Ormed and Dangerous
The Best Mario?

By Cody Orme - December 16th, 2012

nsmbu-1

We have been receiving a number of requests to publish work on our site. We like to give people a fair shake that have something to say. Check out this neat piece by Cody Orme about his choice for the best Mario game in the series.

Oh Mario. That crazy Italian stereotype has stomped and jumped his way into the hearts of gamers around the world and has stayed there for almost 30 years as the face of Nintendo.
That status doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon with the release of New Super Mario Bros. U alongside the Wii U. It is insane how in the age of high definition graphics and cinematic cut scenes Nintendo can still count on a 2D side-scroller starring their moustached hero to sell their brand new hardware.

While New Super Mario Bros. U is a good game, I can’t help but compare it to some of its predecessors. Obviously it isn’t the best 2D Mario game; but what is? In order to actually figure this out, I need to determine what makes a good side-scrolling Mario game.

So why is Mario timeless? The first thing that comes to mind is creativity. This is where, in my opinion, the New Super Mario Brothers games fall short. Instead of creating a new experience, they tend to fall back on nostalgic memories. While there are new suits, the levels, characters and music feel recycled. This gives them an almost empty feeling. Compare this to the first Super Mario Bros. on the NES*. It introduced a whole new world. Mushroom Kingdom was literally a place where the imagination was set free. Almost every Mario title since has had that same child-like wonder. It can range: from a leaf that turns Mario into a raccoon; a dinosaur you can ride; or even a world where everything is super-sized. Each moustached adventure felt a little different while still feeling the same.

smw
Super Mario World.

Aside from creativity, the next thing I would look at is difficulty. Now, for a Mario game, difficulty doesn’t necessarily mean controller-throwing rage quits. It is more-or-less a curve that makes the game challenging – but also fun. Everyone and their mother should be able to pick up and play a Mario game; but there should be a degree of difficulty to actually beat one. Super Mario World is a fantastic game, but it was too easy to complete. While it did everything else right, there just wasn’t enough challenge to actually feel like the game was testing me.

With that being said, Super Mario World did something really, really well: game-play. Creator Shigeru Miyamoto has always had a stance on game-play above everything; this is why after all this time, Mario can still hold up. Tight controls and that “Mario feel” are what make Mario games unique; Mario is at his best when the controls are simple. It’s a platformer in its purist sense. If you change the core mechanic (jumps of death), Mario isn’t really Mario anymore. For the most part, the main series entries, with the exception of Super Mario Bros. 2, have remained unchanged for good reason: the style works. I can’t think of any time in a Mario adventure where I felt the game was unfair or my deaths were not my fault**.

So after taking into consideration the three most important things that make 2D Mario games fun, one game must fit the mould better than others right? There should be one game that would stand above the others in a series of great games. It is my belief that Super Mario Bros. 3 can stand proudly above the rest. This isn’t to say other titles don’t deserve to be put up on a pedestal; Super Mario World was an amazing adventure, and essentially is Super Mario 3 on steroids. It introduced Yoshi, but at the expense of many power-ups. Super Mario 2 deserves some respect as it stands as its own game, not tied down by the expectations of the series.

smb3
We love you, Map.

But while Super Mario Bros 2 deviated from the Mario formula (and did so amazingly I might add), Super Mario Bros. 3 brought it back to the roots – but on a grander scale. It introduced a plethora of new abilities, which are still used in newer games. It also brought Bowser’s children into the light, which is another staple of the franchise. It made mushroom kingdom a huge breathing world, and the introduction of a map made the levels feel more connected instead of jumping from place to place.

I would even hazard to say that Super Mario 3 is the cornerstone of the franchise. Super Mario Bros. was the skeleton, but the third installment (or fourth if you count the Japanese version of number 2) gave that pile of bones flesh, and skin, which is what the New Super Mario franchise has tried to replicate.

While imitation is the highest form of flattery, perhaps Nintendo should take a look back at why Mario is great instead of what makes Mario great. Maybe then, the next 2D installment will resemble Super Mario Bros. 3 in practice instead of just in theory.

* – I am not counting the arcade classic in this.
** – Unless I was underwater.
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    2 responses so far:
  2. By Rituro
    Posted on Dec 19, 2012

    It’s a close one between SMB3 and SMW. I would argue SMW’s improvement on the world-path-altering mechanic of SMB3 sets it slightly higher than its item-hoarding sibling.

    And for what it’s worth, I didn’t mind SMG1 either. Not the “best” Mario, perhaps, but damn fine in its own right.

  3. Posted on Dec 24, 2012

    Should we consider the hardware? SMB3 was great and on inferior hardware than SMW. Just food for thought.

    I can’t vote because I haven’t played enough Mario games. Just 1,2,3, and 64. If I may say so, Mario 64 impressed me the most. Another dimension does help.

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