Round Table: Let's Talk About Super Mario
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Tom: There seems to be a trend at the moment to say the 2D series is going stagnant. In our review Damien argued that New Super Mario Bros. 2 is like an Olympic athlete, doing variations of the same every time but doing it to a gold medal standard. We haven't played it yet, but what do you think of that perspective? Is it harsh to demand constant innovation?
Desiree: I think there comes a point where you've reinvented the wheel a bit too much and need to take a step back, look at the things you came up with before, and see what you can do with them. Back when NSMB hit I remember arguing for a proper New Super Mario Bros. 2 — not so much what we're about to be given, but something like SMB2 (US), with vegetable throwing, shell riding, POW-block throwing, enemy-tossing goodness.
Throw all of that into a SMB3 or SMW setting and see how it handles.
Christopher: I think Damien's point is entirely valid and considering that the 3DS already has its innovative Mario title, I think that NSMB2 is fine for the handheld. I do, however, think that Nintendo should have released the title later in the consoles' life cycle, as I just don't think it's needed at the point in time.
Gaz: NSMB2 is the first Mario game I’ve ever had serious doubts about. My theory with sequels has always been, if it doesn’t improve upon the original or do something different, don’t make it. Galaxy 2 took the Galaxy template and mixed it up a bit. NSMBWii took the NSMB template and added multiplayer. NSMB2 takes NSMB and... well what does it do extra? Hound coins like Wario? No thanks, I play my Mario games to platform, I play my Wario games to hunt for gold. Constant innovation is asking a lot, but if I want to play NSMB, I’ll probably just play NSMB and not buy a new game.
That and like Chris said, it's too early. NSMB Wii isn't that old, and there will be a point in the 3DS's life when sales slow — why not save a guaranteed seller until then?
Joe: I'm with Des. It IS harsh demanding so much innovation. The reason the Mario series has endured so long and remained so popular is because you know that you are going to get an incredibly solid platformer that is going to keep you entertained for quite some time. While NSMB2 hasn't gotten my blood pumping like Mario titles past, I still really want to play it and hope it surprises me, because "coins" doesn't really get me terribly stoked for the next iteration!
Christopher: If you look back at the history of Nintendo's home console Mario titles, as we've just done, there's a constant trend of innovation in every single first Mario title on each of the consoles. My real concern with the lack of innovation isn't with NSMB2, but with NSMB U. It's a new console, that's had an extremely shaky start from last years' E3 conference and I don't think that it's innovative in any way, which has me concerned quite a bit.
Tom: It seems clear, to me anyway, that from a development perspective Nintendo has some kind of level-editor/engine that makes these 2D games easy for its teams to throw together. What did you think when NSMBU was revealed: surely if NSMB2 is too soon, that's WAY too soon?
Gaz: NSMBU is too soon. It’s as simple as that. Especially when you put it up against Rayman Legends, which actually does something new and exciting with the GamePad. OK, NSMBU uses the Wii U’s power and has the Boost Mode but come on, do we really need another Mario game, another NSMB game, just 4 months later?
Desiree: I think it's entirely too soon for NSMBU, especially when there's plenty of other fine Nintendo franchises they could be launching with. Star Fox, F-Zero, Metroid, Kirby, Zelda (though it's a bit soon for that one after Skyward Sword, in my opinion), and I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting at the moment but would be just as great to see happening at launch.
We've been inundated with Mario lately. I'll give NSMB2 a chance, but NSMBU isn't a system-seller for me, not the way NSMB was with the DS.
Tom: Perhaps the problem is Mario's success. Nintendo's under pressure to return to profit, and Mario is guaranteed sales. Other franchises simply don't have that power.
Joe: I was a bit disappointed because I was hoping for another grand, platform-defining 3D adventure a la Super Mario 64, and instead we're getting a variation on a series that is being done on the 3DS. This is the first Mario game to be HD and it's a 2D sidescroller? It looks nice, but it feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity.
Christopher: I think the "new" in the name alone is becoming an oxymoron in itself, to be completely honest.
Desiree: In terms of selling power, Zelda might do the job — Nintendo did it with Twilight Princess, and the Wii doesn't seem to have suffered for it.
Gaz: That is true, Zelda was a major selling point for me at launch.
Perhaps the problem is Mario's success. Nintendo's under pressure to return to profit, and Mario is guaranteed sales. Other franchises simply don't have that power.
Tom: I think Wii Sports sold mega numbers of Wii systems, not Zelda. It was the concept that did it, I reckon.
Zelda isn't the monster seller it deserves to be, statistically. It is with keen gamers, general public less so.
Desiree: True, but there wasn't a main-series Mario game for the Wii until a year after its launch, and again, it doesn't seem to have suffered for it. Wii U is supposed to be another crazy innovation; if Nintendo believes in it so much I'd like to see it launch with something other than Mario (not rely on Mario to sell the system).
Joe: Or at least have Mario do something that shows off what the system is all about.
Christopher: I agree, and like Gaz said so perfectly in his first contribution to Nintendo Life, there's a real possibility of wearing fans thin — not "out" — with too much Mario. More 2D Mario when we are just now getting one on 3DS really makes this a possibility. It's right when the Wii U is releasing, which makes it so much more questionable to me.
Tom: To play devil's advocate to complaints about repetition. Just what can the Super Mario series do to innovate further? I think Nintendo tried with 3D Land, but got greeted with mixed responses from fans.
Desiree: I'm fine with repetition, but not when it's the same things being repeated over and over and over again. I still want to see Nintendo create an honest-to-goodness Mario game with ideas and gameplay from SMB2(US). Let us play as the Princess or Toad as we please. Have us throw weird mushroom-bricks at monsters and climb chains to get away from electric sparks. Let me ride around a level atop a Shy Guy that's already atop a weird ostrich-thing.
Joe: I don't consider the "New" Super Mario series to be capable of "flagship" titles anymore. They're great games but they don't define the consoles they're on. Look at things like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy; these both took the franchise in exciting new directions and you can't think of the N64 or Wii without those games. Wii U is doing so much and charting so much new territory for Nintendo, and I wish its first Mario game for the system reflected that.
Gaz: For the future, the NSMB series needs make strides between games like SMB3 and Super Mario World did. Change it significantly, but keep the core of the franchise at heart. And leave bigger gaps between games. Make a new Mario title an event, not another title. But the real development needs to be in the 3D platforms. It’s a mouth-watering prospect. Nintendo’s first grand Mario adventure in HD not only allows for better graphics, but also more elaborate gameplay elements. Just look at the leap from Sunshine to Galaxy. Just imagine what they could do next.
But the real development needs to be in the 3D platforms. It’s a mouth-watering prospect. Nintendo’s first grand Mario adventure in HD not only allows for better graphics, but also more elaborate gameplay elements.
Desiree: Also, I was going to say before that I don't read the 'New' in the title as being actually 'new' , just that it's not the same SMB series we grew up with as kids. The 'new' series is its own beast as far as I'm concerned.
Christopher: You can't always win, but even with Super Mario 3D Land's mixed results, it blasted the 3DS into the limelight unlike anything before it. I think Nintendo could have brought the "weirdness" back and went with something along the Super Mario Bros. 2/ Super Mario Sunshine route. There’s no telling what Nintendo can come up with, and I just think they can do so much better than New Super Mario Bros. U.
Desiree: I agree with Gaz. I remember when a new Mario game used to be a major event. Nowadays, they're not, and that kindof makes me sad.
Gaz: When Galaxy came out, everyone at my College came up to me asking how the game was — nowadays no-one even thinks twice about a new Mario game, it's just there.
Tom: If the 2D games become an almost yearly occurrence without much innovation, but a new 3D epic arrives every 3-4 years, is that a good way forward? Nintendo's success isn't about gamers like us, exclusively, let's not forget, but about satisfying a potential audience of over 100 million gamers in the DS and Wii generations.
Desiree: When we're more looking toward a spin-off sequel (Luigi's Mansion 2, Paper Mario 3D) than a main-series Mario game, there's a problem, I think.
Joe: I think Nintendo is pretty content right now to sell nostalgia back to us. Tanooki suit! Raccoon tail! That's fine, of course, but make those a bonus in these new games rather than the marquee feature.
Gaz: Releasing a new Mario 2D title every year would burn the franchise out like many before it — bad idea in my opinion
Tom: I don't think it's a good idea, I think it's what will happen. Every 12-15 months, I think Nintendo may actually go that way.
Joe: I think it's a good idea RIGHT NOW because Nintendo’s trying to sell 3DS systems. And it's working. It's a short-term fix to a different problem and if it keeps up it's going to turn into a much worse problem.
Christopher: It's not just Mario titles, as I just has this exact same issue happen with Sony's Uncharted series. Uncharted 3 was amazing on PS3, but a few months later when Vita released, I bought Uncharted: Golden Abyss. The game is phenomenal, and redefines what can be done in handheld gaming, but the similar gameplay styles of the series found me having a real struggle to get excited about playing the game. It actually took me a few months to finally beat the game.
Gaz: Perhaps eShop is the way forward, releasing smaller, incremental 2D titles through which new ideas can be tested?
Desiree: They wouldn't sell, though. Not the way they do at retail.
Tom: It’s something I explored in a feature within the last week, and small download games wouldn’t match retail sales, but could potentially set the eShop alight and tempt more gamers to try other download software and the full-fat retail Mario titles.
Joe: I think if our concern is to keep Mario game releases like "events" then I think smaller things on the eShop would be detrimental to that cause.
Desiree: I think Nintendo may be making a strategic move here with this new Mario title — releasing it both at retail and the eShop will get a lot more people connecting their 3DSes to the internet and involved in downloading things from the eShop overall. They missed the boat somehow with SM3DL and are playing catch-up with this one.
Mario is their main go-to guy for sales. If he doesn't get people involved with downloading from the eShop, nothing will.
Tom: So what do we want from Super Mario in future? If I may be cheeky, it sounds like we want innovation, more 3D, less 2D, and old-school game designs. All ideas to make Nintendo’s shareholders and accountants cry in fear.
Gaz: And Mario Sunshine 2. Don't forget that.
Christopher: While I agree these kind of games wouldn't sell as well, they will still sell. This is I think the real problem that lies behind this issue: money over innovation. Of course a new Mario title will sell, but when you make something for your fans, it keeps them around and makes them proud to be fans of your company — buying more in the long term, and passing it along to your next generation.
Joe: I just want Mario games to feel epic again, whether it's 2D or 3D. Think of Super Mario World, Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy and what they meant to their consoles. I want something that's going to grab me by the throat and say "Hey, MARIO IS HERE" rather than just Nintendo saying "Hey look it's our newest Mario game."
Tom: Maybe it shouldn't all be pinned on Mario to excite us about Nintendo though. If he's the cash cow, franchises like Donkey Kong, Kid Icarus and Metroid can try to innovate. I think the Mario everyone remembers as a new game every 2-4 years is possibly gone forever.
Joe: That's a frighteningly good point.
Gaz: I want Mario to feel like the release of a Zelda title does - epic. I want to feel that rush coming up to launch, I want to see something revolutionary, and I want to love every minute of it. Is that too much to ask?
Christopher: I actually want a new 2D Mario title, but I want in in 8-bit style and only cost a few bucks on the 3DS eShop. As for console Mario titles, I'd like to see at least one innovative Mario title on each new home console. If it deserves a sequel, as Super Mario Galaxy did, then do so. Otherwise, I want a new Mario release to become a big deal once again!
Tom: I agree Chris, I think there will be one big 3D title on each home console, but we should maybe accept that some other entries will be filler.
Gaz: I'd like an origin story on Il Piantissimo too if Nintendo are doing a new game every year, why does he wear a bucket on his head?
Desiree: I want, I want, I want — we can want all we please, but in the end, Nintendo is going to make the call, and until people stop purchasing the games in question, things won't change. John Q. Public is voting with their wallets, and they want the filler.
Tom: It's not as if that filler is rubbish, either.
Desiree: You're right, it's not horrible or anything. It's just not as good as we remember these games being when we were younger.
Joe: The worst Mario game is still leagues better than a lot of what's out there.
Christopher: I agree, but I think those "filler" titles are already there: Paper Mario, Mario Tennis, etc. Maybe we need more new Mario off-shoot "filler" titles?
Desiree: Bite your tongue, sir, for calling Paper Mario 'filler'.
Christopher: I absolutely LOVE the Paper Mario series!
Desiree: Super Paper Mario, perhaps. The main Paper Mario series, never (laughs).
Tom: Mario Tennis in the same sentence as Paper Mario. MY EYES!!!!
Gaz: Like Joe said, the Mario games are still leagues above a lot of games out there right now, even at their worst. The games aren't stagnant yet, but they're becoming derivative, and that's what Nintendo needs to avoid.
Christopher: Agree with Gaz completely!
Tom: New Super Mario Derivative U 2, coming Holiday 2013.
Desiree: Hey, will that version have a cameo from Bono?
Tom: Oh yes, he fills in for Luigi in the second play-through.
Joe: You can hold the GamePad up to your face to simulate what it's like to see through his silly glasses.
Tom: Before we go, say three words about the Super Mario games on Game Boy, as we missed them. I'll go first. “All very fun”.
Gaz: “Never played them”.
Desiree: “Can live without.” Sorry, but it's true; none are really must-plays.
Christopher: SML is awesome!
Joe: Uh. Kind of forgettable.
Tom: And that's why we didn't talk about them.
Christopher: That should have been: [Super Mario Land] is ******* awesome!
And with that enthusiastic endorsement of Super Mario Land, our Super Mario round table is over. We'd love to read your opinions in the comments below.