You. That’s right, you. Go play a recent Mario title. I don’t care if it’s Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam, Super Mario 3D World, or Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. You done? Alright cool. Now go play literally any Mario title from before the 3DS launched. Play the Mario 64 DS remake, play Super Mario Galaxy, or if you really want to believe me, play any single Mario title from the Gamecube era.
Good. Thank you.
Now, you may have noticed something. The older titles were quirky, weird, and had a huge cast of bizarre characters. New mechanics were constantly being tried, and the Mario world was a WORLD. There were hundreds of weird species, and crazy locations, each one making you wonder what could possibly come next. From wrestling-obsessed sky towns and ruined universities in the RPGs, to vaguely spooky sunken cities, a world populated by only humanoid bees, and haunted beachside resorts in the main series platformers.
Now, the modern games are almost shocking in how far they deviate from what the Mario series was for years. The 3D platformers stick solely to the bare minimum of what a platformer must be, literally being a series of platforms floating in an abstract space, with the same cast of enemies and obstacles. Not even the immensely creative RPG series are free from this, with the enemy cast being solely limited to what shows up in the mainline games, and all unique NPC species being replaced with just Toads.
As a result of this, a majority of people I have encountered are feeling disillusioned with the Mario series, because they find it too “samey”. Every plot is exactly the same, with Bowser just taking the princess, levels are all the standard grass, desert, volcano, and ice worlds, and enemy variety is nonexistent. This, my friends, is killing the Mario franchise.
Now, by killing of course, I don’t mean that the Mario franchise will ever truly die. It’s Nintendo’s flagship franchise, and as long as Nintendo is around, Mario will too remain, and some people will still buy every single entry.
However, as time passes, I find myself enjoying each entry less and less. I didn’t even bother to finish 3D World, and people herald that as a good one. At around the fifth world I got tired of how every level felt the same. Every once in a while there were some cool ones, but ultimately they all just boiled down to various collections of floating platforms, and that got old real fast. Again, I’m not the only one that thinks this. A lot of “older” Mario fans, who fell in love with the weird quirky adventures that spanned every pre-Wii U console feel alienated and disappointed by these recent design choices by Nintendo.
But where did it start?
You can trace that back to New Super Mario Bros. on the DS. This game isn’t particularly bad or anything, it’s just the basis for every current Mario design. Everything currently in every Mario platformer and RPG is based off of the NSMB series. All the enemies, all the characters, every last detail is shared with the New Super Mario Bros. games, which themselves have been criticized for being “rehashes” of each other.
The true problem though, is that Nintendo employees are not allowed to do anything outside of the NSMB parameters. Many times, Nintendo developers have went on record saying that Shigeru Miyamoto has disallowed them from including any real story in the Mario series, and most recently in the cases of Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam, he has placed restrictions on them so that they are not allowed to use characters from outside of the mainline NSMB and 3D series.
Perhaps then, the issues now become more apparent.
When the rest of the Mario series is only able to use elements from a series of games constantly slammed for being derivative of each other, the originality and sense of wonder the series had is truly gone. No more will people look forward to unlocking a new world, or discovering new enemies, because if you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a million times. Gone are the fantastic worlds and secrets of the RPG series, and gone are the weird, wacky adventures of the mainline series.
Hey though, this is just my opinion. Maybe the Mario series is just moving away from the reasons I personally liked it, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. Just because I don’t like the modern games, doesn’t mean you have to feel the same, and props to you if you do!
I just feel like, personally, Mario is dying. Not for lack of ideas, but for lack of permission to express them.