One of the knee-jerk reactions a lot of people probably had to the Nintendo Direct reveal of New Super Mario Bros. 2 was a negative response to its graphics, which admittedly look basically exactly like those of the previous DS entry, despite the new game being purportedly a 3DS title. It’d be one thing if the game was early in development, since I expect to an extent that they’ll use the previous game as a starting point; it’s another matter entirely when the game’s slated for release in a few short months. What’s more, this isn’t one of those usual cases of screenshots being low-resolution because they come from Japan; the American press site distributed the same screenshots, with the same blurry backgrounds.
What’s going on, here? Sure, there’s an extent to which we understand that as a side-scrolling title, New Super Mario Bros. games are about being made cheaply and easily. On the other hand, when games like Donkey Kong Country and Kirby get the gold-star graphical treatment, it’s a bit of a slap in the face to Mario fans, who if anything should be the customers that Nintendo aims to please most. But could there be a more practical reason why New Super Mario Bros. 2 doesn’t look so hot visually? I certainly think so - it’s the dual-release as a digital distribution title.
The 3DS internal memory is very small, and the standard size SD card that comes with the system’s only got max capacity of 2 GB. I very much doubt that a graphically robust 3DS game could fit on the system itself, and I imagine it’d take up a good chunk of SD card space as well. Nintendo may want to minimize the game’s specs in order to reduce the amount of memory it takes up so that people can get the most out of the 3DS’s default storage offerings. Since side-scrolling Mario has traditionally been a fairly low production value game (with the rare exception of Super Mario World), maybe Nintendo sees graphical achievement as something that can be sidelined in favor of accessibility for the digital market. If not for Nintendo’s insistence on offering digital content for the same price as retail content, I’d almost be inclined to believe that the screenshots we saw might be from a graphically held back digital version while the retail game will have fully-developed graphics.
But that’s not to say that New Super Mario Bros. 2 is out of the woods. I mean, New Super Mario Bros. Wii‘s console format, improved graphics, and so forth didn’t take up that much extra space - it caps out at a cool 0.36 GB. That’s reasonable, right? Given that, why import the DS graphics and not those from the Wii version?
Of course, maybe I’m just overreacting, and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on those screenshots. I mean, the first shots we saw of Super Mario 3D Land at GDC 2011 didn’t look that great, right?