Why Do Japanese Gamers Not Take To 3D Mario?

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The original Super Mario Galaxy has been very successful, with 8.84 million units sold worldwide as of March 2010. However, if you divide those sales up by region, Japan only accounts for 1.01 million units, while the overseas markets account for the remaining 7.83 million.


New Super Mario Bros. Wii, on the other hand, has sold over 3.6 million units in Japan, and is still selling. By now, it’s fairly common knowledge that 2D Mario games tend to be better-received in Japan than their 3D counterparts, but one has never managed to settle on any one single explanation for the phenomenon. A popular theory is that 3D platformers in general tend not to be popular in Japan, due to that audience’s well-documented tendency to develop motion-sickness from fast-moving games.


Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has another theory to add.


“As we see it, one reason why a number of people who love 2D Mario do not want to play 3D Mario appears to be because they are afraid to be lost in the 3D world by not knowing the exact directions, while they feel that they can play with 2D Mario with no such issues,” Iwata explained to investors, during a financial results briefing.


“One of the development themes of the original Super Mario Galaxy was to create a 3D world where people may not be easily lost, and the spherical shape was adopted as the game play theme for this reason,” he continued.


While not brought up at the briefing, development team EAD Tokyo also struggled with making Galaxy accessible to those with motion-sickness. Takao Shimizu, the game’s producer, suffered from motion-sickness himself, and personally playtested the game frequently, advising the team on how to change camera angles in a way that would reduce the effect.


Unfortunately, there was no way to eliminate the effect entirely, given the nature of the game, and it would appear the same applies to Galaxy’s world design. “However, when we look at the Japanese sales, I do not think that we were able to effectively tackle this challenge with the original,” Iwata concluded.


So, how are Nintendo changing Super Mario Galaxy 2 to accommodate this discomfort with wide-open 3D spaces? For starters, they’re including a DVD titled “Super Mario Galaxy 2 for beginners” with every Japanese and European copy of the game. While it’s not the most streamlined approach, they hope the videos included on the DVD will show people “how to enjoy playing with Mario in the 3D world.”

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Image of Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.