Portal on the booklist
Vintage Game Club - Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

The world is flat

Super-mario-galaxy-2   New-super-mario-bros-wii-screenshot

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a consensus triumph. It's a "veritable creativity bomb" (Wired); "one of the most refined and fulfilling videogame experiences of this generation" (IGN); and "astonishing" (Edge).

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the highest rated Wii game ever and, despite the game media's penchant for hyperbole, I can't begrudge SMG2 even a single decimal of its 97 Metacritic score. It's a great game (probably my favorite Mario game of all time, depending on when you ask me), and one of these days I'll try to wrestle a blog post out of all my affectionate thoughts on Mario's latest planet leaping adventure.

But as much as we enjoy blasting 3D Mario into space and navigating him around 3D orbs, a quick glance at sales figures makes one thing clear. We like Mario best when his world is flat. We still, apparently, prefer running from left to right.

The most recent NPD numbers for July tell a fascinating tale. Sitting in the #4 spot, SMG2 sold 193 thousand copies in North America. That brings its total sales to approximately 1.7 million here (3.5 million worldwide). Impressive figures, to be sure, but less than half of the original Super Mario Galaxy's sales (4.6 NA, 8.8 worldwide). 

It's an unfair comparison, of course, because SMG2 has only been on the shelves for 12 weeks. But if you study its sales trajectory, it seems likely at this point that SMG2 will fall well short of its predecessor's numbers. I hope I'm wrong. Economics ain't my strong suit, so take my prognostications with a big grain of salt.

A quick glance down the NPD list reminds us that, when it comes to Mario flagship titles, 2D Mario still rules. In the #9 spot - 37 weeks after its release - sits New Super Mario Bros. Wii. A few spots lower at #12 - 220 weeks after its release - sits New Super Mario Bros. for the DS.

Consider the numbers this way:

  • Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 combined total sales: 12.3 million
  • New Super Mario Wii total sales: 15.5 million
  • New Super Mario DS total sales: 22.4 million

I don't typically spend much time thinking about NPD data, but I do find these numbers interesting, and I'm not sure what to make of them. Do they suggest that we still primarily see Super Mario games as 2D side-scrollers? Despite the extraordinarily high quality of the Galaxy games - and the powerful impact of Mario 64 on 3D game design - is Mario still in his natural element in 2D? Do most Wii owners perceive the Galaxy games as too difficult (ironic, if they bought NSMB Wii)? Too different? Too reliant on motion conntrols? Not "canon"? 

I don't lose sleep over Nintendo's sales data (although Link's Crossbow Training outselling Twilight Princess does make me go cross-eyed). Nevertheless, I do wish more players embraced the Galaxy games, if only because they demonstrate the pure imagination and skillful design that Nintendo EAD still does better than anyone else. These sales numbers don't make me sad or angry; they just make me curious to understand them.