Thinking Outside the “?” Block: How Mario Needs to Change
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is actually the third of four iterations of the New Super Mario Bros. series. With so many similar games, are they getting to be a little bit stale? How could Nintendo breathe new life into the series?
“Mario Fatigue”, a sort of gaming exhaustion caused by the formulaic, samey nature of the New Super Mario Bros. series, has been a trending topic of discussion among Nintendo fans. They each feature very similar music, graphics, controls, world themes and, for the most part, bosses, making each iteration feel more like an expensive level pack than a brand-new experience.
Before continuing to read this article and getting up in arms, understand that the premise of this article is to contemplate the ways in which Mario could be refreshed, not to criticize Nintendo and the New Super Mario Bros. series. I believe that these are quality titles, but the fact that all four iterations have been very similar has exhausted gamers and caused this feeling of “Mario Fatigue”. With that said, I understand that the incredibly high sales numbers of the New franchise do not warrant any needless change. After all, the formula works, so why should they change it at the risk of lower sales? That’s not the point. In this article, I will address the issue of “Mario Fatigue” by highlighting the ways in which the New Super series has exhausted gamers, and how other games, both Mario-related and not, can be looked at for ways to revitalize the series. It’s not so much a criticism as it is a look back on the innovation of past games and how they could be applied to Mario.
The sheer concentration of Mario games over the past six years is not the issue. Between 1985 and 1990, there was a Mario platformer released every year, but each one felt so drastically different that it was like a new and unique experience every time. Yes, Super Mario Bros. 2 USA was just a re-skinned version of Doki Doki Panic, but it has since made many contributions to the Mario franchise. In this article, we will look at the presentation, themes, gameplay and music of various games, and how those concepts can be used to breathe new life into the stale formula of New Super Mario Bros.
Yeah, they all pretty much look the same.
If you compare screenshots from the DS, Wii, 3DS and Wii U versions of New Super Mario Bros., you may find it difficult to tell one from the other, albeit a few minor differences. It should come as no surprise that after over 32 worlds of essentially exactly the same artwork, gamers would become a bit bored of the art style. If the Legend of Zelda can be a host to various art styles, why can’t Mario? One of the biggest problems with the art direction of the games lies in the fact that it feels static and bland. All the action takes place on the same plane as Mario, while the background is filled with very boring artwork. In Donkey Kong Country Returns and Rayman Legends, levels feel very vibrant and alive because of the game’s use of multiple layers filled with objects that move and interact with the player. It makes the games incredibly fun to look at, and capture the spirit of settings that are full of life.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is a gorgeous game that feels very vibrant and alive. Why can’t Mario be like this, too?
As soon as you pop in a New Super Mario Bros. title, you already know what kinds of worlds to expect – the standard grassland, desert, ocean, forest, sky, mountain, volcano and ice worlds. After four New Super Mario Bros. games featuring exactly the same worlds, the magic and wonder associated with finding out what lies in the next world starts to fade away. Mystery is replaced by expectation, and though each level’s design is relatively unique, they still manage to blend together into eight familiar sets of worlds. The Mario universe holds tons of potential for crazy new world themes, and Super Mario Galaxy is a modern-day testament to that fact. However, one of the things that made Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins so memorable was the variety of worlds that players could explore – a giant mechanical Mario toy, the insides of a humungous tortoise, a house in which Mario has been shrunk to the size of an ant, and a spooky Halloween-themed world. Wouldn’t it be great to see Mario jump through a toy factory, a sunken city or a bustling Koopa metropolis? Of course it would – the abstract nature of the Mushroom Kingdom lends itself to a plethora of different themes and situations.
Welcome to the Mario Zone, one of the strangest sets of levels throughout the entire Mario franchise.
Gameplay is the biggest part of the Mario franchise, and there’s no doubt that it has a solid foundation. However, there are still ways that the gameplay and level design could be complimented by additional features that add length and challenge to the game. Par times, as seen in Mighty Switch Force! and VVVVVV, can be incredibly addictive and challenging. Although Miiverse integration and Challenge Mode in New Super Mario Bros. U are a nice change of pace, it’s still not quite the same. The Mario franchise seems well-suited to this sort of feature, and would change the way that you approach each level. This sort of challenge is also present in New Super Mario Bros. 2’s Coin Rush mode, and practicing each level over and over again to try and top your friends’ scores is, without a doubt, one of the best features of that game and definitely makes more sense in terms of the coin theme than the single player mode does. There are plenty of ways that Nintendo could extend the play time and ramp up the challenges of Mario games through gameplay, and it’s great to see that they’ve started to do this with NSMB2 and NSMBU.
New Super Mario Bros. 2’s Coin Rush mode is proof that Nintendo can additional features can prolong the life of their games, as well as provide new challenges and ways to approach the levels.
The excitement surrounding the Wii U and New Super Mario Bros. U’s launch has come and gone, and although the Miiverse content, Challenge Mode and promise of New Super Luigi DLC are nice distractions from the repetitveness of the New Super Mario Bros. series, Nintendo is still far from providing a new and exciting path for the 2D platformers to take. The games are still great, especially the stylish Van Gogh-esque backgrounds and new, original themes, but we can only hope that Nintendo will be able to pull the series out of creative neutrality, and thrust it into four-wheel drive, while still preserving the popularity of the franchise in order to warrant experimentation and forward progress.
Will Nintendo be able to provide a fresh, new experience with New Super Mario Bros. U? Only time will tell!
Alexandre Trottier spent Valentine’s Day with his true love, Nintendo. He enjoys a good, challenging platformer, long walks along Sirena Beach, hunting monsters and saving Hyrule. If you enjoy video game banter, you can follow him on Twitter @NF_Alexandre, and like NintendoFuse on Facebook. Seeing new people following him may give him the illusion of friendship and/or admiration. He likes that sort of thing. As well, you can let him know what you think of his article in the comments below… you may also find some lovely “like” and “share” buttons that you can use if you are inclined to do so.