Blockbuster superhero movies in the 2000s led to the Spider-Man character headlining a series of games developed from 2018 by Insomniac for Sony, which bought the studio the following year. Image: Robyn Beck / AFP©
Nintendo and Sony have a lot riding on two new releases this Friday, "Marvel's Spider-Man 2" for the PlayStation 5 and "Super Mario Bros Wonder" on the Switch.
That's where the similarities stop: the two games on rival consoles and their target audiences could hardly be more different.
Mario, the moustachioed plumber in a red cap created by Shigeru Miyamoto, revolutionised gaming in 1985 with "Super Mario Bros".
It was one of the first "side-scrolling" games allowing horizontal movement in an evolving landscape.
The character became one of the best-known in gaming, fuelling the success of Japan's Nintendo, with more than 420 million units sold for the "Super Mario" series alone.
"Spider-Man" emerged as a superhero in the Marvel comics of the early 1960s and first appeared in video games in the 1990s, but without major success.
Blockbuster superhero movies in the 2000s led to the character headlining a series of games developed from 2018 by Insomniac for Sony, which bought the studio the following year.
The bet paid off, with 33 million copies sold, according to the latest data published in May 2022.
Back to the roots
For the new games, Nintendo and Sony have chosen, as is often the case, radically different approaches.
With its Switch console in its seventh year, Nintendo is going old-school with a 2D side-scroller, its first since 2012.
But under Takashi Tezuka, co-creator of the franchise, the development team have brought in new power-ups like a "Wonder Flower" that move Mario into surreal new dimensions or turn him into an elephant.Also read: Super Mario: Nintendo's decades of star power
Sony meanwhile has spent heavily developing "Marvel's Spider-Man 2", its graphics pushing the PlayStation 5's technical capacities to the max to enable Peter Parker and Miles Morales to battle Kraven the Hunter and other villains.
"Spider-Man 1 had boosted sales of the PS4 and Sony is counting heavily on this new episode," said Hideki Yasuda of Toyo Securities, who believes the game will easily break even.
He highlighted, however, the "fairly weak pre-orders" in Japan for "Mario Wonder".
Players outside Japan also "tend to prefer 3D Mario and it will clearly be difficult for Nintendo to appeal to them as much as with 'Zelda'", he told AFP, referring to Nintendo's major release earlier this year.Also read: Microsoft gambles big on Hollywood-esque 'Starfield' video game
Five to 95
Sony and Nintendo clearly have different audiences in mind with these new releases.
"Nintendo is clear on this point: it is targetting players aged five to 95 and, this time, its goal is no different," Yasuda said.
With its battling superhero movie feel, "Spider-Man" on the other hand is aimed more at action game fans.
What they have in common though is the host of additional characters that gamers can choose.
"Spider-Man" can be played in the "skin" of the original Peter Parker or in the guise of the Hispanic-African-American teenager Miles Morales created in 2011.
Mario is supported by a cast of 11 playable characters from the Mushroom Kingdom, such as his brother Luigi, princesses Peach and Daisy, and Yoshi.
Also read: Five things to know about 'Assassin's Creed'
Nintendo and Sony have long moved their characters beyond consoles and both are looking to piggyback on the success of movies released this year.
"Super Mario Brothers" released in 1993 was one of the first live-action films based on a video game but it was a huge commercial flop.
But this year's animated follow-up, in co-production with Illumination of "Minions" fame, was a huge hit, becoming 2023's second-highest-grossing film after "Barbie".
"Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse", the sequel to the Oscar-winning 2018 movie, was meanwhile sixth at the box office.