Successfully progressing from one generation of console to the next is an admirable feat in itself, but making the leap from successful game franchise to ubiquitous marketing icon isn't always an easy one, especially in today's incestuous and highly self-referential cultural landscape. At least in the case of Mega Man and Mario, this process occurred naturally with personalities created relatively early in the console boom (1987 and 1985 respectively). In these situations, early popularity begat increased exposure, a greater variety of titles and, eventually, more popularity. From there, it was just a matter of some savvy marketing, and game characters suddenly became television stars.

Managing this process is an important aspect of Nintendo's operation. "Mario has also been a huge licensing success for us over the years - appearing on licensed products or in other entertainment properties. Mario is a beloved character among kids and adults," Llewelyn said. "Nintendo goes to great lengths to ensure we are managing this character franchise effectively by maintaining the appropriate level of exposure to fuel his popularity."

Similarly, Mega Man's father, Inafune, keeps a tight hold on the intellectual property that has proved so profitable for Capcom. "All of the [Mega Man] cartoon and movie scenarios are checked over carefully by the game team to ensure consistency, so there is a lot of coordination between the games and cartoons," Inafune said. "When we are making the games, for example, we send off a list of new characters to help the cartoon creators incorporate them into their shows. We have a great working relationship. In the credits for the cartoons, my name is always listed as supervisor, and that shows how close myself and the rest of us on the game side are to the making of the series."

As Inafune and his team relied on increased technical horsepower to improve on Mega Man's gameplay, Capcom was able to lean on newly created scenarios, more complex plots and a surfeit of new enemies to populate the Mega Man television programming. Likewise, Nintendo has allowed the natural progression of the Mario Bros. legend to drive "non-traditional" Mario expressions, which include games like Mario Party and Super Mario Strikers, but also a cartoon, a debatably ill-conceived film and literally thousands of toys.

Unlike Capcom with its handling of Mega Man, Nintendo has seemed to truly walk a tight-rope of over-saturation, with many critics and industry wonks openly questioning whether the market might be reaching a tipping point on the Mushroom Kingdom. But, as Llewelyn noted, if game sales are any indication, it seems that the public's desire for products driven by Mario and company has hardly abated.

"Mario games sell very well, and we have not seen any kind of fatigue among consumers. The great thing about Mario is that while he and the characters from his universe might be familiar, every game is completely different. Super Mario Strikers is a soccer game, but with crazy Mario twists that fans love," she wrote.

This point also resonated with Inafune's experience with the Mega Man franchise. He pointed out that while a consistent narrative is an important part of keeping fans happy, it is of even greater importance to maintain a consistency of style. "If [narrative] consistency is maintained just for the sake of consistency, and it makes the game boring, then it's pointless. We try to reinvent the series and evolve it to make it interesting over time. Of course, we always work to make sure that it keeps the unique feeling that makes it a 'Mega Man game,'" he said. It is through this line of thought that we are able to draw a line between the original Mega Man, Mega Man X and newer games like Mega Man ZX or the Battle Networks series.

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