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The Super Mario Bros. Anniversary Direct Shows Nintendo at its Best & Most Baffling

The Super Mario Bros. Anniversary Direct Shows Nintendo at its Best & Most Baffling - Article

by Evan Norris , posted on 07 September 2020 / 2,731 Views

Four days ago, the video game giant Nintendo launched a surprise video presentation commemorating 35 years of its Super Mario franchise and teasing multiple upcoming Mario-related projects. The video, presented in the company's idiosyncratic "Nintendo Direct" format, celebrated Mario's status as a gaming icon and made several software and hardware related announcements — some good, some bad, some ugly. Overall, the presentation was a microcosm for modern Nintendo: an inventive, endlessly-creative game-maker responsible for both a mountain of masterpieces and a series of bone-headed business decisions; a company alternately in and out of touch with its fan base's strongest desires.

To view this dissonance on display, look no further than the highlight of the anniversary Direct, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a compilation that includes Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. The ability to play these three games — two of them masterworks — in a single place, with some minor quality-of-life adjustments, is a great opportunity, particularly because Sunshine has never been available outside of Nintendo's third-place GameCube console (as of today, a used Gamecube copy of Sunshine is trending at $63 on eBay).

That's the good news. The bad, head-scratching news is that Super Mario Galaxy's successor Super Mario Galaxy 2 — a title most certainly under the purview of this collection and an experience arguably superior to the premier Galaxy — is missing. Even less understandable is Nintendo's puzzling decision to make the All-Stars anthology available to the public for only six months, between September 18 and March of next year. This holds true for both retail and digital editions. Creating a six-month window for a physical version is somewhat justifiable, but halting digital sales at the end of March 2021 is mind-boggling. It brings to mind the cynical business practices of the Disney vault.

While the official unveiling of a 3D Super Mario collection grabbed the most headlines, it was far from the only important news in Thursday's Direct. Nintendo announced a Switch port of the brilliant Super Mario 3D World, buttressed with online multiplayer and a mysterious add-on called "Bowser's Fury". That Nintendo added new content and additional functionality — particularly online functionality — to an older game is a surprisingly nice gesture for current and prospective owners; it's proof that Nintendo gets it.

Nintendo also announced some brand new hardware: a Mario-themed Game & Watch system, a nod to its first ever handheld console. Similar to 3D All-Stars, the Game & Watch is something worth getting and something worth fretting about. A revival of Nintendo's earliest portable platform, it's a celebration of the company's storied history and its earliest fans. That said, based on Nintendo's recent history with "limited production" mini systems NES Classic and SNES Classic, expect this latest collectible console to be in short supply and prime quarry for unscrupulous scalpers. Indeed, Nintendo's experiments with limited edition hardware have created a fertile ecosystem for second-hand sellers, and some undue stress for genuine fans.

Two other announcements deserve special mention, due to how unusual and unexpected they were. The first is Super Mario Bros. 35, a battle royale spin on the legendary platform game. In this 35-player free-for-all, each contestant is given the same timed stage, where they must defeat enemies to earn extra time and attack their opponents (think multiplayer Tetris). This is just the sort of peculiar, outside-the-box project that endears Nintendo to so many consumers. Regrettably, this game, like 3D All-Stars, comes with a caveat: it shuts down on March 31, 2021.

Even more unpredictable than Super Mario Bros. 35 was the debut of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, an inventive mixture of video game software, augmented reality, and real-world toys that only Nintendo could dream up. In Home Circuit, which transcends the normal boundaries of video games, players control an RC car with their Switch system. They can place gates, obstacles, and courses in the real world, then see them spring to life onscreen. The game essentially turns your living room into a Mario Kart race track. 

It's an inspired marriage of electronic software and real-life DIY. It's the gamification of the living room. Together with oddball enterprises like Ring Fit Adventure and Labo, it represents Nintendo at its weirdest and most disruptive. Where some game designers define progress by the number of triangles per frame, Nintendo seeks an alternative route.

It's extraordinary that Nintendo can be so in tune with a very specific clientele — offering specialized, niche products like Super Mario battle royale and augmented reality Mario Kart — yet ignore its biggest, broadest coalition by failing to unveil a brand new 2D Super Mario title. In fact, it's hard to imagine a more ideal time for such an announcement. Nintendo's holiday release schedule is barren, the company is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the very first 2D Super Mario game, and it's been eight long years since the last entry (Mario Maker notwithstanding). It just makes sense.

Then again, Nintendo doesn't always do what's sensible. The Super Mario 35th anniversary Direct stands as proof of that. While the company found creative avenues to celebrate its history and inventive ways to repurpose its most popular properties, it also committed a few unforced errors: excluding a fan-favorite in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and failing to capitalize on the ideal opportunity to kick-start a brand new 2D Mario adventure. What's worse, it embraced a cynical, restrictive business tactic out of the Disney playbook.

Now, could the COVID-19 pandemic explain some of these baffling omissions? Perhaps, partially. Over the past 24 hours, there has been new information that suggests Nintendo planned to launch Mario's 35th anniversary bash as early as April. Still, that doesn't excuse the company failing to deliver on some very basic and obvious expectations.

The Super Mario 35th Anniversary Direct is Nintendo in a nutshell. As a company it can be constrictive, manipulative, and out of touch. At the same time, as a game-maker, it can be innovative, ingenious, experimental, and wholly unpredictable. It can be a source of intense frustration, as you hit F5 on your keyboard over and over looking for the latest "limited production" pre-order, or it can inspire supreme joy and satisfaction when you collect your 120th star in Super Mario 64. When it comes to Nintendo, you take the bad with the good.

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ebw (on 08 September 2020)

I’m not sure it’s fair to preemptively assume the Game and Watch will have widespread stock out issues. I remember the SNES Mini being hard to find initially and working hard to pick one up, but later in the year it was easy to find, just as Nintendo had promised. I don’t think the NES and SNES supply experiences can be lumped together. They were pretty similar from a first-day perspective but not over the longer term.

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Veknoid_Outcast ebw (on 08 September 2020)

That's fair. It's possible that stock issues won't be a problem. However, Nintendo does have a frustrating habit of making too few of the things consumers really want -- whether due to underestimating demand or limiting production intentionally to increase demand and visibility.

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Slownenberg (on 07 September 2020)

Agreed, the Nintendo Direct was very cool with all the different things they unveiled. They completely screwed up by very strangely keeping Galaxy 2 out of the collection for who even knows what reason. And the 6 month timeline on the Collection and on Mario 35 is even more bizarre. Mario 35 could be something that adds value to their Switch Online subscription, and it takes zero work to keep it up once it is there, but instead they are removing it, while the 6 month limit on the All-Stars Collection is just throwing away many millions of sales the game could otherwise have.
A totally fresh 2D Mario game would have been an amazing addition to all this Mario content, but I think we all expected the Mario Collection to be the big Mario game this year so I don't think that is as much of a disappointment, and it might seem a little tight if they released All-Stars and a new 2D Mario game in the same Fall. Though also it would have been very cool for a brand new fresh take on Mario 2D to be announced that also harkens back to the original 2D games for the 35th anniversary. Oh well, hopefully we'll get a fresh take on 2D Mario in the next year or two.

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Veknoid_Outcast Slownenberg (on 08 September 2020)

I hope so too! I love 3D Super Mario, but also adore 2D Mario. I really enjoyed New Super Mario Bros. U, despite so many recycled assets. There's just nothing like a made-from-scratch 2D Mario adventure. As much as I enjoy Super Mario Maker, it's not the same. I think what's most baffling isn't that Nintendo didn't use the 35th birthday as a launching pad for a new 2D Mario; it's that the company doesn't seem to treat the 2D games with any urgency whatsoever. The sales potential is huge, after all.

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