Mario Doesn’t Try Anymore

Super Mario 64 is one of my favorite video games ever. I remember getting my Nintendo 64 a few months after the system was first released and it was my first game. I loved Mario games before that, especially Super Mario World, but Mario 64 blew my mind. The freedom from running around in three dimensions, all the moves Mario could do, the clear blue water. Holy crap, the water looked good! I remember that feeling so well. The joy from a brand new Mario game. Whenever a new Mario game was coming out, it meant something new and innovative was coming. Something that would push the industry into new territory. Whether it was analog control, multiple playable characters with different abilities, or a non-linear world, Mario furthered the industry through design. So it makes me sad that Super Mario 64 was the last time I was truly blown away by a Mario game.

With Super Mario Maker coming out this week, I view it with shame and indifference. Shame because Nintendo has completely given up on trying to innovate with Mario, instead leaving the job up to fans themselves, and indifference because these same similar games have led me to become so numb to Mario games that I just don’t care anymore. I’m not happy to have another Mario game that will also let me build my own levels or angry that Nintendo keeps making the same 2D Mario game over and over. I just have no interest anymore. I’ve seen YouTube creators build extra difficult levels with pre-release copies of the game and game journalists cover the game through previews. I’ve seen the extra characters you can play as, including Sonic the Hedgehog, my favorite video game character, but I feel nothing.

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It’s not like this came out of nowhere though. Mario games have been down on a slippery slope for some time (in fact, over 10 years). Notwithstanding the various spin off titles, such as the Mario sports titles, the Mario Party series, and the numerous Mario RPGs, the first time the main Mario series saw trouble was the contentious Super Mario Sunshine on the Nintendo GameCube. Where Mario games before were seen as instant classics, Sunshine to this day receives a lot of criticism for its island setting, smaller amount of levels, and the incorporation of F.L.U.D.D. for more vertically designed levels. Personally, I found the controls to be too slippery and imprecise and the level designs too bland. It’s the only game in the main Mario series I would call bad, much to my dismay. I still sometimes load it up again to make sure I wasn’t being too harsh. In fact, I did that a couple of weeks ago. For the record, I wasn’t wrong. That game still sucks.

Now I assumed back then that Sunshine was just a bump in the road. After a franchise had been around for as long as Mario, it was bound to make a mistake eventually. However, it is now apparent to me that Sunshine was the beginning. Next to be released was New Super Mario Bros. on the DS and at the time, it was seen as a fun return to Mario’s 2D roots. I enjoyed the game but also acknowledged that it was nowhere near the quality of Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. 3. That game sold well, better in fact than the next big Mario release, Super Mario Galaxy. Galaxy would be better received critically than Sunshine, and I enjoyed that game a lot as well, though the lack of freedom to roam each level and difficulty with determining my positioning prevents me from putting it alongside greats like World and 64. However, the sales numbers sent a message. People paid up for the easier to make 2D games rather than the more creatively challenging 3D games.

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So then we got New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Nintendo just stopped trying. The big innovation to New Wii was the inclusion of cooperative multiplayer. However, the levels didn’t reflect this inclusion as all of the levels could be completed easily, if not better, without anyone else playing. This made the multiplayer without consequence and, more importantly, superfluous. I hated the multiplayer in New Wii so much. All my friends would do is get in my way, whether they wanted to or not. They would run ahead of me, which would get me killed, or lag behind, which would throw off my platforming rhythm. If you want to feel like your friends are unnecessary, play New Super Mario Bros. Wii with them.

I could go into more detail about the games after New Wii but there’s not much to say. New Super Mario Bros. 2, and New Super Mario Bros. U are just the same games as New Wii and the original New Super Mario Bros. Even Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World, which claim to be 3D Mario games, are really just more games in the New series as they play nothing like 64, Sunshine or the Galaxy games. Those are essentially 2D Mario games with a 3D camera. They’re a lot more Crash Bandicoot than Banjo-Kazooie.

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Which brings us back to Super Mario Maker. On one hand, it’s great that fans can now create levels for a Mario game. On the other, it’s only good because Nintendo themselves aren’t going to do anything creative with the levels. This isn’t innovation, it’s a compilation. It’s a collection of all the stuff they’ve been copying for the last 10 years or so, as well as from the NES and SNES days, except with all the parts at our disposal. Nothing new. In a time where Nintendo was still creatively energized, this would have been a great distraction. Now however, it’s a playlist of all the songs from one band’s discography instead of yet another Greatest Hits album.

And that’s the state of Nintendo now with Mario games. They have been content releasing the same game over and over after the last true two 3D Mario games were less successful than they wanted. Content with resting on their laurels and their legacy instead of trying something new. In all fairness, the New series isn’t bad. They’re all competent games. They just don’t have an ounce of creativity in them. The Mario series used to be the industry standard. Now they’re just repeating an old standard ad nauseam. So I guess I lied before. I do feel something. I feel sad. I feel sad that Nintendo is completely out of ideas and we’re happy to make Mario games for them. So enjoy making levels in Super Mario Maker. It won’t be anything I haven’t seen in Kaizo Mario or any other ROM hack. I’ll be here hoping Mario reaches for the stars and beyond again.


Esteban Cuevas is an Associate Editor for Middle of Nowhere Gaming and wishes Nintendo would’ve released a 30-game compilation on the Wii U for Mario’s 30th Anniversary. You can follow him on Twitter, YouTube, Twitch, and WordPress.

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4 thoughts on “Mario Doesn’t Try Anymore”

  1. I had a blast playing the first NSMB on Wii with my friends multiplayer. Yes NSMB2 should have had online multiplayer. That would have been awesome. I agree the NSMB games are not as good as M3 or Super Mario World but it would be hard for anyone to top those especially given the nostalgia we all have for those two. I am grateful that nintendo gave us more 2D games. I think everyone would be yearning for them to release another 2D title if they never did. It’s kind of like saying the Castlevania games returning to 2D would be a lack of innovation yet at the same time everyone would love another SOTN. A new game probably wouldn’t be able to take SOTN’s place in our hearts and would still be regarded as the best one ever. Sometimes more of the same is exactly what people want.

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  2. Pretty much what the other guy said. You’re entitled to your opinion of course, but Mario is one of the most innovative series out there. It changes with every new installment so saying that it doesn’t is just false. Mario 64 was good, but it’s not my favorite Mario game. That would be Super Mario World way back in the day followed by Mario Sunshine. The new Super Mario games on both Wii and Wii U are fantastic imo.

    Super Mario 3D World was really fun. I played it with my wife and kids and we had a blast. Mario is far from lacking innovation. It just depends on what you’re looking for.

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  3. Holy crap are you kidding me? You must be high if you think Nintendo has checked out creatively with their FLAGSHIP SERIES. Didn’t like Sunshine? Fine. That’s YOUR opinion. But you know what? They were trying to give people something other than Mario 64 again. They wanted to evolve it. Was it the best evolution? Maybe not. But to say it “sucks” is incredibly harsh and the game is undeserving of such criticism.

    This has been the trend for most of Nintendo’s 3D Mario games. Galaxy (1 & 2) was another evolution, but you criticize it for not having stuff from Mario 64? Okay, I get that you loved Mario 64, but you know what? That game doesn’t hold up nearly as well as Banjo-Kazooie, which took the foundation Mario 64 built and gives us a proverbial MANSION.

    But that was just a side-note. Back on topic, Nintendo has continued to try new things with Mario games. You compare Mario Land & World to the NSMB games, claiming them to be more 2D than 3D. But you know what? Those games were BOTH–especially World, which takes Land’s concept and goes nuts. The fact that they managed to be both 2D AND 3D is in itself an impressive and CREATIVE feat. Alright, exploration is minimized. Okay, the levels are linear with a clear finish line. Does this mean they’re creatively bankrupt titles? I’d argue they’re FAR from that. To disregard them as 3D titles and lump them in with NSMB is ridiculous.

    No, NSMB are not creative. That was never the point. They were supposed to be everyone’s “Retro Fix.” This is because people CONSTANTLY complained about a lack of 2D Mario, so they created something that could satiate that audience while they continue to experiment and try NEW things with Mario through the 3D world.

    NSMB was never TRYING to be groundbreaking or creative. I rolled my eyes HARD with the announcements of NSMB2 and NSMBU. “Great, more of this, but now with GOLD POWERS? NO ONLINE CO-OP?” But you know what? When I finally played them, I had a great time anyway because the thing that makes those games enjoyable is the LEVEL DESIGN.

    So what is Nintendo’s new solution? “Screw it. Let’s give fans the tools to create the ULTIMATE retro fix.” They took the core of what made 2D Mario great–level design–and put it in EVERYONE’S hands. Now? They can fully refocus efforts towards innovating Mario. Of course the question is “how do you know they’ll continue to innovate?” Well, I don’t have an uncle who works for Nintendo, so I can’t truly know. But there are clear signs. We have a Nintendo that is finally embracing the digital world. If they wanted to, they could release entire level packs they’ve created in Mario Maker, then just resell the game with the DLC like they did with the Luigi DLC in NSMBU. Miyamoto and others already stated they would create (free) content for the game. Mario Maker’s EXISTENCE alone is like a punctuation mark on the NSMB franchise.

    However, the biggest indicator that Nintendo may be moving forward from the NSMB line and continuing to innovate comes from Nintendo’s own Takashi Tezuka. The guy said mere DAYS AGO that for Mario’s future he wants to make “a game that could surpass New Super Mario Bros.” That certainly sounds like a creative passion to me.

    It’s fine if you don’t like NSMB. You don’t want to play new Mario World content? Okay. That’s too bad since it was such a great game. Maybe you should work on being a little less jaded with Mario just because it isn’t “Mario 64.” Or at least ACKNOWLEDGE that Nintendo is still “creatively energized.” Because they most certainly are, and will continue to be.

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