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.
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.
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.
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.