Is New Super Mario Bros 2 Simple for a Reason?

People have been criticising New Super Mario Bros 2 for being too similar to the last few games and not being particularly innovative.  To some extent they’re probably right.  However, are people missing the real reasons that Nintendo has decided to make New Super Mario Bros 2 fairly plain and not overly different from the last installments?  Because while laziness may be one reason, I don’t think it’s the only one.

1. ‘Original’ art styles don’t often sell

This is not going to be a popular judgement to make, but look at it objectively from a sales perspective.

‘Arty’ games and original styles don’t tend to help games sell very well, while simple/boring realistic ones do.  What types of games have sold really well in recent history?  Either fairly simple looking ones like New Super Mario Bros and Wii Sports or overly realistic attempting ones like Call of Duty and Skyrim.

Meanwhile, what games haven’t sold as well recently?  Original looking games like Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Okami, Rayman Origins, etc.

Fact of the matter is, average joes seem slightly put off by attempts at ‘creative’ art styles.  Maybe it’s like the animation is for kids ghetto that seems fairly common, or maybe it’s the overly stupid attempts at being ‘cool’ made by young kids nowadays, but there’s been a pretty long history of fancy/artistic looking games being ignored by the mainstream in favour of more… mass market works.

And Nintendo wants to sell to that kind of gamer, the one who made New Super Mario Bros and New Super Mario Bros Wii a blockbuster success with about 20 million copies sold, compared to the likes of Kirby’s Epic Yarn (which sold only about 2 million copies)

Because of this maybe they think making the art style better would cause the game to sell less?

2. Tile based, simple graphic styles can often make a game mechanically better

Hard to explain what I mean here, but basically video game physics work by assuming any object is made of boxes/cubes/basic shapes, right?  If you touch the edge of the box, you interact with the object.  If any decoration is outside the solid part of the object, it basically doesn’t do anything.

Think of it like how older games used 8 x 8, 16 x 16 or 24 x 24 pixel interaction, and made tilesets with each tile being that same size.  I’m pretty sure that’s roughly how the New Super Mario Bros games work physics wise.

What’s this got to do with simple art styles you may be wondering, correct?

Well look at this example here:

This is an example tile from New Super Mario Bros Wii (thanks to Mario Fan Games Galaxy for this).  As you can see, you can figure out exactly where Mario’s interaction with this tile starts and ends by merely looking at it.   This makes it very useful to line up your jumps properly.

On the other hand, here’s a Super Princess Peach level tile:

It looks more fancy, yes.  However interaction wise it’s questionable.  If the game uses 8 x 8 pixel tile interaction, anything to the left of the green line would theoretically be thin air.  If it uses 16 x 16 pixel tile interaction, anything to the left of the red line would act as thin air.  This means if you used an engine similar to Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World with these graphics, it would be pretty possible to either end up standing on thin air or falling straight through the floor to an unfair death. Simple tiles make it easier to judge jumps, and from a programming perspective make sure players don’t end up having Mario and co fall through what appear to be solid tiles or standing on nothing.

3. It’s easier to use simple, tile based graphics

Considering New Super Mario Bros 2 has presumably been made in record time and is due out this year, this rather important.  You see, the likes of New Super Mario Bros’ graphics are easy to assemble, meaning that your average level designer will get to spent more time actually designing the level than merely slotting together a few hundred random tiles into an aethestically pleasing way.

Which of these looks more fun to make jigsaw puzzle style?  The simple style of New Super Mario Bros, or Super Mario Bros 1-3, or Super Mario World:

Or the insanely complex graphics of Donkey Kong Country?

Donkey Kong Country has fantastic graphics and is a great game, but it was probably more difficult to build levels in that style than the simple one used in New Super Mario Bros.  Simple graphics make levels easier to build for the game’s designers.

However…

This doesn’t really mean New Super Mario Bros 2 shouldn’t be a more ambitious game than it seems to be.  Indeed, even the whole ‘coming out this year’ thing can’t really be used as a defence of them keeping the same art style as the last few games, since Donkey Kong Country 2 itself came out just a year after the first game and was different in just about every way possible. So a great game that’s completely unlike the first one is very much possible to achieve in only a year or less.

Just keep in mind that Nintendo do have actual reasons for making New Super Mario Bros 2 look the way it does and seemingly be similar to the earlier games in the sub series.  They’re not just doing it out of spite or because they’re untalented or lazy or whatever else you may wish to call them.

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