And now for a brief history of multiplayer in Mario games, and why that’s important.
Mario started with multiplayer. Donkey Kong, the premiere of Jump Man, was two player alternating, but when Mario gained his first headlining game, Mario Bros, is was with a two player simultaneous mode. And that really is the best way to play! Kicking over turtles and crabs is fun an’ all, but it’s much more enjoyable to do that while pushing a hapless Luigi into oncoming bees. Collect those coins before the green guy grabs ‘em! And, yes, if you’re in a particularly puckish mood, flip that turtle, piss him the heck off, and watch Luigi get bowled over by a rampaging tortoise. It’s right there in the title! This is Mario Bros, and the essence of family is sibling rivalry.
Unfortunately, Super Mario Bros, the iconic game that launched the Nintendo Entertainment System, returned to its alternating player roots. But two player is still two player! Even if you had to wait for your selfish friend to plow through every last goomba and buzzy beetle on the way to the princess (full disclosure: I was that selfish friend), eventually it would be your turn to play. Mario and Luigi both had the same quest, and it wasn’t up to some capricious console owner to finally pass the controller, the game did that for you. It might sound silly, but being seven and trusting someone else to eventually “give you a turn” is not how games get played. Look to Super Mario Bros 2 for proof of that. Was I the only kid that played “Okay, any time you pick Toad or Luigi, I get to play”? Fun fact: then nobody ever plays as Luigi or Toad. Funny how that works.
But Super Mario Bros. 3 brought back two player simultaneous play through a rehash of Mario Bros, and added a lot more strategy to the concept of two players in a Mario game. The “world map” of SMB3 might be seem quaint and unnecessary today, but “trapping” another player into a round of Mario Bros, or clearing stages in a particular order that guaranteed you’d be the one to claim that mushroom house was a game all its own. If you’re ever playing SMB3 alone, and wondering why it feels so different from when you were a kid, it’s because some part of your brain still remembers assaulting your best buddy for his star card so you could claim that precious 5-up. No, you didn’t need all those lives, but who could deny the joy of obtaining such a thing?
Super Mario World was the beginning of the end. SMW is a great game, but its entire 2-player mode seems like an afterthought. There’s the ability to transfer lives… and that’s it. If you beat the game as Luigi, the eternal player two, Mario is thanked for saving Princess Peach. The stupid dinosaur is praised, and Luigi is forgotten. He’s standing right there! Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island completely dropped its second player, which, on one hand, makes a certain kind of sense. On the other hand, well, there’s a reason I remember Kirby Super Star seeing my SNES a lot more often…
Then came Super Mario 64. You will note that it is not Super Mario Bros. 64. That is because Luigi is entirely missing from the experience, and any trace of a two-player mode with him. This was also the first Nintendo console to launch without a second controller… and there might be a connection there. The N64 was phenomenal for multiplayer experiences (Smash Bros, GoldenEye, Bomberman 64), but Mario was alone in his quest to get some cake and eat it too. This was eventually rectified in the DS remake (one way or another), but in 1996, the message was clear: two player Mario is over.
When Mario decided to go on vacation, he went alone. When Luigi won a thoroughly haunted mansion, he explored it alone. When Mario charted the galaxy itself, he could have a little star buddy shooting star bits at aliens, but that was the tiniest of concessions to the idea of a two player experience. And any time Mario decided to play in the portable realm, well, maybe you have more friends than I do that buy the exact same games, but DS wireless play isn’t the easiest thing in the world, even if it is just for some minigames. Mario’s cast and extracurricular activities may have expanded over the years, but his own adventures had become depressingly solo.
Mario dropping his brother is significant. In a way, for many years, so went Mario, so went the world. He ushered in the concept of the “starring” mascot character (screw you, Pac-Man), the abstract world of gaming (jump on that turtle!), and, of course, the 2-D, scrolling platformer. When the N64 arrived, 3-D platforming arrived with it, and nobody remembers Jumping Flash, it’s Super Mario 64 all the way. And whether he’s promoting go-karting or smashing brothers, Mario has a tendency to get people’s attention.
But it’s not just about Mario being Mario, it’s about Mario always being in vicinity of the fun. And you know what isn’t fun? Sitting around and watching someone else play a videogame. Okay, maybe Let’s Plays have disproven that theory, so to take it a step further: nobody gets together on a Saturday night to watch LPs. You’ve got your friends over, you’ve had some juice and/or beer, and now it’s time to do something. What’s the better choice: everybody grab a controller for some death match fun times, or are we going to sit quietly and watch Goggle Bob collect another star from that giant dinosaur creature? Hey, who wants to watch me beat Super Mario Sunshine again? No you can’t have the controller, that’s mine.
And maybe I’m being hyperbolic, but I feel like the reason the platformer has fallen behind the likes of “open world adventure” or “FPS” is because a platformer is all about playing it, and watching it is only really exciting when someone is really good. Otherwise? Let’s grab something else we can all play. And thus does the next crop of games tout bullet points along the lines of “like Skyrim but” and “The Dark Souls of vegetable chopping”. I literally cannot remember the last time I saw a “Mario-like” that didn’t use the word “retro” a thousand times.
But there is hope for the future, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii started it. Nintendo realized that its target audience was a group of people gradually becoming disturbed loners, so NSMBW featured the ability to play through every last level with four players. Simultaneously! And dropping in and out of a game was as easy as pie, so if you wanted to beat World 3 while your friend was off honeymooning with his real life, you could! The platformer was for friends again, and the world breathed a sigh of relief.
And it’s only getting better! Super Mario Maker doesn’t have a “true” two player mode, but it offers the ability to create and share levels with friends across the globe. Between the overt sharing, encouraging house guests to play created “worlds”, and watching LPs of the most difficult stages, Super Mario in his purest form is finally social again.
And that’s important.
For something to be popular, whether it’s a video game franchise, movie, or just a dirty limerick, it has to, by definition, be talked about. And the easiest way to get people talking about something is to share it. It’s cool that Band X released an album for ten million dollars that can only be purchased by one person, but if that one person doesn’t feel like sharing, it’s not going to make much of a cultural impact. Similarly, if Mario 64 is only played by one person per cartridge, that’s going to lead to an increasingly shrinking population of Mario players as further games are released. Nobody wants that, least of all Nintendo! Mario is to be shared, and someone finally realized that.
So good on you, New Super Mario Bros. Wii. You brought the brothers back to the brothers, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
… Mainly because I get to push Luigi into oncoming turtles again.
FGC #191 New Super Mario Bros. Wii
- System: It’s a Wii, Wario. Wait, what?
- Number of players: Four. Did you get that?
- Have some friends over: In the spirit of the game, I invited some buddies to play along on this entry. As you can see from some of the gifs, they’re terrible.
- Favorite powerup: Penguin suit all day long. Screw the propeller hat, I wanna slide along on my tummy!
- Koopa Kritters: This was the first “real” reappearance of the Koopalings since Super Mario World. I mean, they guested in a few Super Scope 6 and Mario & Luigi games, but those hardly count.
- Did you know? This is the first game to feature the “super guide”, the little block that is supposed to make it so you are not ever permanently stuck on a particular level. Unfortunately, more often than not, it just serves to remind you that you suck, or died an unfathomably large number of times trying to get that one stupid bonus coin. Screw you, super guide!
- Would I play again: Most certainly!… if there wasn’t a New Super Mario Bros. WiiU, at least. And its Luigi version. With an invincible Nabbit buddy. Seriously, it’s an improvement in every way.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Every Extend Extra for the PSP! Or is that Every Extra Extend? Bah, I can never remember correctly. Anyway, please look forward to it!
Hey, I’ve see this before