By Dalai 7 Comments
This generation marks the revival of a certain plumber named Mario. That sounds a bit crazy to say since Mario has never really went away in the minds of gamers, but the general public's reaction to Mario platformers and its subsidiaries had been subdued during the Nintendo 64 and GameCube eras. It's not that Mario took the Sonic path to mediocrity, though. Mario just lost a bit of his mojo lately despite gaining a dimension. The games were great, but he wasn't attracting audiences like he used to. In 1996, Nintendo released Super Mario 64, the game that revolutionized 3D platforming and became the platforming standard for years. It sold a boatload of copies, somewhere around the 12 million mark. Kind of a big deal, but still well short of the 18 and 20 million copies sold of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World respectively. Later came Super Mario Sunshine, a dismal failure by Mario standards and the low point in Mario's illustrious career. And even though developers would kill to make a game as popular as Sunshine, Nintendo is not used to its flagship series falling so short. Then Nintendo reinvented the series with Super Mario Galaxy, a game that was gathering more praise and awards than just about every game that came out this generation. All was well and Mario was back in top form, yet only managed to hit 8 million sold. Even Mario Kart Wii, a spinoff, was a bigger hit!
Then New Super Mario Bros. Wii came along.
Nintendo has gained some serious coinage these past few months thanks to a 2D comeback in the form of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. And boy was the return long overdue. We've been waiting more than 15 years for Mario's console return to 2D and is now showing younger gamers who are unfamiliar of Mario's classic roots to that old-school gameplay we older gamers grew up playing in the 80s and early 90s. More people now own New Super Mario Bros. Wii than Super Mario Galaxy despite the mixed reactions to NSMBWii by critics. It's almost like Nintendo wanted to just repackage the best parts of what made the NES and SNES Mario games great and throw in a few modern touches and a 4-player co-op/battle royale. And this samey platformer that doesn't radically change the formula is destined to become the biggest selling Mario game in nearly 20 years!
So to quickly sum up, 2D Mario platformers outperform 3D Mario platformers. So why is Nintendo still making 3D Mario games when there's an even bigger market for classic 2D Mario? Why is Nintendo wasting their time with a sequel to Super Mario Galaxy? Will Nintendo consider scrapping future 3D Mario games for 2D? Should they?
The case against 3D.
I may have gone completely mad, but there's a real case to be made here. In this time of economic uncertainty, game developers and publishers are less likely to experiment with new, innovative ideas and designs and opt to reuse old ideas that are popular among the public. This might explain why Nintendo is making Super Mario Galaxy 2, but this also explains why Nintendo made New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Nintendo learned something about Nintendo fans when they released New Super Mario Bros. for the DS: people dig that familiar formula. Nintendo knew that New Super Mario Bros. Wii will be an instant best-seller and would be easy money. The 3D Mario has always been a tougher nut to crack... seriously. The 3D Mario market is only about half that of the 2D Mario market so if Nintendo were smart, they should go after the larger group of flat Mario lovers. It makes business sense.
And it makes business sense for another reason. Super Mario Galaxy, in a way, is a graphical showcase. Yes, Nintendo wanted to show off what the underpowered Wii can do. It's not exactly mind-blowing, but Nintendo dished out a lot of money to make Mario look its spiffiest. New Super Mario Bros. Wii, on the other hand, gets away with a simpler look that doesn't push polygons and special effects like Super Mario Galaxy. I don't have numbers to back this up, but I believe Super Mario Galaxy was probably a significantly more expensive game to develop. Since they're easier to make, it's possible to crank out a "new" New Super Mario Bros. game every two years, something that is not exactly uncommon in this world of biannual sequels. I'd suggest Nintendo back off the Mario sports titles and New Play Control stuff and start cranking these core 2D Mario games post-haste.
The last case against 3D involves a little thing called innovation. While Super Mario 64 only needed to be awesome, Super Mario Sunshine had to be both awesome and different... so the F.L.U.D.D. water sprinkler was born to add a hook. It met with weird stares from some like myself thinking Mario may have jumped the shark, harpooned it, and served it to hungry tourists. Super Mario Galaxy also needed something unique, this time in the form of gravity. That particular addition is certainly a more subtle change than the water gun, but it's still radically different than Super Mario 64. What does a 2D Mario need to be accepted? Be like Super Mario Bros. 3... or Super Mario World. Just let me fly! When critics complained about the lack of originality in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, they were quite correct. 4-player clusterfuck aside, NSMBWii is just Super Mario Bros. 5 with a modern twist. You run to the right, stomp Goombas, jump over pits, and fly using a special power suit. This is Super Mario Bros. 5, the highly anticipated sequel to Super Mario Bros. 4 (commonly known as Super Mario World.) Chalk one up for complacency!
Maybe they can coexist?
Okay, maybe I was playing devil's advocate those first several paragraphs. I don't think I'd forgive Nintendo if they decided to only focus on 2D Mario games. Super Mario Galaxy is just an amazing experience and Super Mario Galaxy 2 is gonna be too good not to exist. There was a major point I forgot about. The Nintendo 64 and Nintendo GameCube never did reach critical success as consoles which means Super Mario 64 and Sunshine would need a miracle to achieve the success of a Super Mario Bros. 3. A 1:1 attachment ratio is impossible to achieve unless you're Wii Sports. The Wii has a large audience already so there are 60 million potential customers. Also, Super Mario World was the last Mario game to be bundled with a Nintendo console and you know those bundles tend to inflate numbers a bit. If the Wii came packed with Super Mario Galaxy in the future, you'd see the sales spike. Still that doesn't explain why New Super Mario Bros. Wii outperformed Super Mario Galaxy in a matter of weeks.
Whatever, Nintendo has gone into overdrive these past few years. With the Wii really cranking out Mario games by the kilo, could this set a trend? Could Michael Pachter's hypothetical Wii HD feature the even more hypothetical New Super Mario Bros. Wii 2 and Super Mario Galaxy 3? That would be the perfect standard to set... something for everyone. Gamers (myself included) like to bitch about Mario's overexposure and brand milkage, but more traditional Mario is always welcome. So Nintendo, listen carefully! Forget about Mario Golf Wii, Mario is Missing 2, and Mario Party 9. They don't exist. One Paper Mario and Mario Kart per console and a Mario platformer every two years, switching off and on between 2D and 3D. That's all I ask.
And that Paper Mario game must be a turn-based RPG, not this plain hybrid mishmash.