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New Super Mario Bros. U Didn’t Unseat Super Mario World

New Super Mario Bros. U was a pretty great game. In my review, I called it the best of the “New” sub-series, citing its refined level design, HD visuals, and overall refreshed presentation. All of those combined to make it a game that I would recommend as a good Wii U game without looking back.

Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a problem with New Super Mario Bros. U as well – it fails to actually advance the series forward in a way that even remotely resembles previous generational leaps for the franchise. If you look at the ways in which I said New Super Mario Bros. U establishes itself as the definitive version of the “New” franchise, they’re all about incremental improvements – “refined” level design, “HD” visuals, and “refreshed” presentation.

In other words, they’re about perfecting what’s already been done, not about pushing boundaries and taking the franchise into new ground. New Super Mario Bros. U may be a great game, but it’s no gold standard for the future.

No Truly “New” Content

New Super Mario Bros. U may have new backgrounds, but they’re just window dressing slapped on to the world themes the franchise has been driving for the last three games: the same grassland, desert, ocean, snow, jungle, mountain, sky, and volcanic worlds we’ve already explored over and over and over again throughout Mario‘s extensive history. In this way, New Super Mario Bros. U is more an extension of previous games than an actual “new installment.”

The story begins in the exact same way as the Wii game, with the exact same cast of enemies and Koopa Kid bosses – the only “new” bosses are actually rehashed versions of Boom Boom (Super Mario Bros. 3) and the Sumo Bros. (Super Mario World). The soundtrack is largely the same one we’ve heard for the last several games, with one “new” track – the game’s theme song – which has been extended to encompass multiple level themes. The playable characters are still the same Mario Bros. and Yellow and Blue Toads, and they still have no unique abilities.

smb2-contentNintendo seems to have forgotten what it was that kept the Super Mario Bros. series going strong during its heyday in the 80s and 90s: the constant introduction of new content.

Super Mario Bros. 2 took players into an entirely new universe – Subcon – with its own enemies in the form of Shy Guys, Snifits, Birdo, and Wart, and new playable characters in the form of Toad and the Princess, with their own unique attributes. Instead of focusing on jumping on enemies to defeat them, players had to pick up objects and toss them, which added an interesting twist while keeping much of the core platforming intact.

Super Mario Bros. 3 went back to Mushroom World, sure, but it didn’t just rehash the world of the original Super Mario Bros.. The game took players to new lands, including the exotic Giant Land, a water world, a pipe-themed world, and Bowser’s airships and Dark World lair. It also introduced a whole slew of enemies and items, including the Boomerang Bros., Chain Chomp, and classic Koopa Kids, as well as the Tanooki Suit, Frog Suit, and Hammer Suit.

smw-contentAnd I’m sure everyone knows about the things that Super Mario World brought to the table: a brand-new setting in the form of Dinosaur Land, the iconic Cape Feather, new level types like Ghost Houses and Switch Palaces, and of course Yoshi in all his various colors. Super Mario World was also the first game to give its worlds more than just generic level descriptors: we journeyed from Yoshi’s Island across the Donut Plains, through the Vanilla Dome, across Butter Bridge, over Cookie Mountain, through the Forest of Illusion, and across the Choco Mountains.

With New Super Mario Bros., however, the games went back to the old Mushroom Kingdom themes… and since then, they’ve more or less stayed there. The main differences are in the power-ups – with one or two new ones per game – and in the course design. Since then, we’ve seen that people have grown tired of the same old themes, the same old enemies – the same old content. The series has gained a reputation for more or less revolving around recycled content with new level designs… and rightly so. There hasn’t been “new content” within the 2D series that even approaches the kind of advancements the series was known for since the “New” games began.

Where are the new worlds and new villains? Where are the new characters and new core gameplay ideas? Why is it that an idea that was actually first introduced back in 1991 – an interconnected world map – is the main “innovation” people were drawn to in the latest New Super Mario Bros.? The series has run into a content problem.

nsmb-boxBack in 2006, when DS Lite systems started flying off the shelves, New Super Mario Bros. was released, which despite increased supply after the remodels initial sellouts led to demand that vastly outpaced supply for much of both 2006 and 2007 – particularly in Japan. The phenomenon repeated itself in 2009, when New Super Mario Bros. Wii led the way to record-breaking console sales, with nearly every single one of the millions of Wiis sold in the weeks following the game’s launch corresponding to a purchase of the new Mario game. It’s clear that New Super Mario Bros. has incredible selling power.

But with the latest round of New Super Mario Bros. games, we haven’t seen the same energy. It’s true that they aren’t the first new entries in a franchise that had been dormant for a decade-and-a-half as their predecessors were, and that they’re selling in a particularly troubled economy with a higher cost of entry due to their presence on more expensive platforms… but it’s also true that they haven’t represented a significant push beyond what their predecessors achieved, either.

Aside from the HD resolution and new backgrounds, if you compared New Super Mario Bros. Wii side-by-side with New Super Mario Bros. U, it’d be difficult to tell the difference. The games use the same engine, most of the same assets, and so on – they don’t have the appearance of a significant leap as the older games did, even though the technology gap is probably just as wide.

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For New Super Mario Bros. to produce a title that truly claims the title of “worthy successor to Super Mario World,” Nintendo is going to need to get over this content problem. They’re going to need to stop making new games basically remixed level packs and start producing actual expansions to Mario’s world like they did back in the 80s and 90s. The saddest part is that they haven’t been shy about doing this in the 3D games – we explored Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64, Delfino Island in Sunshine, and the vast galaxies beyond Mushroom World in Galaxy – but in New Super Mario Bros., it’s been the same old worlds over and over and over again.

Again, the game quality hasn’t really slipped. Maybe the games are easier, but the actual game design is still excellent. It’s all in the conservative approach to content.

Unfortunately, Nintendo seems content to just keep on rehashing. Mr. Iwata says that there’ll only be one Super Mario Bros. game per system, which means that Wii U owners are unlikely to see their dream Mario World successor take shape within the current generation. Even the possibility of DLC won’t do anything to fix the content problem: the New Super Luigi U DLC is a bold-faced fully-blatantly-declared remixed level pack instead of a batch of new content.

Back in the NES era, there were three – four if you count the game now known as The Lost Levels – and each of them brought totally unique content to the table and kept the Mario craze going strong well into the 90s. Why can’t Nintendo realize that it was this heavy focus on developing new content that gave them such a terrific reputation? Why have they turned to selling their most famous brand on pure nostalgia instead of the awe-inspiring advancements that everyone knows it’s capable of?

  • guest

    probably because they don’t want to take risks with such an old franchise. They know their sales are firstly due to this nostalgia feeling so they try to keep it the most unchanged, even if it is completely illogical to think that keeping a game unchanged is gonna make more sales. So that’s why they try to integrate new experiences with hardware capabilities instead of gameplay. the New Super Mario Bros series was doomed since its beginning.

    • http://www.facebook.com/aaron.lefebvre.161 Aaron Lefebvre

      Thats a false statement. Mario games are not still successful because of “nostalgia”, they are still successful because they make amazing Mario games still of today, that feel completely different from SMW. Mario Galaxy was unlike any other mario game, and is still of today the second highest rated game this gen.

    • Twister27

      Not all series would be bad if they never changed. For instance, I would be happy to be at least 10 more Professor Layton games, even if the structure did not change at all. There would of course be new stories and puzzles, but gameplay changes would not be necessary.

      NOTE: I am not arguing that future 2D Mario games should not change more. I just take issue with your statement that “it is completely illogical to think that keeping a game unchanged is gonna make more sales.”

  • Erimgard

    NSMBU was a great game, but yeah…it’s hard to top SMW for me.

  • RestlessPoon

    World is my favorite 2D Mario Game. Overall, it’s third, after Sunshine and 64. NSMBU was still pretty great, though. As for why they don’t change the formula, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Yeah, it’s a lame excuse, and it’s what’s keeping the New series back. They need to bring the feather back.

    • Ghoti

      YOU HAVE THE EXACT SAME OPINION AS ME. Finally, someone who agrees that World, 64, and Sunshine were the best Mario games. They all had one thing in common: they were based around exploration. New Super Mario Bros. games are based on getting to the end of the level. World was similar, but it occasionally had puzzles and forced you to explore.

      Honestly, I’d prefer an HD remake of World with 4-5 player Co-op (just no block placing for the Tablet, please) to another NSMB game.

    • Bob.

      Going back and playing SMW, the feather (and tanooki) were horrendously broken. It let you pretty much bypass large areas of the map. It was fun gliding around and all, but I’m glad new games don’t have the feather in them.

  • Shadao

    I don’t think Nintendo forgot about innovating Super Mario Bros. New content are indeed coming, in the forms of 3D Super Mario games. NSMB is really a nostalgic memory trip to provide funds for the new Mario games. Hence why Iwata said only one NSMB is coming for each Nintendo console. Successors to Super Mario World were the 3D Mario games: Super Mario 64, Sunshine, Galaxy 1 and 2, and even 3D Land.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      3D Super Mario games = /= Super Mario Bros.

      Nintendo is INSANE if they are using NSMB to “provide funds for the new Mario games,” since NSMB makes about 2.5 as much money as 3D Mario for probably 1/4th the expense. They should be prioritizing the 2D series, i.e. the one more people accept as “real” Mario games.

    • Ghoti

      I felt Galaxy 2 wasn’t all that innovative. They added Yoshi and reused concepts on incredibly linear worlds. I thought the first Galaxy was too linear.

      Then I played 3D Land, and I realized that Galaxy 2 wasn’t that bad. 3D Land stooped as low as to reuse levels with cheap gimmicks added, as if the levels weren’t boring enough the first time you played them. I couldn’t believe they sold the game.

      • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

        Do you mean the extra worlds? That’s pretty much how I see the Super Luigi U DLC. At first I was excited because at least it wasn’t over-priced “extra mode” level packs and was instead a “second quest” – then I remembered that it’s still just a “level design” pack and not “new content.”

  • http://twitter.com/Juhis815 Juhis815

    I totally agree on this, I know they have been doing the same stuff, and with next 3D Mario platformer on a horizon, I would be intrigued to see what interesting worlds and levels they have to explore.

  • K2L

    As much as I love the Super Mario series, this article is spot on. In fact, the very reason why I decided to pass on NSMBU is because the series has saturated gamers a LOT. Mind you, at first it was a pleasant surprise to see games like NSMB Wii (released only three years after the DS version) and Galaxy 2 (two and a half since the first), and they definitely provided an exceptional amount of fun and awe to the consumers. Problem is, with the 3DS and Wii U installments, it’s a become an overexploitation. In the case of NSMB2, not even a year had passed since 3D Land, and yet they thought that we would blindly buy each new Mario without chance to rest.

    Recently I played SMB All-Stars, as well as Super Mario World, and as I played each installment, I was appreciating even more how each game felt unique on its own way. The New series isn’t bad per se, but they’re spoiling us with so much of if that they’re ruining the magic that Mario used to have.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      Well, Nintendo has at least correctly recognized that there are about 2.5x as many people who will play 2D Mario versus 3D Mario. They’re really serving two different audiences.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Kyrunox Aaron Laye

    I agree 100% on the lack of innovation, but I also look for a challenge in my platformers. Unfortunately, the 2D games haven’t given me such a challenge since Mario World 2. the 3d games on the other hand are superb at that — especially sunshine.

  • David Taylor

    Am I the only one who thought that the controls in Super Mario Sunshine were WAY smoother then the ones in Galaxy and 3D Land?
    What’s with this? But yeah, Nintendo is having a hard time coming up with new ideas, they need to take more risks in making the games, and less risks on the consoles. More games, less consoles.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      For some things. I remember running being REALLY snappy and all the fun acrobatic moves that were gone in Galaxy and 3D Land being really smooth as well. But the platforming was easily much better in those other two.

      I love your “more games, less consoles” thing though. The consoles aren’t really that important.

  • MinishDude

    Nintendo hasn’t really done much more than expansions for a lot of games :/ I mean, the side-scrolling Mario games really do feel like expansion packs (although I’d argue the fun in NSMB U came from the addition of the Game Pad… it was a riot playing with a group of 5 people).

    And then they seemed to have fallen into that trap with the new Zelda 3DS. When they announced it was a direct sequel to LttP, my immediate response was “They’re not even going to make a new world for this one?” (I really disliked the LttP version of Hyrule, and was hoping they’d go with a more 3D route after showing that the 3DS can handle at least the scale of an N64 Zelda). I really hope they add new content to the game and do something more innovative with it

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      Agreed 100%. You’d love the “nostalgia trap” article I also linked in that “crap product” piece.

  • Ben Huang

    I have ideas for bosses of the next NSMB game.
    Fortresses: Boom Boom, Koopalings
    Castles: Unique bosses, ideas include Petey Piranha, Giant Goomba, False Bowser, Motley Bossblob and Kamek. Bowser is in the final castle. The game could have a special world with Dry/Dark Bowser as the boss.
    Airships: Bowser Jr
    World 8 Ghost House: King Boo.