The news that Shigeru Miyamoto will show off Super Mario Bros. on Wii U at E3 is more or less confirmation of what we all expected. When 3DS faltered many said Nintendo needed to show the way with a Mario game, and Super Mario 3D Land's Christmas appearance gave the console a big shot in the arm, becoming its first five-million-seller in the process.
But unlike 3DS, Mario was there alongside Wii U when it was first revealed at E3 2011, New Super Mario Bros. Mii one of the few playable 'experiences' on show. A Mii-powered revisit of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, it was a sharper, shinier version of a game that's sold over 25 million copies worldwide, but is it the direction Mario's upcoming HD debut will take?
While 3D Land blended 2D and 3D adventures into a new hybrid form, home console Mario titles have been staunchly one or the other, with a dimension-sized gap in sales. Super Mario Galaxy — a full ten points above NSMBWii on Metacritic — scraped past 10 million sales in twice the time it took the 2D game to rack up 25 million. One pushed platforming to a new level; the other banked on Wii's multiplayer allure.
Whether Nintendo goes for surprising or safe with its first Mario will define its strategy for Wii U. Innovation or iteration, game changer or crowd pleaser?
The big question is this: will Nintendo stick to the tried and true template that moved 25m copies or go for something unseen to prove Wii U's innovation?
It's not an easy one to answer. Wii U is following on from a near-100-million-selling console, and to discount those consumers would be a big mistake. If 25m people enjoyed 2D Mario in 480p, who's to say a similar number wouldn't enjoy it in 1080p? Having such a sales weapon to call on is no small advantage, and you can be sure Nintendo knows it: it recently announced a 2D Super Mario game for 3DS after all.
On the other hand, Nintendo needs to convince the gaming world at large that Wii U is as inventive and revolutionary as its predecessor. What better way to do that than with a new style of play for its mascot, showcasing Wii U's unique controller and dual screen possibilities?
Nintendo will want to drive Wii U's install base as quickly as possible to prevent comparisons with the 3DS's rocky start and quick price drop, but will it target Wii families ready for an HD upgrade or craft something only possible on Wii U that risks putting off those 25m 2D fans? Of course, Nintendo being Nintendo there's always the possibility of a third option, a game that combines both styles of gameplay, and you can be certain that Wii U will welcome 2D and 3D Super Mario games in its lifespan.
But as Nintendo prepares to loose the first shot across the bows of its HD competitors, all eyes are on how Mario will step into the high definition era. He led the charge into three dimensions with the launch of Nintendo 64 — can his first HD outing pioneer in the same way?
Whether Nintendo goes for surprising or safe with its first Mario will define its strategy for Wii U. Innovation or iteration, game changer or crowd pleaser — we'll find out on 5th June.