With Super Mario Maker around the corner there seems to be a consensus - at least in this pre-release stage - that Nintendo has got it right with this creation tool. When you combine the excellent tool-set with a potentially endless supply of levels you arguably have - as we described it in our review, in any case - the definitive Wii U game. Even if not all have been as impressed as we were, it's nevertheless earned critical acclaim.
Super Mario Maker, however, doesn't spell the end of conventional and structured 2D Mario games; in fact, we'd bet a fortune on that. The creation tool still has limits, after all, and full titles in the series will still have broader scope and potential for extravagant designs beyond the complicated creations that Wii U owners will create in the weeks to come. It's easy to forget now, but the most recent entry - New Super Mario Bros. U - was a good example of the diverse environments, gameplay mechanics and even effects such as dynamic camera movements that just aren't possible in Super Mario Maker.
In that sense, then, Super Mario's 2D future remains a prominent part of Nintendo's outlook. It remains so for purely commercial reasons, too - these games, throughout Nintendo's entire history and certainly in the 'New' era kicked off on DS, are vital in selling systems and making the company a lot of money.
Yet in playing Super Mario Maker, looking at the results of a recent poll here on the site and assessing sales figures for recent entries, it's striking how opinions and preferences of Nintendo's most serious fans are at odds with the market reality. That is a challenge for Nintendo to contemplate.
So, what are we talking about? To take the first two areas cited above, let's start with Super Mario Maker. In the media pre-release build of the game there have been servers specifically setup for the purpose, which will no longer be there once the game launches. Even with that relatively small group of reviewers, Let's Play video creators and Nintendo staff, however, certain trends have emerged. There's a natural inclination for the retro templates to be used the most - Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World - and for particularly extravagant designs. The New Super Mario Bros. U template - which also includes power-ups from the Wii entry - is typically used by those keen to employ wall jumps, but is less prominent.
Of the 50 courses in the 'Featured' category, as an example at the time of writing, 11 are using the U template, still under a quarter of those on offer considering the fact retro templates out-number the modern 3 to 1. In the 'Star Ranking' category of the most popular courses just 8 out of 50 utilise the newest template; that's also bearing in mind that the U option is one of the first unlocks in the game. Early owners of the game are gravitating towards the retro look and play style.
Then there's the poll we ran this past weekend. At the time of publication we've had nearly 3,300 votes, and Super Mario World has established a dominant lead. It gets tighter in the chasing pack, with Super Mario Bros. 3 in second place, closely followed by Super Mario Galaxy, then Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy 2, followed by Super Mario 3D World. That's a good mix of old and new 2D and 3D games, though after 3D World all other entries fail to get past 2% of the vote.
Though the leaders are a healthy group of modern and retro 2D and 3D entries, it's telling that none of the 'New' 2D games - of which there are now four across as many systems - made any sort of dent. Admittedly it's a tough ask to pick just one Mario game, but the relative diversity of the top 5 shows that even with such a tough choice varied tastes, ages and experience can attract varied results.
We're not saying a poll of a few thousand people is fully representative, not by a long way, but the results do seem to reflect conversations that have happened online in recent years. Those that are heavy-duty, committed Nintendo gamers often express a preference for the 8- and 16-bit eras in 2D platforming, and complaints often follow the New entries around. Some bemoan the accessibility in terms of the ease with which you can accumulate coins and lives, and others seem to feel the new entries are too sanitised, lacking the wacky mayhem typified in particular by Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Though this writer often defends the newer games, there are certainly valid arguments to be made along these lines.
Yet, for Nintendo, stripping back difficulty and quirkiness in exchange for cleaner, crisper design pays off. Sales numbers for the New series are huge - below are the latest sales totals as confirmed by Nintendo, varying due to differing hardware sales across generations.
- New Super Mario Bros. - Best selling DS game of all time - 30.79 million units
- New Super Mario Bros. Wii - Fourth best selling Wii game of all time - 29.32 million units
- New Super Mario Bros. 2 - Fifth best selling 3DS game to date, though one below Super Mario 3D Land - 9.3 million units
- New Super Mario Bros. U - Third best selling Wii U game to date and one above Super Mario 3D World - 4.84 million units
Of course, with lower hardware sales come drop-offs in sales, though the attach-rate for NSMBU in particular is impressive. Aside from New Super Mario Bros. 2, however, all of the 2D titles have outperformed their 3D equivalents, though 3D World may yet overtake NSMBU by the end of this generation. Nevertheless, a significant generation of gamers have grown up playing the 'New' games; for many 2D Mario isn't about the NES and SNES era, it's about these modern entries.
It's a topic to revisit again, but based on circumstantial evidence, observations and hard numbers there does seem to be a disparity between what works on a mainstream level for Super Mario and what some of the most dedicated fans want. It's awkward for Nintendo, in a sense, balancing accessibility and commercial necessity with what its biggest fans seem to want.
It can be argued, of course, that the very nature of Super Mario Maker means it will cater to practically any Mario fan, and it certainly fits the criteria of delivering a wacky, crazy blend of Mario platforming. Yet when the next full 2D Mario title lands the same old debates may re-surface.
What's the answer? We're not sure there is one, beyond Nintendo finding a careful blend of trying new ideas in terms of level design and power-ups while retaining a style to win over a mainstream audience. It'll be interesting to see whether the 'New' naming convention continues in the next entry, too, or whether another rebrand will be attempted.
With the 30th Anniversary of Super Mario and with Maker around the corner, now is perhaps a good time to debate this topic - this is a Talking Point, after all. Let us know what you think. Do you want a change of direction, a move back to retro-style design, or more of the 'New' style? Are direct comparisons between retro classics and the modern entries even fair when considering the effect of nostalgia in polls and comments sections?
Have at it!