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Creativity and NSMB - how would you design the next multi-platinum game? [roundtable]
Let's talk creativity and the NSMB series - is it possible to be classic, 100% accessible and truly innovative at the same time?


Back in 2004 Nintendo released the NES Classics series on the GameBoy Advance to surprising sales. The original Super Mario Bros. stood out as the highlight among these thirty games. It was released again the following year in a special edition and sold nearly another million copies.

A 20 year old game, was still massively popular. Cue lightbulb.

This moment of realisation came at a time when Nintendo was struggling for market share more than ever before, and was probably responsible for spawning two things; the virtual console on the Wii and the birth of New Super Mario Bros. That arrived first on the DS in 2006, then on the Wii in 2009, and we're seeing new entries on both the 3DS and the Wii U this year. Each of those games is, or will be, a multi-million seller.

Watching this new 2D series develop has been an interesting lesson in creativity VS tradition.

The NSMB series is advertised as "classic Mario" and when Nintendo says that they're not kidding around. Each game is visually crisp, the level design and controls are polished, they ape the original game like well-oiled machines, reprising a few elements from the later NES and SNES games and even adding a few new, unobtrusive ideas, but they stick doggedly to the simplest, most accessible form of Mario platforming. Despite the high quality these games are the definition of predictable. It's ironic that by setting out to satisfy the massive demand for "traditional" and "familiar" Mario gaming, Nintendo has ended up at odds with the spirit of the orginal 2D games, each of which had a magical X-factor that made them unique.

The original Super Mario Bros. games each introduced bold new ideas :

The NSMB series is much harder to distinguish between, and not just because they look similar:

NSMB is derivative, not innovative, but is that an insult or a necessity? Is Nintendo choosing financial reward over creativity, or are they just creating classic Mario for the most amount of people? It's a balancing act, for sure. One game per system isn't really overkill, and so long as we're getting our Galaxies and 3D Lands we're not really in a position to complain. Nintendo Tokyo have taken the mantle of the series, the responsibility of saying that Mario games should be visually surprising and inventive. NSMB is less ambitious...

Can you pitch a 'true' old fashionned Mario game that's also full of innovation? Something that will seem familiar to the people who stopped playing after the SNES and never scare them away?

I think Nintendo will have to try harder to do that from now on, and I have some ideas of my own, but I'm curious what you guys would do with the next game.

If anything is a roundtable, this is! -Zero

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Posted: 09/04/12, 19:15:44  - Edited by 
 on: 09/04/12, 20:38:59
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PogueSquadron said:
@Wellsy529 Alpha Dream is creative, yeah, but they haven't shown any platforming prowess
In any of their games. I'd like to see them contribute someway though, definitely.

I like Mario and Luigi working together to get through areas using the different moves they've learned. That can definitely be implemented into the main Mario series. They're brothers, they don't seem to work as a team enough, where alpha dream's series that was the foundation of the games.

My whole post wasn't about alpha Dream though. :-P lol
Posted: 09/05/12, 05:18:05
There're a lot of good ideas here. I would really like to see the games play up Mario and Luigi as brothers as well. It'd be cool if there was a way to pick which one of them you'd like to use, and they'd still have a couple different moves (beyond slightly different physics like in SMG). Of course, the levels would have to not rely on this too much due to the possibility of making switching out characters tedious (DK64, Yoshi's Island 2). So I guess that might be a little difficult to pull off.

What it really comes down to is presentation and spectacle. A game like DKCR or Rayman Origins pushed that aspect so much further than the NSMB games did, and it's what makes those titles stand out a lot more in my mind. DKCR's level of detail and variety mixed with Mario's tight platforming would make an excellent sidescroller.

One other note on bosses--why are the platformers restricted to just a handful of characters these days? What's so taboo about bringing back Wart (or anyone from SMB2 besides Bob-Ombs), Tatanga, using Wario and Waluigi, or even the RPG characters? Nintendo drives me crazy sometimes.
Posted: 09/05/12, 20:47:07  - Edited by 
 on: 09/05/12, 20:47:30
There's never a lack of creativity in the Paper Mario series too. I'd say far moreso than Alpha Dream, Intelligent Systems have a wonderful sense of what makes Mario special but are able to add all kinds of new things to it too.

NSMB is extremely conservative compared to Paper Mario, Mario and Luigi and the 3d Mario games. It's weird just how safe the NSMB games are. Take the Wii U's Flying Squirrel suit... gliding, isn't that just the raccoon suit without the ability to fly? Sure, anyone will be able to grasp the idea right away but it feels like the 2D team is way too concerned about new ideas confusing people to the extent that it feels a bit patronising...
Posted: 09/05/12, 20:57:54  - Edited by 
 on: 09/05/12, 21:00:46

Paper Mario is a great example of bringing cool new elements to Mario's world. In the two RPGs, Mario fights a Ninja Turtles-esque group of Koopas, stops an "invincible" Spike who has an appetite for Boos and whose weakness is his disembodied Heart, and visits crazy locations like a toyland ruled by Shy Guys, a black-and-white forest full of tiny weird-looking armies, a coliseum with a blowhard champ and a whodunit mystery, an eerie twilit village where a villain steals Mario's personality and you basically play as Mario's shadow, a luxurious train ride to a posh neighborhood, complete with a mystery, and a trip to the moon.

Granted, a lot of these scenarios require the extra narrative elements for the full punch, but why can't the sidescrolling Marios have this kind of creativity in their settings
Posted: 09/05/12, 21:41:39  - Edited by 
 on: 09/05/12, 21:42:15

Good point. If we throw in some of Mario's other adventures, he teams up with Bowser, writes music with tadpoles, fights a group of star thieves that looks an awful lot like the Power Rangers, Mario uses Luigi as a surfboard, the BeanBean Kingdom as a whole, time-traveling madness with babies, and involving Bowser more outside of the "I kidnapped the princess."

Yeah, Nintendo could take an idea or two from Alpha Dream and Intelligent Systems and I'd be happy. The "New" series is starting to feel old, and that's not good. The only exception is that the level design is still there (even if they felt extremely short in NSMB2).
Posted: 09/05/12, 22:20:20
I'm getting a "we wish it was more like Muramasa the Demon Blade" from a lot of comments..

Posted: 09/06/12, 01:00:46
TriforceBun said:

One other note on bosses--why are the platformers restricted to just a handful of characters these days? What's so taboo about bringing back Wart (or anyone from SMB2 besides Bob-Ombs), Tatanga, using Wario and Waluigi, or even the RPG characters? Nintendo drives me crazy sometimes.

This. It would be cool to bring back some of the experimentation of the non-Miyamoto/Tezuka EAD quadrology games.

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins fits the Mario brand perfectly. It plays exactly how a Mario game should, and all the usual mechanics are there, but it has it's own unique identity. You're not just going over the usual grasslands/desert/ice/lava worlds to rescue Peach from Bowser, but you go into space, a giant robot Mario, a distinctly Japanese haunted house, you fight tons of unique enemies (and familiar ones) and bosses like the Three Little Pigs. This all leads to a final showdown with Wario, one of Nintendo's greatest characters.

Or heck, bring back the sudden shmups of Mario Land 1, or the puzzle platformer elements of Donkey Kong '94.

Something like that would go a long way in restoring the vitality of 2D Mario.
Posted: 10/23/15, 06:14:21
I'm not sure if any of the changes I want in the game would make it as successful as previous iterations. I'd like to see a big change in structure similar to the evolution from 1 to 3 to World. It's kind of stagnated in that regard I feel.
Posted: 10/23/15, 08:00:58
Speaking purely about the visuals, I read some recent comment in an interview with some Nintendo bigwig with a great deal of influence on the Mario series (Miyamoto, Tezuka?) was talking about how much more accessible and consistent the franchise is now that the appearance of the Mushroom Kingdom and its inhabitants is consistent from title to title. So it doesn't look like they're really looking to shake up the visual style.

I'd be fine with some interesting shaders on the models, honestly. As long as the gameplay is fresh.
Posted: 10/23/15, 08:16:44
I must not have been around when this thread was originally made, so I just want to point out that the original NSMB sets itself apart from previous Marios more than IW seemed to give it credit for. The base movement mechanics, with the addition if wall jumping and to a lesser extent butt stomping, really do make the game play very different from past entries. Plus Star Coins were new. I'd say it's not far from the jump from SMB3 to SMW in terms of differentiation from its predecessor.
Posted: 10/23/15, 14:44:20
I would agree with that. Simultaneous multiplayer was also a pretty big change.

I'm pretty sure that I'd seen Star Coins in the series before, though. Didn't they have Yoshi coins in the GBA remakes?
Posted: 10/23/15, 15:29:25  - Edited by 
 on: 10/23/15, 15:30:56

Yoshi Coins were in Super Mario World.

They did add hidden Red Coins in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe for Gameboy Color. Only in a separate mode, though.
Posted: 10/23/15, 15:46:06

Yoshi Coins are not the same as Star Coins. You only get a 1 Up for Yoshi Coins, whereas Star Coins are spent to unlock Toad Huts and new paths.
Posted: 10/23/15, 15:55:12  - Edited by 
 on: 10/23/15, 15:56:34
anon_mastermind said:
Nice thread. The derivative feeling all comes down to presentation. I think the level design and gameplay are innovative enough, the NSMB series just needs a graphical (and musical) overhaul.

I suspect that after the Wii U version, the next 2D Mario will be strikingly different.
I agree. I think the staleness criticism would basically evaporate if the games just had new/better music and visuals (and it was obviously not a good idea to release four New Super Mario/Luigi games in under four years). The level designs, stage gimmicks, and general gameplay are just about as strong and varied as ever. Sure, Super Mario World was better in a handful of ways, but most Mario players aren't going to notice much of a difference unless the bland presentation puts them in an extra critical mood.

I imagine Nintendo will still want to get 2D Mario onto NX as soon as possible, but I think they're at least smart enough to know that using the NSMB style again will only hurt them.
Posted: 10/23/15, 16:52:27
The qualifier "true old-fashioned" really, really hurts a creative attempt. You've instantly put the thing inside such a tight box that it's going to be really rough to stretch your imagination. Instead we can only change art, or maybe add a few power ups. Otherwise it's not going to feel old-fashioned.

Now Mario Sunshine, that was a creative Mario attempt. People flipped out, but wow did it finally push things. I'm not sure if there's ever been as creative of a Mario game, minus maybe Mario 2 which wasn't even a Mario game outside the US!

Still, given the lack of popularity of Sunshine, is it any wonder we get the cookie-cutter stuff?

Let's have a real creative discussion where we DON'T force things into the traditional box! Then we're talking. Sure, it can still be a 2D side-scroller, but if we open up the lid of the box and explore outside a little more, that's where the coolest ideas will lie. Otherwise you're talking about another new paint-job and maybe an elephant-styled mushroom that gives Mario a trunk to whip enemies with.

The early Paper Mario games, I think, had the best creativity going for them. They really tried some amazing new things, from story to style to abilities. Totally agree with @Wellsy529 to bring back Mr. L!

Posted: 10/23/15, 17:57:02
@J.K. Riki The GameCube itself wasn't very popular (sales-wise), so it's tough to say whether Mario Sunshine didn't sell GameCubes, or GameCubes didn't sell Mario Sunshine. Either way, the game is still one of the GCN's best-sellers (third I think), so it was certainly a successful game in its own right.

The problems with Super Mario Sunshine aren't the ideas though, it's that the game lacked polish. The controls are wonky, the camera is wonky, and about half of the shines involve collecting coins, making a lack of variety. People can accept new and creative ideas, but it's gotta be something solid; Sunshine wasn't.

That said, people can have a tendency to reject the new and pine for the familiar, people don't know what they want until they see it, and all those clichés. Nintendo employees have a very tough job, something I try to not forget.
Posted: 10/23/15, 20:41:55
@J.K. Riki @Mop it up

Also, creative doesn't necessarily mean good. The FLUDD was interesting, but I don't think it really resonated with a lot of people. There's a reason so many people cited the FLUDD-less special stages as the best parts of the game. The setting was new, but lots of people found it unappealing. The cutscenes were dreadful. If Nintendo thought that Sunshine's relative lack of success was due to a dislike for new ideas, I think they took the wrong lesson.

I don't think they did take it that way, though, because Galaxy was pretty creative in its own right. And that was a critical and commercial success. 3D Land and World are something of a return to tradition, though, so I guess we'll see what's next.
Posted: 10/23/15, 20:51:50
Yeah, I'd argue that Galaxy was more creative than Sunshine, due to the sheer variety of worlds and the gravity-defying element.
Posted: 10/23/15, 21:37:52
@J.K. Riki

I can't remember where, but I read or watched something earlier this year about the Touhou series and how, even though each game is a shmup, they tweak little rules here and there in each game, and the consequences of those rules changes are pretty big on the gameplay as a whole relative to the framework they're working in. Like Jargon said, wall-jumping in NSMB (and I'd add midair spinning too) is a pretty big change.

It's fun to think about the spectrum of how far you want to go outside the box. A near-exact replica of Super Mario Bros. where each level only had 100 seconds on the clock would still be really interesting because even that would force the player to play differently from original game... but give Mario a gun, or a bag of apple seeds, or a pregnant belly, and things could get infinitely weirder.
Posted: 10/23/15, 21:47:22

That's basically Super Luigi U. And it felt really fresh to me, aside from the superficial similarities. Those superficial things do definitely matter in shaping how you view things though.
Posted: 10/23/15, 21:53:41
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