Wait, what? If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Video game critics and fans took to Twitter following the announcement, clearly baffled by the strange restrictions. The limited availability gimmick is extending to “Super Mario Bros. 35” too (which turns the classic Super Mario Bros. into a battle royale), as well as to certain tie-in events running through to March 2021.
The language used by Nintendo hasn’t made things much clearer. A news release from the company states that “Super Mario 3D All Stars” will be delisted from the eShop on “approximately” Mar. 31, 2021. “Super Mario Bros. 35” is only playable from Oct. 1 to the end of March, as detailed in that same news release and in the Nintendo Direct.
From a branding standpoint, these releases are meant as a celebration of the “Super Mario Bros.” 35th anniversary. Still, it’s mind-boggling to have them release for a few months, only to be taken down from the Nintendo eShop and removed from retail stores at a later date.
Having limited or scarce production of physical copies can sometimes turn a game into a collectible. Limited Run Games, a publisher that often teams up with indies, for example, has based its business model off that idea and releases physical games that sell out quick. But extending a model like that to a digital storefront makes little sense.
Nintendo’s approach is reminiscent of the “Disney Vault,” a term coined to describe Disney’s policy around releasing home videos, where they would be placed on the market temporarily and then removed until a subsequent timed rerelease. Of course, “Super Mario 64,” “Super Mario Sunshine” and “Super Mario Galaxy” all originally came out years ago. But I wouldn’t be surprised if these titles returned in a more permanent fashion later on, after the temporary availability. The question is when — and why not just release them permanently from the get-go?
Several motivators and reasons are possible: It could be somewhat of a “demo,” giving players a taste of these games and then using that to bolster Nintendo Switch Online subscriptions (which run players $19.99 for 12 months) especially if a new emulator service is introduced down the line. It’s also possible that these titles, if they do reappear at a later date, will be sold separately with bigger, individual price tags. The latter could be especially frustrating for adopters of “Super Mario 3D All Stars,” who would have to purchase these games again if they want them individually.
Previously, on the Wii U and Wii consoles, users could purchase and download older games from bygone platforms via the Virtual Console, an official software emulator on the Wii Shop. The store was discontinued, however, and so was the emulation service, which has not transferred over to the Nintendo Switch in the same robust fashion. Instead, the Switch launched in 2017 without any way to play older games, and only a couple years later both SNES and NES titles were made available for free to Nintendo Switch Online subscription holders.
“Super Mario 64,” “Super Mario Sunshine,” “Super Mario Galaxy” and the new Mario battle royale on Switch are all exciting announcements. But it’s difficult to understand Nintendo’s approach here, and it’s soured some players on an otherwise exciting news day.
The Washington Post has reached out to Nintendo for comment, and will update this article accordingly should we receive official comment.