Nintendo may have created the original 2D platformer back in 1981 with the original release of Donkey Kong in arcades, but they have perfected it over the years, and set the bar for what modern 2D platformers should strive to achieve. With the release of Super Mario Bros. on the NES in 1985, Nintendo clearly redefined what a side-scrolling 2D platformer should be. Series creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, famously said the level design for World 1-1 was intended to contain specific elements (like that infamous first Goomba that marches towards Mario) that would help them “gradually and naturally understand what they’re doing.” He then went on to say, “Once the player realizes what they need to do, it becomes their game.” This was really the first predecessor for the tutorial that many modern games feature to explain various game mechanics.
Nintendo continued to iterate on the Mario formula by later releasing Super Mario Bros. 3 in 1988, adding on overworld map that the players would navigate between levels. There were also many story elements added, including Bowser’s Koopaling children that would remain a part of the series even until today. It’s truly remarkable what Nintendo was able to achieve when comparing it against the original Super Mario Bros. just a few years prior. Super Mario Bros. 3 featured improved graphics, new power-ups, secrets to find, and more. Some even argue that this is one of the best video games of all-time.
But, Nintendo wasn’t finished just yet. In 1990, they outdid themselves once again, just two short years later. Super Mario World was the debut game for the brand-new Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the follow up to the wildly-popular NES. Nintendo refined the 2D platformer even further, creating a nearly-flawless game. The music was wonderful and the graphics are timeless. The level design was outstanding, featuring some of the most iconic levels in the series’ history. We saw the debut of Yoshi, who would eventually get his own spin-off games that pushed 2D platforming in different directions. Super Mario Bros. may have set the bar for platformers back in 1985, but Super Mario World took the bar, dipped it in solid gold, and pushed it to atmospheric levels.
So, what does Nintendo do next? Well, after exploring Mario’s 3D capabilities on the Nintendo 64 with Super Mario 64, they return to his 2D roots with New Super Mario Bros. on Nintendo DS in 2006, sixteen years after Mario’s last proper 2D adventure. Fans flocked to the new entry, and the game was a critical success, selling almost 31 million units in its lifetime, and becoming the best-selling game of all-time for the Nintendo DS. This new entry in the franchise showcased a new look for Mario, blending 3D and level design with familiar 2D side-scrolling gameplay. Nintendo had struck gold, again, and continued with the same art direction for the series for four more games across the 3DS, Wii, Wii U, and most recently the Nintendo Switch. However, unlike previous games in the franchise, not much changed in the way of gameplay throughout these modern iterations.
As we reported last year, Nintendo announced they would be porting the Wii U version of New Super Mario Bros. U over to the Nintendo Switch during their September Nintendo Direct. It would be a Deluxe version of the game, including the New Super Luigi U DLC and feature a couple new characters and special power-up item. But, despite the lackluster fanfare for the game, it’s actually selling very well, even surpassing sales (as reported by Gematsu) of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in its first week in Japan.
It’s clear that fans still love Mario’s traditional 2D gameplay, despite going on an Odyssey around the world, vacationing on an island, travelling to space (twice!) and more. But, in a day and age where the best modern 2D platformers aren’t Mario games, something needs to change. With the rise of Indie Games, developers have created some of the best 2D platformers in the last decade, with fresh ideas and beautiful, varied art styles. Take last year’s indie darling, Celeste, for example. That was a game that offered brutally-hard gameplay and coupled it with an engaging and original story about a young girl battling mental illness. We’ve seen other games, like Shovel Knight, pay homage to the classic 2D platformers while modernizing many elements. There are plenty of other examples of other games pushing the boundaries in ways that Nintendo is either too afraid, or simply does not want, to try.
What Nintendo should do at this point is update Mario with a fresh coat of paint, and stop relying on the tired New Super Mario Bros. art style. They’ve explored various art styles throughout the years between the Paper Mario series and the Mario & Luigi series of games, which would be a welcome change, personally. They even experimented with it by releasing Super Paper Mario for the Wii that blended the 2D side-scrolling elements with the ability to flip to a 3D space to solve puzzles. But, despite their efforts, it just didn’t feel like a Super Mario Bros. game. I’d love to see Nintendo take Mario in a Dead Cells-like art direction, creating a more modern-looking pixel art, or even Mega Man 11, which opted for a more hand-drawn, cartoon-looking approach. At this point, I’d simply take anything over the overly-shiny, generic, dated look of the New Super Mario Bros. series of games.
What do you think would be an appropriate art style for the next 2D Mario game? Let us know in the comments below. For all your Mario news, and everything else gaming-related, keep it locked to Mammoth Gamers!