E3: New Super Mario Bros. 2 and the fabricated scarcity of gold coins.


It’s sometimes said that scarcity is what gives a thing value. Super Mario Bros. levels offered a model of this balance between scarcity and value, both determined by the game’s designers. The 100 coin benchmark for achieving an extra life had such immediate meaning precisely because of the scarcity of coins, never too far apart, and yet rarely appearing as more than isolated bunches. At E3 Nintendo showed off New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the 3DS, a game built around the desire to do away with scarcity. 

The game asks players to collect a million gold coins and each level has been adjusted accordingly, giving out bounties of coins in clusters as big as 30. The search for increasingly large volumes of coins recasts the experience of each level as a gluttonous inhalation, which, ironically, leaves players impossibly far away from the goal even after seeming to have gotten every possible one. 

Nintendo has designed a new mode of powering up Mario to aid in the incessant coin hunt with the golden flower. This implement turns Mario gold and lets him shoot a magical fireball that transforms enemies and bricks into gold coins. Each level becomes less about locomotion and discovery and is more about discovering how the precious commodity can be culled from the otherwise useless platforms.

In New Super Mario Bros. 2, scarcity comes not from the commodity, finally, but from the satisfaction its able to produce. You can soak in literally every single coin one of the demo stages has to offer and still be hundreds of thousands of coins away from the distant goal, the discovery of the one coin that finally means more than all the others, if only because it will be the last one you ever have to worry about collecting.