A friend on social media posed a simple question yesterday:
“What’s the worst Super Mario game and why? (Just talking about platformers; no RPGs or sports games allowed)”
At first this seemed easy enough to answer, but in doing so I ended up thinking deeper on the idea. Mario is, without a doubt, the progenitor and single most successful platform game series ever made, even if your personal preference lies elsewhere no other series has had such an incredible run top quality games. Sonic had his heyday and, as most people are all too aware, is more of a joke than a serious contender these days. Crash Bandicoot left us, Rayman faltered for a long while and most other contenders are far too recent to make the challenge.
So what is the worst entry in a fantastic series? There are several challengers I could think of in terms of a popular opinion. Super Mario Bros 2, the US and European version, is often mentioned for beginning life as another game and being so divergent from what is now the core Mario gameplay; yet it certainly isn’t the worst. The game itself is still fun to play, with certain character mechanics becoming established traits, and several enemies that are now beloved parts of the Mario roster originated here.
Super Mario Sunshine is popular pick as it came as somewhat of a disappointment following up Super Mario 64. Of course, in truth, there was never a way for anything to live up to the expectations that Mario 64 created; it was a landmark game that gave most players their first taste of truly brilliant platforming in 3D. Unless Sunshine could offer something similarly revolutionary it was always doomed to disfavour. Sadly it also had several issues of it’s own with its awkward camera, groanworthy cutscenes and some levels that just didn’t play as well as they should; even then it’s still not the worst. It’s a lot of fun, visually lovely and imbued with the charming spirit that is a part of every great Nintendo game.
That’s the key. In their best days many games companies have a certain feel to their output that is entirely unique to them. It’s something that is incredibly hard to define yet, when you look at it, becomes quite apparent. Take the Dreamcast days of Sega where they had bright, wonderful, crazy games that burst with life and experimentation; Jet Set Radio, Shenmue, Space Channel 5, Crazy Taxi; all playing wildly differently yet all imbued with the same spirit. Konami’s action output of the 8 and 16-bit days, Contra, TMNT: The Arcade Game, Sunset Riders, Castlevania, all different yet all keenly Konami. Nintendo has, and continues to have, this to their first party titles; they’re joyous, polished and charming affairs that have their own sense of playfulness. This is true of the vast majority of the Super Mario games.
Except one, in my own experience. New Super Mario Bros on the DS is a Mario game in mechanics, a Mario game in look, but it lacks that Nintendo spark. I’m specifically pointing to the DS version because while the game was mechanically, and visually, similar in its Wii incarnation the addition of the 4-player mode gave it back some (yet not all) that charm that was missing. The DS game was clearly made well in most respects, the controls were fine, the levels worked and it gave you a polished platforming experience but these pieces lacked the soul that gives Nintendo games their unique appeal. Were it a separate entity from Mario, from another company it might be more forgiven, but as part of such a brilliant lineage it fails to live up to all that surround it.
New Super Mario Bros. You are the worst.