The Sad Tail of Mario

12 Oct

What would you say Mario is doing in the picture below?

Being awesome? Reenacting your childhood? Both good answers, but if given only one word to describe it, I’d bet most people would say Mario is flying. And, of course, it’s that weird little raccoon tail that’s granting him the power of flight.

The image of Mario soaring through the air with a striped tail instantly conjures up fond memories of Super Mario Bros. 3 for loads of people, far more than some might expect. Nintendo is aware of the soft spot so many hold for the iconic power-up, and soon, a new (though much smaller) generation of would-be Mario fans will see the plumber sporting a tail in Super Mario 3D Land. Unfortunately, they’ll wonder how such a lame ability ever warranted so much hype.

That’s because Nintendo is woefully ignorant of why the tail won our hearts in the first place.

Now, what would you say Mario is doing in the Tanooki Suit at the end of this trailer?

 

Well, he attacks by spinning his tail like he did before, and he can flutter to slowly hover back to the ground too, but the trailer doesn’t show him flying. That’s because Mario can’t fly in Super Mario 3D Land.

Obviously, flight similar to that in Mario 3 wouldn’t work very well in a game like this, which is more akin to the Mario Galaxy games, but that didn’t deter Nintendo from using the power-up as the game’s biggest selling point before even a single screenshot was revealed. Nintendo shoehorned the tail into all 3D Land media from day one, beginning with the game’s title.

Even before it was Super Mario 3D Land, the tail was there, hinting at the most iconic image of what is arguably Mario’s greatest outing. Since then, Nintendo revealed that the tail is simply everywhere in the game. Bowser has a tail, Goombas have tails, Boos have tails…. Even Bullet Bills (the already flying bullets) have tails. I imagine it took a great deal of restraint for the staff at Nintendo to refrain from giving Paratroopas and Calamari tails as well.

It doesn’t end there, though. The plot also revolves around tails, or at least their source: Power Leaves. Apparently, a storm blows the leaves off a tree near Princess Peach’s castle and spreads them throughout the Mushroom Kingdom, justifying the sudden rash of raccoon tails throughout the game.

The leaves have even found their way into another game: Mario Kart 7. The latest entry in the popular racing series features new hang-glider and submarine segments where drivers soar above the race track and cruise beneath the waves. You’d be mistaken, however, if you assumed tails affected a driver’s flight. They simply allow players to spin and deflect incoming shells.

At the very least, Nintendo could have thrown the tail into 3D Land as an occasional but welcome bonus like the Red Star in Mario Galaxy, which granted players a full minute of blissful flight. Instead, 3D Land‘s gameplay appears to be at odds with its own marketing. The former attempts to bridge the classic 2D approach of New Super Mario Bros. with the eclectic 3D approach of Galaxy, while the latter attempts to appeal to our nostalgia in a very shallow way. Nintendo should have designed the game completely around what makes the tail so special in the first place if they wanted to win over its fans as it’s obviously not confident 3D Land will sell very well on its own merit.

Fans of traditional Mario won’t be fooled by these imposter tails, especially with all the media Nintendo has put out demonstrating just how little they understand of the the power-up’s appeal. 3D Land will only sell to those who would have bought any Mario game (granted they own a 3DS) rather than those who buy the classically inspired 2D variants in such numbers that shelves are devoid of Nintendo consoles for weeks on end. Sure, that’s still a fair amount of people, but with 3DS in the situation that it’s in, I imagine it will take more than marketing gimmicks for even Mario to save Nintendo’s hide.

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