I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when Nintendo announced New Super Mario Bros. 2 during its Nintendo Direct presentation last week. I knew another New Super Mario game was inevitable (given the remarkable success of the previous titles), but like many others, I had assumed the upcoming Wii U iteration (which was confirmed to be based on last year’s New Super Mario Bros. Mii demo) would fill that role. I did not expect the company would be developing a second one simultaneously (let alone releasing both of them in the same year), which is why the news came more as a shock to me than as a pleasant surprise.
That being said, my disappointment is born out of much deeper concerns than the one I mentioned above, which is why I’d like to take this opportunity to explain some of the reasons I’m not particularly excited about New Super Mario Bros. 2. You’ll find that none of them has anything to do with the actual quality of the game (as I have no doubt it will ultimately be fun), but rather with its implications for the series (and the state of Nintendo as a whole).
1. It risks saturating the market with Mario games
My biggest concern regarding New Super Mario Bros. 2 is that it risks saturating the market with Mario games. Not only will this be the fourth consecutive year in which we’ll receive a traditional Mario platformer (following 2009′s New Super Mario Bros. Wii, 2010’s Super Mario Galaxy 2 and last year’s Super Mario 3D Land) but it will also be the first of two New Super Mario titles to hit stores within the span of three months (assuming the Wii U iteration is released alongside the console in November). Factor in all of the other Mario spin-offs we’ll be getting (Mario Tennis Open, Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, the upcoming Paper Mario game), and it’s easy to see why the average consumer could become burned out on the franchise.
Nintendo must be careful not to abuse the Mario brand (much in the way that Ubisoft is currently doing with Assassin’s Creed, for example), or else it risks diluting the series’ value. I do not want to see Mario become just another annual franchise, nor do I want to see it lose its inherent magic, but the decision to release a new title every year is setting a bad precedent that could be hard for the company to shake. Still, that’s less worrying than the impetus behind this decision:
2. It suggest some internal desperation at Nintendo
It’s clear that the reason Nintendo is relying so heavily on the Mario brand is to spur the sales of its consoles, but what may be less obvious is that this act also suggests a lack of confidence in its direction. The only other time the company has utilized its properties so extensively was during the GameCube generation, where it released a new installment in nearly every one of its franchises, major and minor alike. It’s no coincidence that the GameCube was also its poorest-selling home console, kept afloat only by the grace of these titles (which, in turn, suffered from their relative lack of development time as they were all rushed out to the market).
Fun as it was, Super Mario Sunshine is still widely regarded as one of the plumber’s weakest adventures.
Releasing two New Super Mario games within a single year reeks of this same sense of desperation, which is especially evident after the success of the current generation. Say what you will about Wii and its software library, but it was certainly a step in the right direction for Nintendo. Mario games were far less plentiful than they were during the GameCube era (and we didn’t see the plumber make any ill-conceived appearances in third-party titles) and the ones that were released were all generally of a much higher quality than GameCube’s offerings. Moreover, Wii’s success meant that the company did not have to dig out some of its B-list franchises to buoy its sales, allowing it to instead fund more niche projects like Sin & Punishment: Star Successor and Xenoblade. Outside of a few quirky exceptions (like Chibi-Robo and Odama), Nintendo simply did not have the luxury to do this last generation, and I’m afraid that its reliance on Mario is a sign that the company may be returning to its conservative ways with 3DS and Wii U.
3. It risks undermining the sales of Super Mario 3D Land
Also important to consider is the negative impact that New Super Mario Bros. 2 will inevitably have on the sales of Super Mario 3D Land. This is particularly disappointing because 3D Land was always intended to be the “New Super Mario” of the 3D series, a way to help acclimate casual players with the more complex mechanics of 3D Marios. By all accounts, it seemed to have worked; not only did the game expertly marry the 3D elements of Super Mario 64 with the 2D sensibilities of classic Mario adventures, it went on to sell over five million copies worldwide, making it the most successful 3DS title to date (and the fastest-selling handheld Mario game ever).
But now with the release of New Super Mario Bros. 2, the distinction between the two play styles has once again been drawn. Casual fans will likely pass over 3D Land in favor of the more inviting New Super Mario 2, thereby undermining 3D Land’s very purpose (not to mention cannibalizing its sales). It’s certainly possible that the game can continue to prosper even in spite of this (just as Super Mario 64 DS continued to sell well throughout DS’s lifetime), but I truly believe that it could have reached the same level of success as the New Super Mario series had it been left alone on the market. Now, with competition from the more casual-friendly New Super Mario 2, it will almost assuredly not live up to its full potential.
4. It could have been something truly new
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about New Super Mario Bros. 2 is just that– it’s simply another New Super Mario game. It’s hard to feel excited about it when it looks so similar to previous titles, and the screenshots that Iwata revealed do little to assuage this concern (especially for those who were hoping the series would adopt a new art style). That said, we do, admittedly, know very little about the game (save for the fact that the Raccoon Tail will be making a proper return), but based upon past experience, it likely won’t stray far from the DS title.
So far, the only new thing about New Super Mario 2 is the return of the Racoon Tail.
I suppose it was my own fault for expecting something more. With the news of Nintendo registering SuperMario4.com, coupled with Iwata’s announcement of a new 2D Mario game for 3DS, I had (perhaps foolishly) hoped that Nintendo would be producing a sprite-based adventure a la Mega Man 9 (but with better visuals). Not only would this have helped differentiate it from the Wii U version (to which it will now inevitably be compared), but it would have looked beautiful in stereoscopic 3D (as Mutant Mudds and Kirby’s Adventure have already demonstrated). As it stands, New Super Mario Bros. 2 seems like just another rote installment in a series that many had considered rote to begin with, and it’s hard to muster up any excitement for it when it could have been so much more.
Now that I’ve aired my concerns, I’d like to know what you think. Were you also disappointed by New Super Mario 2’s announcement, or am I simply being far too cynical about it? Do you think there’s more to the game than meets the eye? Or were you also hoping for a new sprite-based adventure? Let us know in the comments section!