Mario and Link ushered in video games as a pop culture mainstay. One defined platform gaming and established the foundation for every platform game since. The other proliferated the concept of role-playing games to new audiences, however these two have only been matched against each other in the setting of the Super Smash Bros. series-titles that had to sacrifice any realistic portrayal of the combat abilities of the characters for homogenized and balanced game play mechanics. Many video games have to do this, despite the absurd conclusions that can occur (much like how Phoenix Wright can challenge Dr. Doom and win in Marvel vs. Capcom 3) , but what might occur if we examine those two characters in their primary elements, the games that made them famous? Who might reign supreme?
Both of these video game protagonists share many of the same qualities. Both place themselves in harm’s way for the sake of a princess and their respective kingdoms. Both retain the aspect of the Average Joe figure tossed into situations that turn them into a hero, one being a rather ordinary Italian plumber and the other just a citizen of Hyrule. To fully understand how a fight with these Nintendo icons might play out, it’s the differences that will determine a victor.
Melee is the best place to begin. Both Mario and Link tackle most of their enemies in close range combat, but each has obtained different methods to accomplish the same goal.
Mario uses rather barbaric means to dispatch enemies. While perhaps effective versus the average Goomba, jumping on the head of your foe seems highly impractical and ineffective against any relatively smart opponent. If jumping on heads was a proper tactic in fighting, the UFC might have basketball players lining up to be contenders. Mario is also devoid of a means to defend himself from attacks up close, which opens the opportunity for counter attacks if his primary technique fails.
Link relies heavily on the tools he acquires to guide him through battle, and melee combat is no exception. A perfect balance of attack and defense, the Master Sword can inflict some major damage while his Hylian Shield can deflect a good portion of attacks. The Hylian Shield also retains a flame-resistant quality, making it highly useful against any opponent who likes to play with fire.
Mario’s prehistoric method of head stomping will never hold up against any fighter with intelligence and a decent set of weapons. Mario’s jump is predictable and Link has too many options to deal with it. A simple sidestep is one of them. Unless the laws of physics suddenly change, Mario won’t be drastically changing his trajectory mid-jump. Another counter for Link is to simply raise the Master Sword and let Mario plummet onto the business end of the strongest weapon in all of Hryule.
Every tactician in history knows this simple fact: Taking down your enemies from afar is much safer than getting close. Both fighters have an impressive repertoire of long range capabilities, which play an integral role in their respective fighting styles.
Anyone who’s ever picked up a Super Mario Bros game knows about Mario’s signature fireball. It’s hot, it bounces like a tennis ball and it will make short work of any Koopa. Of course, the limiting factors of Mario’s fireball are that he requires a Fire Flower to use it and in most games, it’s represented as being a rather slow attack. In this specific scenario, another flaw with the fireball lies in the fact that Link has a reliable defense against it. As mentioned above, the Hylian Shield can block fire, making Mario’s primary ranged ability rather moot.
Moblins, ChuChus and even Ganondorf have all fallen prey to Link’s signature bow and arrow. Throughout the scope of Zelda series, he has even been able to combine his arrows with various types of magic, like fire, ice and light. In most games, it’s the only thing that can defeat Ganondorf. The main problem with Link’s bow is that he has to keep a stack of arrows around at all times, which can be a cumbersome chore. Once he’s out of arrows, the bow becomes a useless toy.
Again, Link takes the advantage here. Against Mario’s usual targets, Koopa Troopas and Goombas, the fireball may be a suitable method of attack, but when compared to Link’s bow, it just cannot measure up. The bow has a faster projectile, is more accurate and can even be turned into a fire based weapon when combined with magic. The only real advantages that the fireball has over the bow, are that it never runs out of ammunition and has a ricochet effect.
Mobility always plays a key factor in fights. Muhammad Ali, perhaps the greatest boxer to live, coined the phrase, “Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee.” Being light on your feet allows the ability to evade an opponent’s strike, all while acquiring the position to make your own attacks more effectively.
Mario shines in terms of mobility. Not a lot of what happens in the Mushroom Kingdom makes much sense. For some reason a leaf grants Mario with a raccoon tail and a set of ears, and that, in turn, gives him the ability to fly. In Super Mario World, it was replaced by a cape, but Mario’s flight ability was still intact. All Mario needs to become airborne is a bit of room to sprint. Once he’s in the sky, anyone trying to hit him with a sword, or even an arrow has quite a predicament.
“The hookshot. It extends! It retracts! It latches onto things! What a cool invention!” The hookshot might be fun, but it’s more of a novelty than a true advantage in battle. The hookshot is Link’s only practical tool for maneuvering-things like the Deku Leaf, the raft, the spinner and grappling hook can’t really be considered adequate tools for movement during combat. The big problem is the hookshot latches onto certain things and not others. It does double as a weapon that stuns weaker enemies, but Mario would more accurately fall into the boss category of foes, where the hookshot proves ineffective.
When comparing these two methods of movement, flight proves to be the obvious winner. Scouring the terrain for a suitable place to latch onto and then taking the time to aim the hookshot monopolizes too much time and focus to make it effective while pitted against a strong opponent. Flight for Mario, on the other hand, only requires a little bit of open ground and puts Mario in a position that defangs the power and accuracy of Link’s most effective abilities.
Both heroes employ a plethora of abilities that simply do not fall easily into melee, range and mobility categories. These skills and tools are best described as special abilities.
The Mushroom Kingdom has certainly been accommodating to Mario in way of special powers.
The stars in Mushroom Kingdom grant Mario temporary invincibility that makes his mere touch fatal. Falling down an endless pit is the only thing Mario is vulnerable to in Star Mode.
- Super Mushroom
Anyone experienced in martial arts might tell you that assuming two fighters are both equally experienced; the larger, stronger one has an advantage. Mario takes this concept to unusual proportions with the use of one of the Super Mushrooms from the Mushroom Kingdom. Not to be confused with the other mushrooms in Mushroom Kingdom, the red Super Mushroom doubles Mario’s size and strength, as seen in various Super Mario Bros games and Super Smash Bros games. This form empowers him with the ability to hammer slabs of brick into dust with his hand and it also gives added endurance to Mario, as he can sustain an extra hit while in his giant state.
- Super Suits
Last but not least, Mario employs the use of various suits in his quests to save the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario has a suit to fit any occasion, including everything from the Frog Suit that allows Mario to swim with ease, the Hammer Suit that gives Mario the ability to chuck an endless volley of hammers, the Tanooki Suit that lets him fly and camouflage himself to his enemies-although a conspicuous statue might not fool an opponent with even the slightest bit of intuitive sense. Later suits include the Penguin Suit, which gives Mario increased swimming skill and the ability to turn enemies into ice and the Bee Suit from Mario Galaxy, which turned Mario into a bee. The only suit missing from Mario’s closet is a well made Italian formal suit for high class shindigs at Princess Peach’s Palace, but Mario has always been a man more about function than style.
Link’s satchel contains every obscure tool, weapon and magical accessory in Hyrule. Every dungeon rewards him with a new way to fight tangle with his foes.
It might surprise some to learn that the boomerang’s original intention was that of a hunting weapon and not a toy. It takes some finesse to actually use one accurately, but can they can pack quite the wallop. The boomerang also lets Link retrieve useful items from distance, which might be useful in combat.
This mysterious red liquid from Hryule can heal heavy bodily damage to give Link a second wind against any foe. Strangely enough, his enemies in Hryule wait quite patiently while he takes time out to use one.
Bombs play an important role in Link’s arsenal of sundries. They demolish cracked walls and reveal new locations during his adventure. They also cause serious damage to any foe fool enough to be near one when they explode. Their main flaw lies in how long they take to go off, giving enemies the chance to move out of harm’s way, but they also create a potential danger to Link if he holds on to one for just a second too long.
Link has an impressive cache of equipment, all of which is useful in his journey, but the sheer potency of Mario’s special abilities overwhelm all the abilities that Link can bring to the table. The Super Mushroom multiplies his effectiveness, while the star proves to be the ultimate offense and defense fused together into one item. As long as Mario makes clever use of these two items, there are very few foes that he cannot subjugate.
The Victor: Mario
Link holds the edge in basic combat ability. Limit the fighters to using only their basic combat abilities and Link should find defeating Mario to be an easy task; however, assuming that both characters have access to their full array of tools and power-ups, the outcome changes drastically. Invincibility used properly has no logical counter. Combine that with advanced mobility and the ability to magnify all of his normal attributes in an instant and it’s difficult to foresee many situations in which Mario could lose.
Ryan Heuer is a writer for T-Shirts.com, where you can find the perfect apparel for your next video game marathon.