Few will deny the impact of the New Super Mario Bros series upon gaming. The original game, in addition to helping bring back the 2D platformer to prominence, was the best selling game on the DS. The Wii iteration of the series was one of the best selling console games of all time, and the recent iterations of the series on the 3DS and Wii U seem to simply continue this stream of success.The question I’d like to put forth today is this: what if the original New Super Mario Bros game was not a DS game at all? What if, instead, it was a launch title for the then upcoming Wii console.
The New Super Mario Bros series is made by Nintendo’s EAD Group 4, which is also responsible for work on the Pikmin series and whose producer, Hiroyuki Kimura, also directed the Super Mario Advance series of GBA ports. Seeing as the last of these ports were in mid-2003, and NSMB was first revealed in an obvious prototype form E3 2004, it is reasonable to assume that work started on the game sometime later in 2003. That was about three years before the release of the Wii.
New Super Mario Bros was released at a major turning point in the life of the DS. 2006 was the year the DS started to perform considerably better than its competitor, the PSP. This is attributed to several factors, including the launch of the DS Lite, the Japanese release of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, and, arguably most importantly, the release of NSMB. It is unknown if Nintendo realized how important the game would be to their future, but even back then, it was known that 2D Mario games would sell well on handhelds thanks to the Advance series.
With that information in mind, could Nintendo have considered devoting a team to make a 2D Mario for the Wii? Especially back in the early to mid 2000’s, when the 2D platformer was all but dead on consoles? Personally, I think it could have happened. The Nintendo of the latter-GameCube era was a desperate creature, willing to try something radically different than the norm. Hence, the creation of the Wii. And considering how the Wiimote is strongly reminiscent of a NES controller, is it not strange that it took Nintendo as long as they did to make a major 2D platformer for it? Perhaps they really were considering making NSMB for the Wii at some point.
Effects on the Game
The original New Super Mario Bros was not particularly dependent on any special DS functionality. The game’s basic action took place on the top screen, with the bottom screen only serving to provide information and store an item. These functions could easily be moved to an SD TV screen, which has more than enough resolution to display everything, with a random button like, say, B serving to summon the stored power-up.
The minigames found in the original New Super Mario Bros would likely not be included in this version of the game. They were actually reliant on touchscreen technology, and would be difficult to carry over to the Wii. That does not, however, mean that there would be no minigames. For one thing, the two-player competitive mode would probably remain. For another, there was already a collection of Mario minigames in the works; Mario Party 8. It is possible that early completed minigames from that title would be included in NSMB. That said, it is at least as likely that the Wii version of NSMB would simply have less content than our timeline’s DS game.
That said, there would be one area where a 2006 New Super Mario Bros for the Wii would shine in comparison to ours: graphics. Even if they were not to equal our timeline’s NSMBWii, the graphics of this timeline’s NSMB would take advantage of the system’s horsepower, and would look at least as good as a GameCube game.
Effects on the Wii
If Nintendo released the Wii with a combination of Wii Sports, Twilight Princess, and NSMB, it would have an even greater early life than in our timeline. 2D Mario simply sells, especially in Japan, where our timeline’s 2D Mario for the Wii outsold even Wii Sports. Admittedly, sales might have ended up being slightly lower than either our NSMB, due to the DS’s popularity, or our NSMBWii, thanks to the lack of the cooperative multiplayer that many people enjoyed. Still, an early 2D Mario would have been a trump card in the Wii’s library, even factoring in the inevitable problems.
Wii sales would definitely have been improved by a 2D Mario launch title, but I believe that the impact would have been limited by one thing: supply constraints. After all, the Wii was plagued by shortages for over a year of its life, and shortages continued in some parts of the world until 2009. Nintendo simply couldn’t have sold many more Wiis in 2006 through 2008 even if they had the best library ever on a game system. That said, software attach ration would have been improved.
Then, of course, you have the inevitable problem in 2009; what would sell the Wii then? Another 2D Mario would be better suited for the DS thanks to its lack of a solid 2D platformer and huge install base, meaning that Nintendo’s 2009 lineup would be fairly bare of major non-causal releases. Without NSMBWii, the Wii would have relied upon “Wii” series games from mid-2008, when Mario Kart Wii was released, to mid-2010, when Super Mario Galaxy 2 was released. This could have killed Wii momentum faster than it died in our timeline, more than making up for bonus early sales.
Effects on the Wii U
Hurt by greatly reduced sales compared to our timeline from 2009 to 2011, Nintendo might have had no choice but to release the Wii U a year early. What would this early Wii U have looked like? Well, for one thing, it would rely on Skyward Sword to be a major system seller, as the only core Nintendo game that would have been ready at the time. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland would also have likely been pushed to the Wii U, as would 3rd party titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Just Dance 3, and Rayman Origins.
But what would Nintendo have for the Wii U going into 2012? Not much I’m afraid. Games like Mario Party 9 and PokePark 2 would have prevented the landscape from becoming truly barren, and ports of games like Mass Effect 3 and Max Payne 3 wouldn’t have hurt. But unless Skyward Sword in this alternate form became a system seller, the Wii U would have struggled to succeed at least until 2012’s Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros U.
Effects on the DS
Now for the negative part; how much would the lack of a 2D Mario until at least 2008, more likely 2009, affect the DS’s success? Surprisingly, I don’t think it would have hurt too much, although the negative impact would have been undeniable.
First, let’s remember what the DS had going for it in 2006, even without NSMB. You have the DS Lite worldwide, Pokemon in Japan, the worldwide release of Brain Age, moderate hits like Tetris DS and the Final Fantasy 3 remake, and continuing momentum from 2005 hits like Mario Kart and Animal Crossing. The PSP, on the other hand, had Grand Theft Auto, Monster Hunter Freedom, and… Daxter? With New Super Mario Bros, the DS outsold the PSP by about 2 to 1. Without it, the DS would almost certainly still have won the day.
Now for another question: what if the 2D Mario team made a NSMB game for the DS circa 2009? Like in our timeline, but the other way around? Well, that game would probably do worse than our New Super Mario Bros did, if only because it would have less years to sell. Still, bundled with the DSi, it could have sold a lot of DS’s later in the system’s life, improving the system’s relative longevity. Ironically, as the iDevices rose to prominence, the DS would receive its final killer app.
As for what this new Mario game for the DS would be like, I think a lot of NSMB2’s features could have made the cut. For instance, cooperative multiplayer modes could have been possible, albeit for only up to two players. Also, the graphics could have been better than they were in our time line, if only because Nintendo would have been more experienced using DS hardware at the time. However, much as our timeline’s “New” games are largely similar, I doubt there would be much of a radical departure from what we know.
Ultimately, Nintendo did the right thing in real life. Creating New Super Mario Bros as a Wii game would have provided a quick boost, but would have ultimately hurt both the Wii and DS. Sales for the first couple of NSMB games would also be lower than in our timeline. That said, the Wii would have been even more of a pop culture phenomenon than in our timeline, at least through 2008.
Wii Sales: 80 to 90 million
DS Sales: 125 to 150 million
New Super Mario Bros Sales: 23.5 million
New Super Mario Bros DS Sales: 20 million
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Love and tolerate.