Super Mario Wii U: Our wishlist for Nintendo's biggest series
8th Sep 2012 | 18:00
Now, off the back of
Somewhere in eighty issues, something changed. Can we chalk it up to fatigue? Six new games in as many years is going to knacker any platforming hero, especially one who refuses to wear proper running shoes. Painful stuff: ankles like concertinas. Or is the number of games symptomatic of a bigger problem? Is Mario's prolific output evidence of a hero who doesn't know where he's going; and whose only choice is to try every direction at once?
The identity crisis began after Super Mario Galaxy; specifically, after Super Mario Galaxy failed to sell 30 million copies. It sold a respectable 10.68 million, only a third of what New Super Mario Bros has shifted to date. Nintendo is - like so many businesses - run on money, and it doesn't take Robert Peston to work out that ideas that make more money are going to be the ideas favoured going forwards. But what if that money-making idea is the opposite of what you've strived for?
This is the Mario dilemma in a nutshell: Mario, the poster child for uninhibited innovation, sells better when he repeats past victories. Ouch. Surely that's frustrating? While Nintendo would never publicly declare such failings, there's a detectable undercurrent of disappointment in
As such, 2D Mario's future isn't hard to predict. New Super Mario Bros hit the jackpot and, if the success of the Wii sequel is anything to go by, will continue to do so. There's a reason it's this slightly unambitious side-scroller that launches alongside Wii U, and not a risky 3D outing. To their credit, Nintendo promise not to milk the 'New' series, with Iwata telling Kotaku in a recent interview "we only create one per platform."
If only the same could be said of 3D Mario. As long as commercial success and target demographics play on Nintendo's mind - and, sadly, they're at the forefront these days - expect to see more of Mario's 2D/3D hybridisation. What does this mean for us? It means further linearity. Nintendo have singled out 3D exploration as an enemy of the mainstream. Show a newcomer Bob-Omb Battlefield to explore and they go mad, apparently. A straight line with a flag at the end is all they can handle.
Linearity isn't a problem. Linearity trims away the fat and fills your maw with lean, succulent platforming. Some criticise
That said, if you do funnel players, it has to be an incredible funnel. It has to put the fun in funnel. Both Galaxies did an amazing job taking one idea and escalating it through the course of a stage.
Speculating about what should appear in levels is a fool's errand. Galaxy proves anything - apples, woodcutting, fish bowls - can inspire a stage. Instead, we want Wii U's processing heft applied to physics. EAD Tokyo have a remarkable grasp of tactile surfaces, brilliantly conveying the pitter-patter of Mario's feet on various materials. Extending this knowhow to shifting sands or reactive liquids might prove interesting. Mario may become Mario when his feet leave the ground, but this doesn't mean his landing should be anything other than spectacular.
But any speculation is for nothing if Nintendo refuse to remove their rose-tinted glasses. The most worrying idea to emerge from Iwata Asks is 3D Land director Koichi Hayashida's sentiment that he just wants to "convey to children today the fun that [we] had as children." Wuh? Taking a trip down memory lane is one thing, but buying a house there? No. Show the kid Matthew of 1985 the Mario games of 2007 and he'd put himself into cryogenic storage to skip the next 22 years.
Hayashida seems to suggest there was a secret formula, long since forgotten. Super Mario Bros was a grasp into the unknown, sketched on graph paper by a man originally hired to decorate arcade cabinets. No one knew if it would pay off. It took guts to send a plumber leaping over holes in 1985. It took guts to dress him as a ruddy raccoon in 1988. And it took guts to launch him into space in 2007. It doesn't take guts to comb the mothballs out of a mangy old raccoon tail in 2012.
This is a problem with many 'legacy' series. The time comes when you end up employing workers who grew up with the games; fans who run the risk of enshrining their favourite game, rather than emulating the innovation that won them over in the first place. When people ask Final Fantasy producers why so many elements repeat throughout the series, the finger of blame often points at the die-hard fans who refuse to remove earlier instalments from a pedestal.
Perhaps Nintendo's recently instated 'Mario cram school' can avert this fate. Many pundits balked at the notion of Nintendo taking staff from outside the Software Development Department of EAD (responsible for 2D Mario) and training them to make Mario levels. It treats level design - surely the most hallowed of disciplines - like it was Microsoft Excel, teachable in the afternoon. But who's to say that the cram school won't bring other, tasty Nintendo DNA into the Mario mix.
NEW BLOOD FRENZY
Six years of Iwata Asks have taught us that amazing games arrive through personality-powered happenstance: the fisherman who goes on to create
While we're talking about new blood, dare we mention the very old blood? Every day in Nintendo's Kyoto HQ, Shigeru Miyamoto has lunch with Takashi Tezuka and Toshihiko Nakago. They are Mario's three dads - designer, producer and programmer - and the men jokingly referred to as the Mario Preservation Society. A cute idea, but somewhat paradoxical; how does one preserve an ever-changing hero? Surely it's the freedom to develop and evolve Mario that needs protecting?
If there's one thing we do know, it's that Mario's future is a hot topic of debate. Fan idealism will inevitably butt heads with stark commercial realities - we're counting down the days until New Super Mario Bros 3 is announced - and you might get frustrated at the outcome. But at least you know that, in distant offices in the heart of Kyoto and Tokyo, there are some very switched-on developers facing the same issues.
Anticipation, ecstasy and frustration are all part of being a Mario fan. The bounding bro has never come from a place of indifference. Indeed, it's the passion, both behind him and for him, that makes him gaming's most resilient icon. An icon of such scale, that the only threat to him is his own reputation. Mario should set the pace, not adhere to it. As long as Nintendo remember that, the question isn't if he will wow us, but how.