Nintendo announced New Super Mario Bros. 2 for 3DS over the weekend, seemingly separate from the recent trademark filing for a “Super Mario Bros. 4″… yet surprising no one, given the insane sales of the original NSMB and its Wii follow-up. As often happens when news of a guaranteed best-seller hits the Internet, social media chatter about the game has been resoundingly negative; Mario fans willing to go to bat for the game or speculate that NSMB2 won’t be a soulless cash grab destined to disgrace the franchise/the platform/the entire concept of video games at large seem almost overwhelmingly outnumbered by cynics convinced it will do all of that and worse. You know how the ancient Mayan calendar ends in 2012? Possibly because the world ends? Yeah. New Super Mario Bros. 2′s fault. Reddit said so.
This negativity makes a certain degree of sense, as web forums and game-centric aggregator sites are dominated by avid gamers who follow the news closely but aren’t necessarily the target audience for the mass-appealing NSMB games. The warm reception originally afforded to the first DS entry has largely been reconned out of existence by people who found the dynamic and inventive Super Mario Galaxy titles more to their liking; they look back and realize that they were simply happy to have classic Mario in any form yet have come to find Galaxy’s fresh new ideas better match their expectations for a Mario game. Add to that the fact that the Galaxy games sell only a fraction of the NSMB titles — disturbing the perpetual chip on the nerd collective’s shoulder — and you have an us-versus-them tempest brewing in a Super Mushroom-shaped teapot.
Yet NSMB2 carries its own unique baggage. The second most common refrain that greeted this weekend’s announcement had nothing to do about the look of the game or the way it will inevitably sit atop the 3DS best-seller charts for the next six years (right alongside Mario Kart 7 and Animal Crossing 3D) but rather the presence of the number 2 at the end of its title and yet a lack of details that fans associate with the term “Mario 2.” Where are the Shyguys, fans complained? Why isn’t Mario chucking radishes? Why no screens of Phanto chasing a key-wielding hero? Where’s the playable Peach, or even the irritatingly screamy new version of Toad? In short, how can this game call itself New Super Mario Bros. 2 when there’s so little that resembles Super Mario Bros. 2?
The idea that the numeration of NSMB sequels would denote a direct link to the classic Mario titles that share those numbers isn’t particularly rational, of course. But nostalgia and personal passion rarely hold up to logical scrutiny. Affection and common sense tend to have a fairly small overlap on the Venn diagram of human thought processes, and a moment’s reflection on the nature of the first two NSMB games should reveal exactly how flimsy the assumption that each NSMB installment would neatly correspond to an NES game truly is; the DS game drew more from Super Mario Bros. 3 than from the original Super Mario Bros., and the Wii entry made liberal use of elements from practically every Mario game and threw in plenty of new ideas to boot. Of course NSMB2 won’t be a modern take on Super Mario Bros. 2. Why would it be?
But knowing something doesn’t preclude wanting it to be otherwise. The widespread heartache over the lack of Pidgits (riding carpets, just begging to be hijacked) and Snifits (plastering Mario with bullets) in the four NSMB2 screen shots Nintendo published over the weekend speaks not to discontent with the Mario series or dissatisfaction with the time-honored mechanical foundation of classic Mario games, I suspect. On the contrary, it’s a sign of how much Mario (and Mario 2 in particular) means to gamers. Millions of kids played Super Mario Bros. 2 back in the ’80s. It’s a formative memory for them; it launched around the time the NES reached bonafide hit status, and it was one of the first games that Nintendo promoted within an inch of its life. You can find plenty of gamers who count Super Mario Bros. 2 as one of their earliest memories. Not just gaming memories; memories. Period. Of course they’d want a follow-up.