[Nintendad Coffeehouse] Mario Remasters & the Switch’s Identity Crisis

Written by Abram Buehner

Mario Switch Rumors: One Step Forward, 24 Years Back

I find the prospect of Super Mario 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy all releasing on the Switch in a collection akin to Super Mario All-Stars both incredibly exciting and stingingly disappointing. The very concept seems like a warp-pipe dream. Yet, the combined voracity and credibility of such rumors, as reported on by outlets such as IGN, Kotaku, and Eurogamer, leave me feeling oddly confident that such a release is coming—even if such confidence cuts against my leak-skeptical attitude.

Of course, such speculation invites more speculation. Will these games all be brought into the Super Mario Odyssey engine? Will they be fundamentally updated at all? Will each retain the flavor that made it special in the first place? This collection is so tantalizing and so significant that such questioning is important and interesting by its own merit. That said, such conversation almost feels misplaced.

Console Defining Classics

Speculating about the finer points of a 3D Mario collection belies a bigger issue at hand: whether or not such a collection should exist on Switch. The knee-jerk reaction to such a question is that yes, obviously it should. Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy are three incredibly important games in Nintendo’s back catalog. On a personal note, Super Mario Galaxy is my all-time favorite Mario game, and Super Mario 64 is almost as good. Certainly, it’s far more important, historically speaking. Then, there’s Super Mario Sunshine. In my opinion, the only 3D Mario game fundamentally flawed enough to truly benefit from a remaster—but that’s where I’ll leave such discussion.

The bottom line is, few games in Nintendo’s lineage, both from a quality and history standpoint, are more deserving to remain relevant and accessible to the larger Nintendo community than these 3D Mario titles. The question, though, is whether or not the Nintendo Switch benefits from getting these games in the form of a remaster collection.

Identity Theft

For as vibrant as the Nintendo Switch’s library is, it decidedly lacks identity. While it has a number of terrific exclusives to call its own, many more hail, to varying extents, from elsewhere. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a revelation, and one of the greatest games ever released. Yet, it’s decisively a Wii U game. The Mario Kart 8 Deluxe port remains one of the best-selling Switch titles three years into the system’s life. And, that title is just the precipice of the mountain of Wii U ports that prop up the first-party Switch library. There is no better exclusive platformer on Switch than Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, but short of the port’s meme-worthy Funky Mode, the hybrid cannot call this game its own.

Beyond straight ports, remakes have played an indispensable role in filling out the Switch’s library. From Pokémon Let’s Go and Mystery Dungeon DX to Link’s Awakening and the upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, many of the system’s touchstone releases simply modernize older, classic titles. Stepping further beyond that, games such as Splatoon 2, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Super Mario Maker 2, for as wonderful as they are, draw heavily from and merely iterate upon previous generation exclusives.

Player’s Choice

This is not intrinsically an issue. To the contrary, actually, the Nintendo Switch has become a definitive, greatest hits system. Not only from a first party perspective, but from a third-party perspective as well. From Resident Evil and Mega Man to DOOM and Final Fantasy, the Switch has become a haven for the very best games that the industry has to offer. Being able to experience so many revered, staple titles from almost every developer under the sun has unearthed new favorites that myself and others wouldn’t have gotten to experience. If not for the Switch, I wouldn’t have given L.A. Noire or Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus the time of day. Now, they’re two of my most beloved games in my collection.

The principle applies to those first and second-party titles as well. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the most refined and kinetic take on the franchise and one of my favorite games of all-time. Beyond just Ultimate, Super Mario Maker 2, Breath of the Wild, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Splatoon 2, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are more of my favorite games, period. Regardless of where these titles are derived from, they’re masterful experiences.

I could continue to evangelize the Switch’s library, but doing so would be to ignore the premise that we began with. For as great as the games on the system are, multiple things can be true at once. The fact that the Switch pulls so heavily from so many other consoles for the bulk of its library does leave it feeling hollow, lacking its aforementioned identity.

Creativity Sidelined

The system’s library sutures together older content in a familiar and compelling way, but it doesn’t propel the community into the next generation of Nintendo. Increasingly, forward progress feels stagnated by Nintendo’s seemingly insatiable desire to look back. For every Luigi’s Mansion 3 or Animal Crossing: New Horizons, we have a Link’s Awakening or Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. All four of those are outstanding games, but first two deftly carry their franchises into the future, while the latter two tread water.

I miss the generations where Nintendo fired on all cylinders, not relying on past successes but true innovation to build out their console libraries. A 3D Mario collection would certainly feel like the former, a point made particularly disappointing considering the creative heights that have been reached during this generation.

It seemed as though the Mario series was in the midst of a potential renaissance. While flawed in some respects, few games are as unwaveringly creative and boldly realized as Super Mario Odyssey. After years of overly homogenized New Super Mario Bros. games, and fun yet safe 3D Land and World titles, Super Mario Odyssey blew past the last decade of Mario titles.

Let’s do the Odyssey

It was the first Mario title since Super Mario Galaxy that felt ambitious and grand. The game is as boundless in its imagination as it is precise in its mechanics. Odyssey reinvigorated Nintendo’s tentpole franchise that seemed to be on its back foot. It was a triumphant leap forward, yet one that left room for improvement. Its Power Moon structure felt padded, lacking the direction that made the mission structure of past 3D Mario games so elegant.

With how masterful the lion’s share of Odyssey’s design is, I eagerly awaited a follow-up that doubled down on its creativity while ironing out the missteps of the original. Or, if such a straight-forward follow-up wasn’t in the cards, I was just as invigorated to see how the development team applied the lessons of Super Mario Odyssey to a brand-new 3D Mario effort. Regardless of which avenue would be taken, my enthusiasm for the next step in the series remained at a fever pitch.

As such, if the next step in the 3D Mario lineage turns out to be a retread of covered ground, that doesn’t feel nearly as exciting as what could’ve been. It’s an evolutionary caesura. In many ways, it’s a commitment to the chameleon identity of the Nintendo Switch. It’s an affirmation that the hybrid is a greatest hits machine, and the rancorous excitement within the community for these rumored remasters seemingly affirms that Nintendo’s strategy has paid off.

A Taste of Something Sweeter

I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. I’m disappointed to know that games such as Super Mario Odyssey, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Luigi’s Mansion 3, ARMS, Mario Tennis Aces, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons are the minority. I do love the fact that the Switch has become a gathering place for the greatest games the industry has, Nintendo or otherwise. Yet, that love isn’t nearly as potent as the imaginative thrill elicited by the games that truly offer something new.

Even if they don’t click with me personally, the unbridled creativity and boldness exhibited by the wholly-new Nintendo titles on the system excite me beyond what a drummed up, freshened older game can evoke. I certainly won’t turn up my nose at the chance to replay Super Mario Galaxy on Nintendo Switch. But in the back of my mind, there will be a nagging voice reminding me that I first played this game thirteen years prior.

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