We Need a New New Super Mario Bros.
Okay, maybe I was a bit misleading with the title. We don't really need a new New Super Mario Bros. In fact, I think it's high time we got rid of New Super Mario Bros. entirely. I've seen this sentiment floating all over the internet of late, and I wanted to toss my two cents in as well because I think it's important. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe just released on the Switch, and with the Switch's library being what it is, it's never been more apparent just how not okay the New Super Mario Bros. games are, especially now.
Back in the old days, new Mario games were a freaking event. The brand was beyond huge, and every time a new game dropped, you had no idea what it was going to be. One day you're grabbing mushrooms and fighting Bowser, the next you're in a dream world with the Princess fighting by your side, and the next you're storming a castle that's been taken over by your evil lunatic doppleganger Wario. Mario games were a constant surprise, and their gameplay was just as much of a joy as the worlds they were set in. But after Super Mario World, that all just kind of stopped. There was Yoshi's Island, but that wasn't really a Mario game so much as the start of the Yoshi platforming series. Super Mario 64 brought Mario in to the third dimension, brilliantly I might add, but 2D Mario was basically dead after that. Super Mario World came out in 1991 in America, and it wasn't until New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS in 1996 that we saw an actual new 2D Mario game. Sure, it was sterile and it was safe, but we were starving, so at the time, it seemed like a really good game. And in all fairness, it still is. But then they did the same thing again on Wii. Then 3DS. Then (only a few months later) Wii U. Now they've r-released the Wii U game on Switch, arguably the most popular console on the planet, and I'm here to say, that's just not enough anymore.
One of the reasons the Switch took off as much as it did was the quality of the titles released for it. Breath of the Wild was a bold play for the Zelda franchise. Splatoon 2 was just filled with quality touches from top to bottom. And most to the point, Super Mario Odyssey took what made games like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 64 special and made a modern game out of it. There's more expression and creativity in one area of Odyssey than there is in the entirety of all 4 New Super Mario Bros. games combined. That's not cool. The original Mario games were never short on creativity. Super Mario Bros. basically invented the modern platformer, introduced us to flowers that let you throw fire, and enough tricks and glitches to fuel the speedrunning community for decades. Super Mario Bros. 2 had vegetable tossing, a crossdressing bird who spit eggs at you, and a giant frog monster who wanted to take over a dream world. Super Mario Land had flying heads, an auto-scrolling submarine level, and an alien overlord named Tatanga. Super Mario Bros. 3 brought Bowser back with a bunch of weird kids, flying raccoons, and more creative level designs than you could shake a stick at. Super Mario World gave us Yoshi, one of the best maps in video game history, and secrets upon secrets upon secrets. Super Mario Land 2 gave us Wario, a giant Mario robot, and walking Jason masks with knives sticking out of them. Every one of the classic Mario games is a bonafide classic for a multitude of reasons. Now think back to the New Super Mario Bros. games and try to think of what defines them. Besides the absurd coin mechanic in New Super Mario Bros. 2, there really isn't much that differentiates them from one another, or makes them special in any real way. They're solid platformers, and I had fun playing all of them, but they aren't memorable, and that's a problem.
Just look at the sheer amount of quality platforming titles on the Switch right now. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Hollow Knight, Mega Man 11, Celeste, Blaster Master Zero, Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, Yoku's Island Express, Rayman Legends, Sonic Mania, Dandara, Bomb Chicken, each and every one of these games is more interesting than any recent 2D Mario game in different ways, and if you had told me back in 1993 that this would be the case I would have called you a lunatic. But if I'm being honest, 2D Mario still hasn't properly returned from its long, long hiatus. So what should be done?
Like I mentioned before, there are a lot of opinions floating around the internet at the moment surrounding this particular topic, but these are my thoughts. First and foremost, the aesthetics need a massive overhaul. One of the most gorgeous games I've played in recent memory has to be Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap. The folks over at Lizardcube have such a magnificent visual style, and it really made playing through Wonder Boy a joy. Their work on the upcoming Streets of Rage 4 confirms that they aren't just a one-trick pony, and that their particular brand of animation can work in a number of settings. This kind of art direction should be applied to 2D Mario. Animated sprites, not polygons, are what the series needs. Fantastical, sprawling backgrounds, not simple mountains and clouds. Every level should offer something new and special in the visuals department. The original games got away with reusing assets from level to level because that's just how games were back then. Limitations of the time. But now, there's no excuse. Nintendo has even already done this before with the excellent (and criminally underappreciated) Wario Land: Shake It on Wii. The worlds of Mario should be spectacular.
Speaking of worlds, it's time to travel outside the Mushroom Kingdom once again. Take us back to Subcon or Sarasaland. Heck, take us somewhere completely new. I don't care, just get crazy with it. The 3D Mario games have thrived in strange places for years. Even Isle Delfino was more interesting than the Mushroom Kingdom has been in the New Super Mario Bros. games. Let Mario and co. explore strange new worlds in 2D. Apply that Odyssey creativity. We know it's there! And while on the topic of new places, give us a new villain too. I've harped on this for years, but Mario has a rogues gallery. It's more than just Bowser. Let Wart have his revenge, and bring Tryclyde, Mouser, and Fryguy along for the ride. Let's see a return of Tatanga and get Mario in his Sky Pop again. Let Wario return to some true villainy, and for crying out loud, bring Waluigi along for the ride. The potential is there, and all Nintendo has to do is let the Mario designers off the leash a little.
Better music is also a must. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with the New Super Mario Bros. tunes, but they keep recycling them and it has to stop! These songs were actually pretty great in the first game on DS. I still have a handful of songs in my regular rotation because they're just well put together. But the soundtrack has gotten progressively more forgettable/borderline unlistenable since. New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the worst offender with that weird "bwaa" noise being overused to a horrendous degree. The music from the original Mario games is some of the most iconic in all of video games. That's definitely not the case in the New Super Mario Bros. games, and to that I say "boo." Listen to the reimagined music from Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, or the stunning original stuff in Donkey Kong Country; Tropical Freeze or Cuphead and tell me you wouldn't love to hear something of that caliber while playing a fancy, new Mario title. I know I would.
Last but not least, they need to start taking some real risks with the level design. We haven't seen anything in the same league as Super Mario World since Super Mario World, and that's nothing short of tragic. The series was evolving in a specific direction back then. The levels were still straightforward more or less, but the secrets, the keys, the alternate paths, Super Mario World was the ultimate expression of that. But New Super Mario Bros. went so far in the opposite direction, it was basically like a fancier version of the first game. Exploration was barely a part of it, and while it still wound up being a fun game, it doesn't hold candle to World or even 3. If the indie scene in particular has taught me anything over the past 2 years it's that there's still tons of creativity to be had in the 2D gaming space, and the Mario series should be setting the bar, now cowering underneath it.
Mario is gaming royalty. He's had some tremendous rebounds in quality of late with Super Mario Odyssey and Mario Kart 8. Even Super Mario Party and Mario Tennis Aces have ben vast improvments over their previous iterations, even if they still have a long way to go before they hit the highs they should be. 2D Mario is essentially what Nintendo was built on. Nothing would make me happier than to see it get he love and attention it deserves. So let's see what you can really do, Nintendo.