no voice. How can a character that is different for every player become a stable icon for an entire company? Every other mascot out there has a fairly stable appearance. Sega has Sonic, with a distinctive look, attitude, and his own sidekick. Microsoft has Master Chief, who started out with no real back story but was given a voice and a cool-looking, recognizable helmet. Sackboy just has too many dress-up options. Even his shape gets obscured by hats and large mustaches. After playing LittleBigPlanet, I no longer thought of Sackboy as a little brown guy, but as the colorful creation that I had shaped throughout the game. The undecorated brown sack means very little to me now.
Perhaps Sony will never have its own mascot. But maybe it doesn't need one. Though Nintendo is certainly not exclusively for children, the company does tend to lean toward games that are appropriate for children, and mascots appeal to children. So Nintendo needs to draw the attention of a younger audience than Sony does. Sony has its lineup of quality games, most of which involve shooting, stabbing, or punching people in the face. This focus on violence is one of the many reasons that perhaps children wuld not be as drawn to the PlayStation.
For now, it's clear that Mario beats Sackboy as a mascot. Now we just have to figure out whether that's a good thing for Nintendo or for Sony.
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*