The subtitle of the article is "'Splosion Man vs. New Super Mario Bros. Wii: which is really the better platformer?" Unfortunately, it isn't practical to evaluate these games firsthand. The first is available only on XBox Live Arcade and the second is only available on the Wii. Since I only own the Wii platformer, I'm somewhat biased toward Mario's game. But there are objective measurements of each game's quality. At this moment, Metacritic lists New Super Mario Bros. Wii at 87 with a User Score of 9.1. Splosion Man boasts the same User Score and has a very good Metascore of 84. Looking at Game Rankings produces similar numbers (88.50% vs. 85.74%). The wisdom of the crowds suggests Mario has a slightly better game.
Other games mentioned in the editorial also earned high Metascores. For the sake of comparison, here are the top platformers released in 2009 according to Metacritic:
Braid (PS3) 94
Braid (PC) 90
Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time 87
New Super Mario Bros. Wii 87
LittleBigPlanet (PSP) 87
PixelJunk Eden Encore 86
LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias 86
Splosion Man 84
NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits 82
Patapon 2 81
Braid was originally released on XBox360 in 2008, so it really should be out of consideration for 2009. Splosion Man does not show up in the Metacritic search as it's listed as "Action, Adventure". In any case, Splosion Man does not stand out in any particular way.
Now there are problems with simple review scores. These are vastly different games. One could argue NSMBW gets an unfair advantage since it's a MARIO game. Actually reading some reviews shows that being a Mario game has hurt it's review scores. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the game could be reskinned as a new set of characters in a new world. (How about Jumpman Rescue Team?) Meanwhile, Splosion Man clearly earns extra credit for it's a) lower price, b) independant developer, c) original character, d) platform (which is fairly light on platformers), and e) edgier content. Of these, price is the only variable a Mario title can really change.
So let's talk price. Like any consumer product, software must follow the laws of supply and demand—higher demand and lower supply result in higher prices. But unlike most goods, software supply is virtually infinite. Therefor software companies, such as Nintendo, artificially control supply by setting prices. All other variable the same, lower priced games sell better than higher priced games. Since the goal of game developers is to maximize profits, games tend to be priced as high as possible without killing demand. When demand starts falling, game prices start falling as well. Since New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the best selling title that doesn't have "Modern Warfare" in it's title, it's fair to say the price is right for consumers. No matter what any particular consumer feels, those are the facts.
While we are at it, comparing the price of a retail game to a downloadable game is staggeringly naïve. For one thing, manufacturing and packaging cost an extra $3 or so. Distribution costs are substantially higher for physical media and may be more than the full price on an online game. From the perspective of consumer value, physical disks add real value that may be transfered either through the used market or simply by being available for loan to friends and family. On Amazon, you can sell your copy of New Super Mario Bros. Wii for about $30. In addition, retail games may be rented for less than the price of an online game. Since downloadable games are priced much lower, they may be a good value if you intend to keep and play the game for the life of your console. Otherwise, you may be better off with the traditional distribution model. In either case, price tags can not be compared directly.
Now we can look at the three "Exhibits" the editorial lists:
Exhibit A: 'Splosion Man is more original
Certainly Splosion Man is a new and very original character compared to Mario who has been jumping around for 28 years. However, originality does not equate with quality. If anything, the Mario brand has become a reliable indicator of quality that few other franchises can match. He has certainly not followed the path of Sonic in this game. How many games does Splosion Man have in him before his act gets old? And while we are on the subject, doesn't Splosion Man remind you of someone else:
Exhibit B: 'Splosion Man does four-player online co-op
While this is certainly true and I haven't actually played Splosion Man, multiplayer in New Super Mario Bros. Wii seems a different beast altogether. For one thing, each of the levels may be played solo, cooperatively or competitively using one of two scoring systems. Levels in Splosion Man are divided between solo and co-op levels. From what I've seen and read, all players of the XBox game need to be experienced in order to make it through the co-op levels. Common to many Wii games, unequal players can have fun playing as Mario, Luigi and the Toads. Certainly "Exhibit B" is a point in favor of the newcomer, but only if you care about playing online and don't care to play with non-gamers.
Exhibit C: 'Splosion Man offers more content for a fraction of the price
We've already dealt with the price to an extent, but I find the statistics very misleading. For one thing, all 77 levels in the Mushroom Kingdom are playable by 1 to 4 players. I've played through Level 1-1 dozens of times both alone and with others and I'm only now losing interest in it, even when I'm watching others play. Later levels are even more clever, challenging and entertaining. Only half of the levels in the Big Science Labs are playable single player and the other half are strictly multiplayer. No doubt it's exciting to speed run the levels, but I'm pretty sick of watching Splosion Man wall jump. Honestly, I have a very hard time imagining Splosion Man offering significantly more content than New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Level counts only work if the levels have more or less equal depth.
The dig at the Wii's technical ability is totally gratuitous. Hopefully I don't need to explain why that bit of flambait ought to be ignored.
I can see where journalists come from when they declare Nintendo lazy or cheap. Many of the features nearest and dearest to them have been left out of the most popular Wii titles. Features that mean nothing to them have been substituted. It's a bitter truth, but Nintendo no longer needs to cater to the HARDCORE in order to sell games. For better of worse, these gamers have outgrown Nintendo after all these years. If you are listening: please don't try to rob the joy the rest of us are experiencing from the current lineup of Wii games.