It is the nature of man to want to believe that he is living in the end times. People in every stage of history and civilization have acted like theirs would be the final days. Some of them predicted a traditional religious apocalypse, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Others anticipated a more scientific but no less irrational scenario, like the participants of the Cold War convinced that they’d all be melted in a giant nuclear deathbowl before the turn of the millennium. Often the ‘living in the final days’ assumption extended to more than just doomsaying, such as when the US patent office declared at around the turn of the 20th century that there was nothing left to invent.
In truth, this derives from a very human fear of mortality. We fear the notion of our self ceasing to exist, and we don’t like the thought that the rest of the world will carry on regardless after we’re gone. Much more comforting to flatter ourselves with the idea that we’re important because we’re as good as the human race is ever going to get, when in fact we are almost certainly just yet another generation of middle children.
I bring this up because I freely admit that I may frequently be a little bit quick to declare that certain things are on the way out or already in the shallow grave picking out their favourite daisy patterns. As I’ve done quite a few times with the Mario franchise. Every time I think it must have surely realised by now that it’s past the peak and has nowhere to go, it just keeps trundling on. The line graph didn’t ascend much between Super Mario Bros and Super Mario World, then it jumped pretty drastically throughout the 64-Sunshine-Galaxy era, before descending hastily back down to the nice comfortable flatline of its current status as if it were afraid of giving itself a heart attack if it tried too hard again.
I’m not sure Mario will ever die at this point. Once you reach a certain level of household name-ness you can never truly die; you just go dormant for a few years at a time, wait for the nostalgia to rebuild and then pick up where you left off. Seems to work alright for things like Star Wars, Monty Python, and Batman. All of those have reached the point that their established reputation will absorb any and all mis-steps.
But even so, I can’t help feeling that Super Mario Maker represents a natural conclusion of some kind. Not to Mario as a whole, but at least to the traditional 2D Mario platformer. You don’t release the level editor to the public until you’re pretty damn sure you don’t plan to try making any more, because the public is full of weird obsessives and the collective bubbling of an entire planet’s worth of them is going to cause levels to eventually rise to the top that will kick the shit out of absolutely anything else you try to make. There are mods knocking around now for old games like Jagged Alliance and Baldur’s Gate that put the original absolutely to shame. This is the inherent risk in throwing the “Think YOU can do better?” challenge to an entire planet of spods.
There’s a reason you don’t usually release the source code until after you’re done supporting or developing the product. Not that I want to imply that Super Mario Maker is anything remotely close to releasing the source code for any of the games it incorporates, but even so, any future official 2D Mario platformers are going to be automatically kneecapped by two immediate questions – couldn’t this have been made in Super Mario Maker, and why should we buy it when we can continue playing the theoretically infinite content provided by the community?
It’s like when the emperor is overthrown, cast out from their ivory palace, and thrown into the city square to be mobbed by the peasantry, who pull his elegant clothing to shreds, strip him even of his undergarments, leaving him shamed and exposed on the rough-hewn cobbles, all the dignity and mystique that bought him unquestioning respect now scattered and ground into the dust. Whatever happens next, that emperor is probably not going to be able to continue ruling from where he left off any time soon. Everyone’s seen how all his tricks work.
Part of me wants to think that Super Mario Maker may actually be Nintendo taking a hard line with itself. Like someone determined to give up the Jaffa cakes, so they throw all their Jaffa cakes into the sea before they can change their mind, knowing that they’ll regret it when the withdrawal symptoms kick in, but taking solace in the knowledge that their future self now can’t relapse even if they desperately want to.
Maybe Nintendo eventually realised that New Super Mario Bros was a step down and that the urge to quickly refill the expenses kitty by churning out another one with little in the way of innovation was a bad habit it needed to break. So it did what your mum was always threatening to do: It took those silly video games away and gave them to the neighbourhood kids. So Nintendo had better buckle down and put some effort into tidying its room or it might have to think about releasing Metroid Maker as well.
For me, Nintendo has left no other route for itself, now, other than to take Mario back to 3D. Or at least RPGs or something other than basic 2D platformers. This is probably the best possible time to announce Mario Galaxy 3. Call it Super Mario Universe if you want to erect some tissue-thin impression of the concept being advanced, but all that matters is that it couldn’t be done in Mario Maker. Ride that pony for a while and then, if you feel like you’re getting stuck in a rut again, bring out 3D Mario Maker. Educate the user in how to make 3D models. You started that process by letting them mess around with Mario’s face in Mario 64, so now you just have to finish the job.
Actually I’ve just realised something. There is one thing that recent 2D Mario games have had that Super Mario Maker doesn’t, and that’s four player co-op. In which case, here’s my advice for Nintendo: Patch that into Super Mario Maker as soon as is humanly possible. Because you know what you’re like. Once you realise you still have that you’ll milk it for the rest of the sodding decade.