The similarity between the four New Super Mario Bros. titles is “intentional,” says Producer Takashi Tezuka in an interview with GameSpot.
“That similarity in the visual style and the control style is all intentional. The things we feel like we’ve already promised the gamer is that Peach will be kidnapped by Bowser, and Mario will move from left to right. We know that’s what people are expecting! [Laughs] We know that there are all types of Mario games, as you said. So for us, with the New Super Mario Bros. series, we don’t really need to mess with it. This is what people want.”
Reading this, I felt a sense of… irritation. Granted, Official Nintendo Magazine‘s take removed the laughter, which changes the tone slightly as they proclaim at the top of their article that “According to Tezuka, his team are giving fans what they want. A 2D platformer in which Peach is kidnapped by Bowser.”
Given the nature of these interviews and how some parts can easily be misunderstood, especially when filtered through other sites, I wonder if I might be reading too much into this, if perhaps he was joking about certain similarities between the games. Despite this, I have decided to run with my initial thoughts.
“What the fans want is a 2D platformer where Peach is kidnapped by Bowser.”
But do they?
Do they really?
Perhaps it is presumptuous of me to think so, but I do believe I qualify as a person, and as a Mario fan at that. The logo at the top of this site didn’t come from Sonic, that’s for sure. As such, I feel that I am qualified to give a statement of what I want, and maybe what some others want, too.
First, the 2D platformer part, where Mario moves from left to right. Generally speaking, I’m okay with this, though I’m certainly not opposed to the occasions in which he has to move from right to left, either. In fact, one of the most popular stages in Super Mario history, 5-3 of Super Mario Bros. 3, where you acquire the Goomba’s Shoe. Granted, the direction likely played little if any role in the stage’s popularity, but I digress.
What drives me nuts is the idea that Bowser kidnapping Peach is something we actively want, something that we desire to make us happy. Mario games, the core ones at least, are hardly known for their story; however, it sometimes feels as though Nintendo is being lazy about it, with all of the constant kidnappings of Peach.
In reality, though, the sheer number of ways they seem to come up with for this simple event to take place seems to call on more creative energy than mere laziness is likely to afford. She’s been trapped in a painting, snatched by Bowser Jr. as a Mario doppelganger, snatched by Bowser Jr. as himself, smashed by a giant birthday cake, had her castle uprooted with her in it (twice!), and been plucked from it by a giant Bowser, among other incidents.
It happens so much that the series has even taken to poking fun at the premise and making jokes about it. However, the joke is beginning to wear a little thin– especially among those who wished to see her playable in New Super Mario Bros. Wii (though really, that would have unbalanced things a bit).
Part of the problem, perhaps, is that as of late, the games have pretty much kicked off with Bowser kidnapping Peach, essentially making that the core premise. And while it seems to have always been this way, it actually hasn’t. Not at first, anyway. In Super Mario Bros., yes, that was the whole point of the game, and in Super Mario Bros. 2… well, we’ll get to that in a moment.
People remember rescuing Peach at the end of the game in Super Mario Bros. 3, but think back– that isn’t what the deal was in that game at all. Instead, she asked for Mario and Luigi’s help to go rescue seven other monarchs who were rulers of their respective lands, turned to animals by the Koopalings who stole their wands. It was only upon the completion of World 7 that you learn that while you were busy helping the kings, Bowser made his move!
In Super Mario World, Peach went missing while she and the Bros. were on vacation in Dinosaur Land. Bowser was a suspect, but there was a thin veil of mystery which was soon augmented by a second goal: To free the Yoshis which the Koopas had kidnapped from the seven fortresses scattered across the land.
To recap, each of the games on which New Super Mario Bros. is based featured some sort of goal which preceded the end-of-game rescuing of the Princess: Super Mario Bros. had Mushroom Retainers (whose dialogue made the game feel like an ongoing quest to find which castle Peach was being kept in), Super Mario Bros. 3 had you rescuing the kings, and Super Mario World had you freeing captured Yoshis. Meanwhile, both New Super Mario Bros. games have been about only one thing: Rescuing Peach, something which sounds unlikely to change in New Super Mario Bros. 2 and New Super Mario Bros. U, and also making the worlds between 1 and 8 seem inconsequential.
I’ll admit, I feel a little weird going on and on about what basically amounts to the only story in most of these games. And truth be told, I don’t think people care if Bowser steals Christmas, so long as the game is fun. But I do think that people would like a little more variety in their story, perhaps even their villains, as they run and jump through eight worlds to reach the end.
And why not? The series has done it before. Why can’t they shake things up a little?
Of course, I can see why they would want to retain the core gameplay, though the 3D games manage to add some new twists, and there has been interest in a new game like Super Mario Bros. 2. In fact, I’ve seen several people express their disappointment that New Super Mario Bros. 2 isn’t based on that game, implying that it’s a misuse of the title in that regard (never mind that Japan’s Super Mario Bros. 2 was different, so they wouldn’t see that connection anyway).
Along with the calls for a new Super Mario Bros. 2-styled game are calls for the return of that game’s villain, Wart. People don’t seem particular about whether he’s in Subcon or not, so long as he reappears to stir up trouble again. And why not? Before Super Mario Bros. 3, Wart essentially had equal villainous footing with Bowser outside of Japan, as they had one game apiece to their name. Heck, when Super Mario Bros. 3 revealed the return of Bowser as the villain, I figured that Wart was a lock for Super Mario Bros. 4.
…didn’t quite happen that way, did it?
But before Bowser made his triumphant return (outside of Japan, at least), a third villain arrived on the scene to cause trouble. And like Bowser and Wart before him, he brought along his own army of bad guys in a unique new land unlike any we had seen before (though not as different from the Mushroom Kingdom as Subcon).
Tatanga the Mysterious Spaceman conquered the four kingdoms of Sarasaland, and even kidnapped a new princess in the process. He would only appear once more to try to exact his revenge, but he undoubtedly made his mark. Why else, when it was revealed that our plumber protagonist would explore the cosmos in Super Mario Galaxy, would people be asking for Tatanga? Particularly when a mysterious flying saucer would appear in the opening to help Bowser enact his plan?
The funny thing is, the UFO seemed rather high-tech for Bowser’s black magic, but would never be explained either way. Talk about a squandered opportunity; Bowser and Tatanga, together? That would have shaken things up a bit and been awesome, but alas.
There is yet another villain who has crossed Mario’s path, and unlike Wart or Tatanga, he’s one we continue to see to this day. Unfortunately, the extent of his conflict with our hero does not seem to reach beyond the confines of a party game, a tennis court, or a racetrack.
I am speaking, of course, of Wario. Mario’s jealous doppelganger made his first appearance in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (where Tatanga made his last appearance, incidentally), taking over Mario’s theme park and its castle and rebranding it in his greedy image.
The game was accepted as a more traditional Mario game than its predecessor, yet it still had a unique flair all its own. New enemies, stage ideas, and power-ups alike would appear here and only here, alongside some of the classics. And who could forget the final encounter with a boss who could use all of the same powers as Mario (to say nothing of his own unique abilities)?
I love the New Super Mario Bros. games, but wish they would be a little more adventurous. They don’t have to change the gameplay any more than they already do, but some new scenery and some new purpose against a new foe– or heck, even a returning foe who isn’t Bowser– would be a nice change of pace. The Bowser encounters tend to change so much from game to game anyway, why not? The next Wario could be waiting right around the corner!
They could even test the waters with Luigi. People like the idea of him and Princess Daisy as a couple, and it’s practically canon anyway, so why doesn’t he ever get to rescue her? As it is, he joins in the rescues of Princess Peach, which just makes things weird when she kisses him and he gets all googly-eyed– she’s supposed to be Mario’s “special one,” is she not?
And since Bowser seems to have eyes for Peach and no interest in Daisy, that might call for a new villain. Or just use Waluigi, and we can have another “mirror match” styled final encounter, a la Super Mario Land 2. Heck, what’s King Boo doing these days? Why not let him occupy Bowser’s castle for a Princess Daisy rescue mission after Mario beats Bowser?
Strangely enough, The Legend of Zelda seems to have little trouble breaking up its Link & Zelda vs. Ganon setup. In the 15 main releases (not counting re-releases), he is in only seven of them (not counting cameos)– less than half! And in the case of Twilight Princess, there are those who think he shouldn’t have even been in that.
Of course, many of those non-appearances are on handheld systems, a distinction which once kept Mario and Bowser apart, letting them see new people and all. But now, whenever a mainline Mario game comes out, no matter what platform it’s on, no matter what dimensions it’s in, it’s always Mario vs. Bowser over Princess Peach.
Well, almost… Bowser seems to pull triple-duty as a villain, being the big bad in the Yoshi games and even in Super Princess Peach. I suppose we can forgive that last one, though, since she finally got a turn to lay into him. And at least he has some other goals in those games for a change.
Even Bowser himself looks like he’s starting to get a little bored with this.
Personally speaking, I worry a little about stagnation. Maybe I’m the only one, but as I said, the same song and dance is getting old. For a while, it wasn’t so much a problem– we were only getting about one mainline Mario game per console generation (a whopping two from the start of the Nintendo 64 through the end of the GameCube) but that’s no longer the case. Side-games, such as the RPGs or Yoshi’s Safari, offer up some variety, though many tend to feature Bowser and something happening to Princess Peach, even if the two aren’t always directly related. At least in the latter, Bowser took over another land, expanding the Mushroom World in the process.
To be clear, no one is asking them to ditch Bowser; I love the guy. Just… give him some space. Alternate a bit, make his appearances mean a little more, make them feel more significant. Use other villains when it fits– wouldn’t Tatanga have been great in Super Mario Galaxy, even if he was working with Bowser? And wouldn’t Wario be a more interesting antagonist for New Super Mario Bros. 2? They already have the whole coin-gathering thing as the game’s main attraction, yet somehow shoehorned Bowser kidnapping Peach in there anyway.
They say a hero is only as good as the villains he faces, and with that, many of the greatest heroes have entire galleries of rogues. Batman doesn’t always face the Joker, nor Spider-man the Green Goblin. But in Mario’s case, it feels more like his gallery of great villains has turned into a shrine for one arch-enemy. And if that’s what it’s all about, then what kind of hero does that make him?
And in the end, is that what we– the people, the fans– really want?
Big thanks to Super Mario Wiki for many of these images!