It's common practice among game publishers to churn out yearly entries in a popular series, employing one of their most talented studios to buff its critical reputation to a shine every two years and then recruiting a B team to fill in the gaps by copying from a game design cheat-sheet. Infinity Ward and Treyarch. Criterion and Black Box. Ubisoft Montreal and Ubisoft Montreal.
The shocking thing isn't that Nintendo's Super Mario series - once the byword for creativity, a sacred cow of game design that could reliably be expected to change everything, every time - has become one of those factory-made annual franchises. It's that the developers working under Shigeru Miyamoto at the company's Kyoto headquarters - the team that made this latest outing on 3DS - is now the reserve squad.
In the late 2000s, Mario moved house. It was a different outfit, led by Yoshiaki Koizumi and Koichi Hayashida and based in Tokyo, that created the cosmically dizzying Super Mario Galaxy games for Wii. By the end of the sequel, they were exploring the farthest reaches of the platform game in a ceaseless parade of surreal spatial ideas. In last year's Super Mario 3D Land, they achieved a perfect synthesis of the taut traditions of the 2D 'Bros.' games with the freewheeling invention of the Super Mario 64 line, and created the best portable Mario game ever. Mario never looked back.