Is Nintendo’s Mario Dependance Hurting The 3DS?
Nintendo’s latest financial reports have come in, and the news was not as good as they’d hoped on the 3DS front. The 3DS has been thriving in Japan, where drastic shifts in game development have damaged the home console market, but Nintendo’s handheld is struggling to gain traction in the Western world. Analysts have placed the blame squarely on competition from Smartphones and Tablets, but I disagree with this assessment. While a changing mobile landscape is part of the problem, there is a bigger, redder, and more Italian problem Nintendo has to deal with. If you haven’t figured it out, I’m talking about Nintendo’s very own mascot, Mario.
Mario To The Rescue!
The 3DS struggled at the beginning of its lifespan. Sporting one of the worst launch lineups in the history of launch lineups caused the 3DS to stumble out of the gates. The 3DS was performing so poorly that Nintendo had to drastically slash the price of their console by a whopping $80, but even that wasn’t enough to save the flailing console. The 3DS had a fever, and the only prescription was more Mario.
Over the holidays, Nintendo fired the two biggest guns in their arsenal. Within a matter of weeks the 3DS had not one, but two Mario titles to call its very own. Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 combined with the holiday season to form a perfect storm that catapulted the 3DS out of its slump. The 3DS’s struggles were over… or so it seemed…
Mario To The Rescue… Again…
As is always the case, the holiday rush was followed by a slow period. Nintendo sat back and took it easy for a few months before releasing the excellent, and criminally underappreciated, Kid Icarus: Uprising. Nintendo’s next major release was yet another Mario title, this time one of the plumbers sports outing with Mario Tennis. The 3DS crawled on for several months until an exciting piece of news arrived. Nintendo would be releasing a new larger version of the 3DS! And how would Nintendo usher in the 3DS XL? With yet another Mario game.
The 3DS XL launched alongside New Super Mario Bros 2. The 3DS XL featured more impressive 3D than its predecessor, and this could have been an excellent opportunity for Nintendo to reaffirm the value of a 3D capable system. Instead, Nintendo released a 2D game that became a blurry mess with 3D enabled.
With the 3DS XL released, all eyes turned towards the holiday season, which would mark the system’s second holiday season, and the first for the 3DS XL. How would Nintendo use the holiday boost to bring the 3DS to prominence in the West? With more Mario. Nintendo’s holiday season would be highlighted by another Mario title, this time from Mario’s RPG line of games. This title will mark the fifth Mario game in the 3DS’s short lifespan of less than two years. By comparison, the DS had 12 Mario games over its entire lifespan!
Can You Ever Have Too Much Mario? Yes you can.
Nintendo hardware has always been pushed by Nintendo software. Nintendo’s franchises are the main, and sometimes only, reason to buy Nintendo consoles. This may sound like a bad thing, but thankfully, Nintendo has the most robust collection of franchises in gaming. From tense adventure games like Metroid Prime to sprawling epics like Zelda to kid friendly platformers like Kirby to the deceptively strategic game of Pikmin, Nintendo offers something for all different types of gamers. Sadly, Nintendo has not exploited their games roster yet.
Mario is undeniably Nintendo’s biggest franchise, but that doesn’t mean Nintendo should release Mario to the exclusion of everything else. Franchises like Metroid, Kirby, Pokemon, and Zelda each have smaller but still respectable fanbases that buy a console for their favorite series. While Nintendo is hitting the same market over and over again with Mario titles, these other fanbases are being ignored. While Nintendo has released 4 Mario titles, with another on the way and a Luigi title to shortly follow, Nintendo has not released a Kirby, Donkey Kong, Pokemon, or a Metroid title for their console. In fact, Nintendo hasn’t even announced plans for these franchises on the 3DS. Zelda and Star Fox saw 3DS games, but those were both remakes. By not releasing these titles, Nintendo is limiting the 3DS’s install base.
Think of it this way. If a customer didn’t want to buy the 3DS when Super Mario 3D Land came out, they didn’t want to buy it when Mario Kart came out, and they didn’t want to buy it when Mario Tennis came out, is New Super Mario Bros 2 going to tip the scale? Even though each subset of Mario games has their own devotees they largely share the same fans. Which would have more of an impact on sales, the 3DS’s fifth Mario game, or the 3DS’s first original Zelda title? While the lack of Zelda, Pokemon, and Metroid is a big deal, there is an even bigger problem that Nintendo is trying to patch up with Mario titles.
Hey, Remember When You Guys Used To Make New IPs?
OMG There’s Cats Now!!!
Worse than the lack of sequels in popular franchises is Nintendo’s lack of new intellectual properties. How did Nintendo achieve such monumental success with the DS? Simple, they brought something new to the table. Brain Age was something that was novel in the gaming world. It was a game that not claimed to offer tangible real life benefits and actually did. Art Academy was a novel game that reached out to art fans outside of the hardcore gaming persuasion (unlike the equally awesome Mario Paint). Nintendogs was Nintendo’s first DS hit, and it proved that even people who were not 5-17 year old boys would be happy to own a handheld console if the software was right. Other titles like rhythm Heaven and Professor Layton gave the DS an incredibly broad appeal that made the little handheld the most popular console ever. The gaming world hadn’t seen games like this, or at least not with anything close to the level of quality.
With the 3DS, Nintendo has seemingly stopped investing in new ideas. Instead, we have another Art Academy, another Nintendogs, another Professor Layton, another Style Savvy, another Animal Crossing, and another Brain Training. I’m sure these titles will be fun additions to their franchises, but among casual gamers, who don’t have the same kind of fierce loyalty as “hardcore” gamers do, it’s hard to imagine these titles inspiring an upgrade from the 3DS especially in a more competitive gaming market.
Whether it’s the casual gaming audience, or the hardcore gaming audience, Nintendo has seemingly stopped creating new handheld IPs. While there is certainly a place for sequels in the world of gaming, after all I just called for new Zelda and Metroid games, those sequels have to be balanced by new IPs. New IPs are absolutely essential to garnering new fans and combating the inevitable drop in popularity that happens to older IPs. Nintendo has seemingly given up on developing new IPs which are more crucial now than ever as the handheld market faces new threats.
Mario Is A Security Blanket
Ultimately, I get the feeling that Nintendo is afraid. In 2004, Nintendo was a company that was staring irrelevancy dead in the eye. The Gamecube was a console that struggled to attract anyone outside of Nintendo’s fanbase, and the GBA, while popular, was not going to hold the company aloft. This situation forced Nintendo to adopt a new strategy and invest in new ideas for both software and hardware. These new ideas reinvigorated the company, separated themselves from their competitors, and led Nintendo back to the top of the industry.
With the 3DS, it seems like Nintendo is a different company. They’re still on top of the handheld market, and they desperately want to maintain the status quo. While it’s obviously hyperbolic to place all of this on Mario, Mario is symptomatic of the 3DS’s problems. Nintendo is hoping to use the same strategy and the same games as they did with the DS. The only difference in their strategy seems to be a whole lot more Mario. Now, I love Mario as much as the next guy. In fact, I love Mario a whole lot more than the last guy. Even so, I can realize that while Mario can and should be a key part of the 3DS lineup, Nintendo can’t count on the little plumber to do all of the heavy lifting. If Nintendo doesn’t expand the 3DS’s library with innovative new gameplay ideas and brand new IPs, the 3DS will only see a fraction of the success its predecessor saw.
So what do you think? Is Nintendo using too much Mario, or do you think they need even more Mario titles? Wherever you stand on the amount of Mario, sound off in the comments section.