This might be the most “portly” of game ports in history.
Nintendo has been cannibalizing its Wii U library for the Switch for almost two years now, but their latest release is crazy even by those standards: An expanded rerelease of New Super Mario Bros. U, which itself was a slight remix of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which itself was a slight remix of New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS! The entire series has been criticized for years for its generic environments, low difficulty, and uninspiring gameplay, yet it has been surprisingly resilient despite its drawbacks, dutifully getting new(ish) iterations for every console generation while more-acclaimed franchises like Metroid and Pikmin are still sitting in the waiting room.
So why on earth is this happening? Does the Switch need a port from an already-stale franchise, making the game even less distinct than usual? The answer, unsurprisingly, is capitalism:
- Despite their bland and formulaic reputation, these games sell. A lot. If you look at the lifetime sales of Mario games, the NSMB series stacks up unexpectedly well with its well-regarded brethren:
Title Mario Sales Rank New Super Mario Bros. #2 (30.80 million) New Super Mario Bros. Wii #3 (30.22 million) New Super Mario Bros. 2 #7 (12.82 million) New Super Mario Bros. U #20 (5.77 million), #3 best-selling Wii U game New Super Luigi U #30 (3.04 million)
“Bland and formulaic” they may be, but they’re also popular and profitable, even on less-popular consoles like the Wii U. In fact, that past performance is likely reason #1A that NSMBUD is coming: Nintendo’s probably staring at those NSMB Wii numbers and thinking NSMBU could do the same thing on a console with a decent install base.
- On the other end, it’s not a massive development investment. Ports are generally cheaper to make than original titles, but this is an extreme example: Most of the assets can be reused from past games (Are the Peachette changes the only new visuals? …Oh wait, “the name of the map has a different banner design”), no new levels need to be created (there could be some extra levels added here, but none have been mentioned), and compared to something like, say, Super Mario Odyssey, the game is a much smaller project overall. Nintendo’s even saving on web development: The official game site is just the NSMBU site with a new header image and a few sentences (at least it references the Joy-Cons)!
- The game fits perfectly into Nintendo’s overall Switch strategy. In my “top games” post last month, I noted that Nintendo seemed to be placing a lot of emphasis on local multiplayer, from Kirby Star Allies to Super Mario Party to even Mario Tennis Aces and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The New Super Mario Bros. series (at least on home consoles) fits this strategy perfectly: It’s multiplayer 2D platformer action mirrors that of Kirby Star Allies, although players tend to get in each other’s way more than anything. There’s no online functionality to speak of, and while you could play the game by yourself, my experience is that it’s way more fun with a few friends in tow. In other words, it could be the poster child for Nintendo’s releases over the last year.
So the game is cheaper to produce, has a high profitability ceiling, and could be the poster child for Nintendo’s strategy of Switch gaming. Perhaps the better question for this post is this: Why didn’t New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe exist sooner? Gamers may complain that the NSMB series is just the same reheated platforming released over and over again…but gamers also buy the NSMB games at absurdly-high rates, and as crazy as Nintendo can be sometimes, they’re not crazy enough to leave a Mario-sized pile of money on the table.