Hi everyone — welcome to another issue of Naavik Digest. If you missed our last one, be sure to check out our analysis on the state of fighting games and what’s on the horizon for the genre as it continues to grow, evolve, and make room for new players. 

In today’s issue, we’re taking a look at the historic performance of Nintendo’s 2D Mario series ahead of the launch of Super Mario Bros. Wonder later this year. 

#1 Finding Wonder in the Evolution of 2D Super Mario Bros.

By Harshal Karvande, Naavik Contributor

Super Mario Bros Game
Source: Naavik

Nintendo recently announced Super Mario Bros. Wonder, a new 2D side-scrolling platformer that looks thoroughly surreal. Launching October 20th, 2023, the Mario entry is Nintendo’s major holiday release and the first original 2D Mario game in over a decade, not counting Super Mario Maker. The last game in the series was New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, a Switch port of the 2012 WiiU original that has gone on to sell over 15 million copies since its launch in January 2019. 

Wonder looks like an exciting entry at a time when the Mario brand is on fire, with The Super Mario Bros. Movie poised to be the highest-grossing film of the year. Given the massive install base of the Switch and the historical fact that 2D Mario games sell better than their 3D counterparts, the launch of Super Mario Bros. Wonder could potentially become one of Nintendo’s biggest breakout hits in the final years of the Switch.

The History of Super Mario’s Success

Super Mario Bros Graph
Source: Sales data sourced by various reports on Wikipedia.

After first appearing in 1981 video game Donkey Kong and subsequently starring in Mario Bros., Mario has grown to become the best-selling video game franchise of all time. Mario was created by Japanese video game legend Shigeru Miyamoto and is the official mascot of Nintendo. Looking at franchise sales with worldwide units sold, and not counting F2P games, Mario is by far the best-selling video game franchise with 826 million lifetime units to date. Tetris comes second with 495 million, 425 million of which are paid mobile downloads. Pokémon comes in third at 480 million and Call of Duty fourth with 425 million unit sales, with both going higher on this list if their highly successful F2P mobile counterparts are factored in as well. 

The Mario series has also garnered high critical acclaim: By Metacritic’s top 200 games list, the Mario franchise comes at No. 1 with eight games making the list. There are several series of games under the Mario brand covering genres as diverse as racing, sports, party, fighting, and RPG. 

Super Mario Bros Graph
Source: Historic sales data as sourced on the best-selling game franchise list on Wikipedia.

The Super Mario subseries of platforming games, starting with 1985’s Super Mario Bros., are considered some of the greatest video games ever made. Looking at Mario franchise sales, the Super Mario series outsells other series two to one with 386 million units sold, which contributes 47% to overall franchise sales. The arcade racing game Mario Kart comes next with 173 million units over 14 mainline games for various Nintendo platforms and arcades. Other Mario games starring support characters from the Mario universe, like Donkey Kong, Mario’s brother Luigi, and Princess Peach, come third in sales with a combined 120 million units sold.

All other Mario series — like the casual Mario Party, Mario sports games like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, and Mario RPGs — have sold under 100 million units. With Super Mario being the tentpole series, let's take a closer look at the types of games that fall under it.

Super Mario Bros Graph
Source: Historic sales data as sourced on the Super Mario page on Wikipedia.

The top 10 game sales for the Super Mario series are led by the first and oldest title, Super Mario Bros., which launched on the NES in 1985. This game gave birth to the 2D side-scrolling platformer we still associate with Mario today. In fact, barring the exceptions Super Mario Odyssey at No. 4 and Super Mario 3D Land at No. 10, all the top-selling Super Mario games are 2D platformers.

2D Mario: Time to Innovate?

The 2D Mario games are linear platformers compared to their 3D sandbox collect-a-thons. They are broadly accessible, being simpler to control and play and in turn making them ideal for all ages. They have a timeless, nostalgic quality to them, as many gamers today can relate to their side-scrolling 2D platforming gameplay. But compared to their 3D counterparts, these Mario games have stagnated quite a bit, sticking too close to what works and lacking the innovation that has helped 3D Mario entries stand out among the crowd. 

Super Mario Bros Innovations
Source: Naavik

For example, here are some key innovations in the 3D Super Mario games:

  • Super Mario 64, released for the N64 in 1996, established a new gameplay archetype with 360-degree controls using an analog stick and dynamic camera. 
  • Super Mario Sunshine, released for the GameCube in 2002, added F.L.U.D.D. as a mechanic, a robotic water-spraying backpack to clean goop and also unlock new traversal mechanics. This later became the basis for the ink-shooting gameplay of Splatoon.  
  • Super Mario Galaxy, released for the Wii in 2007, brought Mario into space with motion controls and gravity mechanics.
  • Super Mario 3D Land, released for the 3DS in 2011, combined the traditional 2D platformer with 3D free-roaming brought to life, with the 3DS’s screen letting players perceive depth
  • Super Mario Odyssey, released for the Switch in 2017, introduced Cappy, the sentient hat, which allowed Mario to control other characters and objects by way of possession. 

In sharp contrast, the 2D Super Mario games remained more or less the same:

Super Mario Bros Wonder
Source: Naavik

That is what makes the release of Super Mario Bros. Wonder all the more exciting — the game is the newest title in the best-selling 2D Super Mario subseries, with a refreshingly unique art style and whimsical direction that shakes up the series’ traditional gameplay with a new power-up: Wonder Flower. 

Here’s how Nintendo describes the experience: “Classic Mario side-scrolling gameplay is turned on its head with the addition of Wonder Flowers. These game-changing items trigger spectacular moments you have to see to believe ... Witness pipes coming alive, wreak havoc as a giant spiky ball, and see even more unexpected events called Wonder Effects.”

The addition of Wonder Flowers is a key innovation for the franchise — an item that, when collected, affects not only Mario but also the world around him. This causes bizarre changes in the level design, creating stampedes, bringing stationary pipes wiggling to life, and other unexpected effects that make the rather static 2D platforming levels more dynamic. 

Super Mario Bros Graph
Source: Sales data sourced by various reports on Wikipedia.

The Nintendo Switch continues to break sales records even in its seventh year on the market, with over 126 million units sold worldwide. Four Mario games make the Switch’s top 10 best-selling games list: the racing game Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at No. 1, the 3D platforming game Super Mario Odyssey at No. 6, the party game Super Mario Party at No. 8, and the re-release of the Wii U 2D platformer New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe at No. 9. 

Super Mario Bros. Wonder, being the first new 2D Mario game for the Switch and the first new 2D Mario game in over a decade, has all the potential to top this list, especially considering the Switch’s install base and the prospect of this Mario game being the last before a sequel to the Switch is announced. Plus, getting the chance to play as Elephant Mario when Wonder releases on October 20th seems like an opportunity no Switch owner will want to pass up. 

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Super Mario Bros Nexus

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#2 Game of the Week: Oxenfree II: Lost Signals

By Nick Statt, Naavik Managing Editor

Super Mario Bros OxenFree II
Source: Night School Studio / Netflix
  • Platform: Mobile, PS4 / PS5, Nintendo Switch, PC
  • Developer: Night School Studio
  • Publisher: Netflix
  • State: Worldwide Launch
  • Release Date: July 12th, 2023
  • Genre: Narrative / Adventure 

What You Need to Know: 

  • Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is a follow-up to the 2016 graphic adventure game from indie developer Night School Studio, which Netflix acquired in September 2021 to help build out its subscription platform. 
  • That said, Lost Signals is neither exclusive to Netflix subscribers nor only available on mobile like most of Netflix’s prior titles. Instead, Netflix and Night School have published the game on PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and PC, where it costs $20. It will be free on mobile for existing Netflix subscribers. 
  • The release is emblematic of Netflix’s more cross-platform-friendly distribution strategy as its gaming ambitions continue to expand. The company started small in gaming by publishing mobile mini-games like Card Blast and Shooting Hoops before graduating to mobile ports of popular PC indies like Into the Breach, Moonlighter, and Spiritfairer.
  • Eventually, Netflix began acquiring studios and now has a steady pipeline of remasters, ports, and cross-platform releases. Some of these new titles are third-party (like Free Lives’ Terra Nil), while some (like Lost Signals) are in-house. 
  • Lost Signals delivers more of the chat-heavy, narrative gameplay any player of the first game has come to expect, with Telltale-like dialogue trees and multiple endings wrapped up in a supernatural, 80s teen movie-inspired aesthetic. 
  • Much of what makes Oxenfree II great is its mood — the game’s art style, music, and overall ambiance make for a spooky and surreal experience. Check out the game’s full trailer here for an idea of how it looks and feels. 
  • While Oxenfree II connects to the first game's narrative, it features an all-new storyline, new characters, and some slight gameplay twists. Players are able to converse with others and unravel new plotlines by way of walkie talkie conversations (instead of the strict walk-and-talk format of the first game), and there are some unique new time-traveling puzzle mechanics. 

The Verdict: 

  • Lost Signals isn’t a groundbreaking sequel by any means. But what it does deliver is a familiar yet impressive experience that fans of the first Oxenfree will have no trouble falling back into.
  • The witty dialogue, strong narrative direction, and overall atmosphere of the game seem primed for other media formats as well, and Night School has spoken to the opportunity to expand the IP into TV shows and other media for Netflix. (Fittingly, the developer worked on a canceled Stranger Things project.)
  • For Netflix, Lost Signals won’t be a big moneymaker, and it isn’t the most marketable experience for drawing more casual and mainstream players to its catalog of games. 
  • Another downside is that mobile players who subscribe to Netflix don’t appear to (yet) have a way to play the game on a smart TV through the Netflix app or outside their mobile screen. (The company is reportedly testing such a feature that would turn smartphones into controllers.) 
  • Overall, Lost Signals is the type of artistic, small-scale project that one may have never expected Netflix to fund when it first began dabbling in gaming. And it’s the kind of experience that will earn it tremendous goodwill among the indie developer crowd as it continues to prove its gaming bonafides and tries to compete for talent and developer contracts with the more seasoned competition. 

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