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Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Mario?

Jeremy and Brendan attempt to disagree without resorting to personal attacks in USgamer's first Point/Counterpoint column.

Article by Brendan Sinclair, .

The USgamer staff has already weighed in with its impressions of Super Mario 3D World, but it's time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture when it comes to the iconic Nintendo mascot. Mario has always been a workhorse for Nintendo, but the company's output of platformers featuring the plumber has stepped up of late. Even if you ignore Mario Kart 8 and the rest of Mario's extracurricular activities, is Nintendo running into franchise fatigue with its ultimate evergreen series?

Brendan Sinclair Contributing Editor

Mario has always been the Samuel L. Jackson of the video game set. The dude clearly likes to work, and while he's been involved in some absolutely brilliant productions, he hasn't hesitated to show his face in some dreadful clunkers as well. The thing is, I never get sick of Samuel L. But at this year's E3, for perhaps the first time in my life, I was sick of Mario. And I wasn't sick of Mario in the way I roll my eyes at Nintendo's generational updates to Mario golf, tennis, baseball, and soccer games. I was sick of the beating heart of the franchise: the platforming games.

This is new to me, because for the longest time, we didn't really have new Mario games. Between 1996's seminal Mario 64 and 2006's 2D revival New Super Mario Bros., there was only one new Mario platformer released, 2002's Super Mario Sunshine.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 perfectly encapsulates Nintendo's recent approach to Mario games.

Are these Mario games really that different, that mind-blowingly unique and expertly crafted that we need a new one every six months?

Since then, we've had a pretty steady parade of Mario, but that's turned into a deathmarch of late as Nintendo's fortunes have been flagging and the company has begun leaning harder on the mustachioed face of the franchise. In a 24-month span, we're getting five Mario platformers: New Super Mario Bros. 2, New Super Mario Bros. U, New Super Luigi U, Super Mario 3D Land, and Super Mario 3D World. The New Super series is a continuation of the original 2D series of Mario games, while 3D Land and 3D World are more literal attempts to bring the original 2D series gameplay into the third dimension than we saw in the Mario 64/Super Mario Galaxy line of the franchise. And even though 3D World's treatment of multiplayer is new to that line, it borrows so heavily from New Super Mario Bros. that the previously parallel platforming series basically intersect. We are getting five games, all of which are ultimately aspiring to scratch the same nostalgic itch for the old days, and use many of the same tricks to do it.

Yes, there are changes in each. This one stars Luigi. That one has a cat suit and lets players choose characters like in Super Mario Bros. 2. But it's mostly the same hopping and bopping we've been doing for nearly 30 years. It's a classic formula, no doubt, but it has limits, and they are being pushed. The gaming press has spent years bemoaning the annualization of franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed, saying the series have grown stale and tired even though this one has branching storylines and robots, or that one has naval battles and a completely new setting. Are these Mario games really that different, that mind-blowingly unique and expertly crafted that we need a new one every six months?

Jeremy Parish Senior Editor

Your points are taken, but I think you're glossing over the fact that the different splinters of the Mario universe really DO offer different experiences. New Super Mario Bros. is not at all the same as Super Mario 3D Land, which is not at all the same as Super Mario Galaxy. I think it's easy to let the similarity of themes and visuals obscure the fact that these three different versions of Mario each provide their own unique take on the franchise, just as Wario Land used to (and Super Princess Peach, for that matter).

Nintendo is exploring new variations on the Mario platforming theme with each release.

Think of the elements of Mario as a sort of video game vocabulary. These games use common "words" -- characters, skills, power-ups, enemies, settings, collectables -- to create different expressions. Super Mario Galaxy is a dense, challenging novel for the hardcore enthusiast; New Super Mario Bros. is lightweight pulp reading than anyone can enjoy; and 3D Land strikes a middle ground. Like I said in our collective 3D World preview, each of these works presents shared concepts through a distinct lens, and the nature of the challenges differs from game to game. Even within these different groupings, you have variety -- New Super Mario Bros. 2 has very different goals and challenges than New Super Mario Bros. U.

Nintendo is approaching the series like Claude Monet with his haystacks and cathedrals: Similar at the root, yet endlessly distinct.

Really, the biggest flaw those two games suffered is being launched almost simultaneously, which was a huge mistake. I wouldn't complain if Mario releases came a bit less frequently. Unfortunately, the nature of the industry today doesn't really let franchises lay fallow for years at a stretch. The Mario games are similar on many levels, yet each one's distinct and they always burst with new ideas from level to level. When Nintendo runs out of fresh concepts for level themes and challenges, then I'll worry. But for now, they're approaching the series like Claude Monet with his haystacks and cathedrals: Similar at the root, yet endlessly distinct. Super Mario 3D World will arrive about two years after 3D Land, which is just enough time to let the two games breathe.

I have some issues with what Nintendo had to show at E3 this year, but Super Mario 3D World wasn't one of them. It's familiar, sure, but it doesn't feel like more of the same. In light of all the cookie-cutter first-person shooters at the show, I can stand a couple of Mario games in the space of 12 months -- because, really, who else is doing games like that these days?

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Comments 19

  • Avatar for SargeSmash #1 SargeSmash 4 years ago
    Just when I think there's too much Mario, Nintendo surprises me with another fresh mechanic or take on the series.
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  • Avatar for Seaphron #2 Seaphron 4 years ago
    I agree that 5 in 2 years is a lot, but I have loved every moment with the 3 I have already played.
    I do intend on getting NSLU in August and 3D World in December.
    After that though I wouldn't mind waiting for another platformer till 2015-16. Hopefully more Galaxy/64/Sunshine-esque.Edited 2 times. Last edited June 2013 by Seaphron
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  • Avatar for Neifirst #3 Neifirst 4 years ago
    Great article and I'm glad to have the opportunity to read Jeremy's work again. I don't think the question about too many Mario games would be asked but for the existence of New Super Mario Bros 2. It didn't really do much with the 3D, and Nintendo's 'hook' - gold!!! felt more at home in a Wario game instead. I couldn't be more excited for 3D World later this year - 3D Land was the most fun Mario game for me since 64.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #4 jeffcorry 4 years ago
    I love Mario, and I am sure I'll snag Mario 3d World...but...I have gotten older and I NEED more time between titles to really experience them! What I mean is that I used to play through a Mario game several times before I was ready for the new one. Now, I haven't even reached 240 Stars in Mario Galaxy 2 when all of a sudden...here is NSMB 2 and U and 3D Land...and now 3D world. I mean I've only done one and a half playthroughs of the first Galaxy game...
    First world problems aside...it is kind of overwhelming. I remember each distinct level in Super Mario Bros 1-3 and World. I just played a level in NSMB2 TODAY that I never remembered playing...and yet I beat the game. This is the problem. Nintendo has all these amazing ideas...but they have been thrown at us SO quickly that I can't even digest them properly. Oh well. Right. I don't have to buy them all. I know. But...I DO have to buy them all because...it's MARIO.
    Oh...and I really like this site so far. It is good to be able to read Jeremy's stuff again. 1up is missed sorely and this seems to be the best part of what 1up was.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #5 MHWilliams 4 years ago
    @Seaphron That is a great avatar.

    I was about to agree with Brendan, but then I thought back on my Super Mario 3D World impressions, and realized that Jeremy was right. Each Mario pillar does some different for everyone.Edited June 2013 by MHWilliams
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  • Avatar for IndianaGamer #6 IndianaGamer 4 years ago
    "...really, who else is doing games like that these days?" That about sums it up. Bring on the Mario!
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #7 jeffcorry 4 years ago
    @IndianaGamer I have to agree with you on that point. Nobody does amazing platforming like the Italian Plumber.
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  • Avatar for AxiomVerge #8 AxiomVerge 4 years ago
    I'm with Brendan. There's so many Mario platformers coming out lately that it's hard to get excited for a new one - even if they are totally different.
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  • Avatar for Brendan.Sinclair #9 Brendan.Sinclair 4 years ago
  • Avatar for Seaphron #10 Seaphron 4 years ago
  • Avatar for hammersuit #11 hammersuit 4 years ago
    To pile on (sorry Brendan, but you knew this was coming)...

    I dunno, if anything, doesn't Nintendo need more games, even if they are Mario games? And, by the way, they're MARIO GAMES -- they usually bring the goods.Edited June 2013 by hammersuit
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #12 Kuni-Nino 4 years ago
    It's so weird to see people complaining about good games.
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  • Avatar for scottskocy45 #13 scottskocy45 4 years ago
    Is there such a thing as too much Mario? I guess theoretically there is. But we are not there yet. The only truly superfluous feeling Mario has been NSMB2. The rest of the Mario we've gotten in the last year, hell the last 5 years, has been a godsend.

    Of course, if Nintendo stays true to their 1 New Super Mario game per system, then this is last we'll likely see of 2D Mario for some time.
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  • Avatar for EuroDarlan #14 EuroDarlan 4 years ago
    I don't doubt that Mario games will continue to be good games in and of themselves, but if we continue to get a deluge of very similar looking Mario platformers, they'll stop being the system sellers Nintendo needs them to be. I fully expected to be completley blown away by the 3D Mario that was to be announced at this year's E3, even setting aside some money for what I thought would be an inevitable trip to buy one later that week...only, when I saw it, I figured, "eh, looks fun, but I don't need it right away. I played Mario 3D Land, I'll play this in a few years when Nintendo finally has made enough must haves to justify the purchase." I had bought the Wii pretty much just for Mario Galaxy-the difference is a big problem for Nintendo.
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  • Avatar for ldave #15 ldave 4 years ago
    Super Mario 3D World looks amazing for me, but I hope we'll see another 3D Mario game later in the Wii U's lifespan.
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  • Avatar for Damman #16 Damman 4 years ago
    *Note* I initially posted this comment under one of Jeremy's paragraphs. At the moment, those mid-post comments seem to be overlook-able with the site, so I'm reposting it here. **

    I have to disagree with Jeremy on this one. I agree that the different Mario sub-series make for different representations of Mario on a mechanic level. They are still quality games, and the new one looks to continue that trend. But man, they all look so same-y.

    Mario Galaxy felt like an awesome departure from the series norm, artistically speaking. Since then, every Mario game has traded entirely based on the visual style of some previous one, trading on nostalgia if you will. Mario is now is starting to feel like Barbie. There is one classic look that Nintendo is merely slapping a new coat of paint on. It's the same enemies, the same costumes, the same color pallets....oh, and now a cat suit. Scrambling up walls and seeing transparent interior segments (pipes) may be new to the series, but they are not the revolutionary changes to the formula that Nintendo seems to be playing them as.

    Art isn't everything, though, right? Mario shines in it's mechanics. As I said above, those have always been strong, and likely will remain so in this new 3D Land game. But by making primarily Mario games, Nintendo has to be hamstringing its talented developers. Sure, there will be some new ideas in play in the new game. You know what though? I bet you will be jumping on goombas and koopas, slinging fire flowers, flying, swimming, traversing pipes, etc... all in a familiar way to how you have done it before. Imagine if they let their developer take these ideas to a new world, new set of characters. They would not be tied to the tried and true demands of what people expect that a Mario game is, and really be able to create something new. It may not sell as well as a new Mario right now, but I imagine they are starting to see diminishing returns on that same mustachioed plastic smile.
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  • Avatar for The-Fool #17 The-Fool 4 years ago
    No... I don't think there is. Granted, launching so many titles in such a short time frame to boost sales of their flagging consoles was/wasn't the brightest thing to do.

    However, if Nintendo is to be believed, only one NSMB title per generation per console means we shouldn't be seeing one of them for quite a while.

    Hopefully, a brilliant 3D Mario in the vein of Galaxy will rock up at some point.

    We can hope!
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  • Avatar for sakicfan84 #18 sakicfan84 4 years ago
    I would agree that there is too much Mario, except for the sole fact that every Mario game that has been released recently has at the very least been a good title. I'm a firm believer in that too much of a good thing is never a bad thing. In the case of video games at least.

    I also do not think you can make a clear comparison to the argument people have against the annual releases of the Assassin's Creed games or the Call of Duty games to the Mario series. While platforming may always be at their core and their characters always recycled, the game play elements vary dramatically between the majority of releases. I don't think many would make that claim for Call of Duty games. The only thing that they aim to change is the setting/story.Edited June 2013 by sakicfan84
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #19 LBD_Nytetrayn 3 years ago
    It will take a LOT to make me complain about too much Mario, as memories of Super Mario Sunshine being the sole Mario title (spin-offs notwithstanding) for an entire generation are still strong.

    Plus, I've always loved Mario, so there's that.

    With that said, though, I think spacing them out a bit more might be a little more ideal.
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