Rivalry has always been an integral part of gaming. With each new generation of consoles the manufacturers do battle. Sometimes one of them is killed off permanently, a hollow shell bearing the same name may remain but for all intents and purposes Sega and Atari are gone forever. Sometimes a new challenger joins up, sees a crowded marketplace and says me too, welcome to Microsoft. While people talk about processing power and features, the argument used to be settled by the actual games. Of course in the modern age of multi-format releases the big titles don’t determine the generation champion but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still fierce competition for the love, or money, of gamers. Let’s take a look at some of gaming’s greatest rivalries.
In the days of massive overpriced plastic cartridges, when Nintendo ruled the world there was a truly epic challenge from a young upstart called Sega. There were two big battles which defined the Nintendo vs Sega battle. The first was a face off between a podgy Italian plumber and a speedy blue hedgehog. Mario and Sonic were absolutely huge and they become poster boys for their respective consoles, driving sales to ridiculous levels.
The surreal creation of the now legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario was originally called Jumpman and he was a carpenter in Donkey Kong. He was officially renamed Mario and became a plumber for the 1983 release Mario Bros. and along with his brother Luigi he ruled the 80’s. His bizarre adventures involved zooming through pipes and jumping on his enemy’s heads in order to rescue a Princess. Her propensity for being kidnapped was suspicious but by no means the strangest part of the Mario world.
In 1991 Sega realised their existing mascot, Alex Kidd, was…well let’s face it he was rubbish. They replaced him with a spiky blue teenage hedgehog. Sonic was super fast, he could curl himself into a ball to defeat enemies and he had a fetish for collecting golden rings. The Sonic games offered a real alternative to Mario, a speedy, exciting alternative which led me to buy a Megadrive and shun my brother’s SNES.
Many people will disagree but for me the Sonic games were much more engaging than Mario. Having played Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy to death I wanted a new hook and the speed element of Sonic really made it feel different from the rest of the platform crowd. There was such a rivalry at the time that it actually makes me feel oddly depressed to see Sonic popping up as a cameo character in a Nintendo title recently, that would never have happened back in the day.
Despite preferring Sonic to Mario it wasn’t long until I was back on the SNES again. The title that brought me back was Street Fighter II. A fighting game so epic that they have re-released over a thousand new versions and every single one of them features basically the same gameplay. They perfected 2D head to head fighting games with this release and it sold millions of copies. The multitude of sequels and spin offs sold millions too but even the recent Street Fighter IV is basically the same game.
How would anyone compete with a title so universally revered? The following year Mortal Kombat burst onto the scene. It featured digitized sprites which were hilariously animated and it was dripping with eviscerated entrails. Stuff the gameplay as a schoolboy there was no substitute for gore and the, soon to become legendary, Fatality moves in Mortal Kombat pulled in a massive audience. The two series were locked in a deadly battle for a few years but there could only be one winner. Mortal Kombat did actually get released on the SNES as well as the Megadrive but the SNES version had to be “family friendly” to fit Nintendo policy and the gore was removed with characters sweating instead of bleeding.
This time it wasn’t really a fair fight, Street Fighter II was quite simply one of the best games ever released and it will probably make the biggest contribution to my crippling arthritis in later life. Mortal Kombat was brash and gory but the gameplay was awful by comparison.
In the mid 90’s a new contender entered the fray as Sony released the PlayStation. Sega and Nintendo rested on their laurels and Sony sucked in an appreciative new audience. The belated response from Sega at the end of the 90’s was the ill fated Dreamcast, a machine which proved that being first with the new generation and having a range of great games was not enough to guarantee success. This perfectly good release had come too late to save Sega’s fading reputation and like some old forgotten Hollywood star the tributes only poured in after they were dead.
Next time we’ll have a look at the great sporting game rivalries. For now you’ll need to content yourself with posting a comment and letting us know which you preferred – Mario vs Sonic, Street Fighter II vs Mortal Kombat and Sega vs Nintendo.
I originally wrote this for Boomtown.net but they have gone bust and the site has disappeared so….