Thursday, July 21, 2011

Neglected Characters: Alex

Welcome one and all to the very first Neglected Characters post. These sections will be dedicated to characters from movies, video games, comics, anything really, that had potential, have potential, or stand out to me for one reason or another, that have been for the most part forgotten by their respective publishers. The main purpose of these article is merely for entertainment and those who like the whole "lost characters" thing. If enough interest is raised in one character or another, perhaps the publishers will choose to use those characters in some project, but persuading them to do so is not the intent of this series.

This time we'll be taking a brief look at one of Mario's many lost characters...

Mario Tennis (2000, GBC/N64)

To the dismay of many, Mario Tennis on the Game Boy Color didn't star the titular plumber, but had a story that focused on one of two player characters: if you chose to climb the ranks as a female, you got to play as Nina. If you chose to be a male, you ended up in control of Alex.

Alex can best be described as the tennis-playing equivalent to Ash Ketchum. He's introduced as the new kid on the block, just hitting puberty and yet he somehow manages to climb the ranks and take out the best of the best, becoming the champion of both Earth and the Mushroom Kingdom.

While I'm not sure of Alex's role in the sequel game, Mario Tennis: Power Tour, I know that he isn't the main player character. However he still appears, I'm just not sure quite what for. Despite this, Alex stands as an especially notable character in the Mario series because the development of his story, and the entire setting of the Mario Tennis series, expands the Mario universe in ways that otherwise wouldn't be known.

Mario Tennis: Power Tour shows a connection between the Mushroom Kingdom and Earth, however the worlds are considered separate realms or something of that sort. This might be typical fare to those who still believed that the Mario Bros. were a pair of Brooklyn plumbers, but to any of the thousands of people who were completely confused by Yoshi's Island, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, and any game featuring Baby Mario, this actually presents a few dozen possible and plausible explanations for the plumbers return to the Mushroom Kingdom.

Because the Game Boy counterparts of the Mario Tennis series focus on a completely separate set of characters, and develops those characters between the two games, they don't really feel like Mario games. There are some appearances by Donkey Kong and Princess Peach among a few other of the big name Mario characters, but the games feel like their own little micro series, and I think that's what they were meant to be. The Mario Tennis games seem more like Camelot's attempt at creating a tennis IP with actual development and character history, but were too afraid to market it without the fame of another character. It's actually a shame that these characters and this universe won't continue without the aid of Mario, and that they'll probably never see any form of home console release... Except for Alex.

Yes, back to the character whom spawned this post. Alex is the most significant of these Mario Tennis original characters because he is one of only four original characters to go toe-to-toe with a proper set of the Mario series roster in complete three-dimensional goodness. Granted, he was only in sixty-four bits, but a console appearance is a console appearance. He's also one of only two characters to be playable in multiple games in the series. The other being his counterpart, Nina.

Furthering the similarities between Alex and Ash, Mario Tennis was one of the few games on the Nintendo 64 that could make use of the Game Boy Transfer Pack. If the Game Boy Color version of Mario Tennis was inserted into the pack, the player had the opportunity to unlock six unique courts depending on their progress in the GBC title. They could also transfer in four characters: Alex, his partner Harry, Nina, and her doubles partner Kate. These characters, the only Mario Tennis original characters to enter a main console, were armed with their stats from the GBC game, meaning their abilities could be enhanced through playing.

Though Alex is often overlooked even by the most hardcore of the hardcore, he's had three overall appearances, making him among the most commonly used "insignificant" Mario character. While it seems that these characters were phased out of existence only moments after they were born, there's still time to bring them back, and there's still histories to explore, and with the lack of a proper Mario Tennis title for the Nintendo Wii, maybe they'll show up in the future.

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