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Mario Party: What Makes “Going Back To Roots” Work

Super Mario Party finally hits store shelves. It’s a game in which Mario and his friends throw a gangbuster of a party and play minigames in between hanging out on a board game board. I could have sworn there was a game like this already. It’ll come back to me, I swear… I want to say it was Mario Party, but that can’t be true. That game was about being stuck in a car using motion controls, right?

In all seriousness, Super Mario Party is setting up to be an awesome party game. I won’t know for myself. I personally don’t own a Switch and have no current plans to get one. But it looks fun to me. And it’s another case where a floundering series finds success in going “back to its roots”.

Sonic the Hedgehog seems to always be going back to his roots, and only recently found the hit they were looking for in Sonic Mania. Mega Man also went back to his roots for Mega Man 9 and 10, and found renewed interest in the franchise.

Why Do Games Go Back To Their Roots?

But why is this such a popular thing to do? Well, trends don’t last forever. Platformers were once the dominant genre. Then shooters, open world games, etc. The longer a single idea stays around, the more time it possesses to go stale.

Often what made a game great becomes lost or muddied with new ideas that get away from the initial vision. And there’s nothing wrong with new ideas. But when you come up with new ideas for a great old concept, you shouldn’t lose what made the original idea great in the first place.

An apt metaphor might include Apple making a new iPod. What if they decided that other features were more important than the ability to play your entire music collection in one place? It wouldn’t have been as successful all those years ago when it made a portable CD player obsolete.

Mega Man Finds His Roots

Capcom didn’t make this mistake with Mega Man. People forget that the Mega Man games weren’t always as popular as they are today. With technology getting better and better, the newer Mega Man games of the time (the PS1 X games, specifically) felt like a relic of the past.

A new classic Mega Man game hadn’t found its way into players’ consoles for years. People didn’t need it yet. But when it returned with Mega Man 9, it may have had the retro NES look, but it came with new ideas.

Other playable characters, challenge modes, and artwork archives filled these new games. Capcom may have known what fans loved about the Blue Bomber (jumping and shooting with tight controls and catchy music). But when they took us back to the past, they gave us more than what the past had initially offered. And this “more” didn’t clash with what people loved about the original idea.

Sonic The Hedgehog Finally Figures Out His Roots

Sonic was not so lucky. Surely Sonic fans will argue differently, but the early to mid-00 decade saw Sonic Team being stretched so thin that either their ideas felt half-baked (i.e. a werehog) or their execution felt like it (i.e. Sonic 06).

Sonic Team tried to give us more like Capcom. Every new game had a gimmick or new idea. They just didn’t know what players loved about Sonic. It felt like every new Sonic game tried “going back to its roots”. So much so, the expression didn’t mean anything anymore. Sonic Team thought the only things in Sonic’s roots worth keeping were just going fast and being in 2D.

I think the reason Sonic Mania found so much success, was not only in the speed or hitting the nostalgia button (though it didn’t hurt). Sonic Mania wasn’t made by Sonic Team, so it wasn’t stuck making the same mistakes over again. Christian Whitehead and his team perfected the level layouts and made the controls feel tight and responsive. The levels weren’t cluttered and Sonic moved like he should.

Like Capcom did with Mega Man, they didn’t just give us the past. Like Mega Man, they made the past better than what we had initially experienced.

The Mario Party Must Go On

By this point, you may be asking what this has to do with Super Mario Party. Mario Party had forgotten why people loved it. Creative mini-games that were more than just motion control demonstrations. The devilishly fun experience of screwing over your friends in a board game. Whether Super Mario Party becomes seen as the best Mario Party game, I have a feeling it’s headed in the right direction.

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