You know, a lot of people don’t really get the fact that our favorite plumber hasn’t been that great over the last few years.
Fred had a great run as our plumber, but he’s getting careless- some days he doesn’t bother to show up — hold on. I just received a call from the editor’s office.
Okay, my editor just called me with a clarification. Apparently, you DON’T want to hear why Fred is a lackluster employee that somehow remains in the plumbing industry. Can’t really imagine why, personally. I was looking forward to sharing the story of how his not caring anymore has affected my life. He’s informed me “our favorite plumber” is Mario, the video game character.
Since the beginning of the eighth generation of consoles, Mario has been on a run that’s been rather mediocre. Starting with “New Super Mario Bros U,” the moustached man disappointed his fans. Those fans wanted a brand new 3D Mario in the same style of the Wii’s “Super Mario Galaxy” or the Gamecube’s “Super Mario Sunshine.” Instead, the game they got was a 2D platformer that was solid on it’s own grounds, but looked and played similarly to the previous New Super Mario Bros games. Almost too similarly. Good thing Nintendo thought of that, as instead of being kidnapped, Princess Toadstool Peach was trapped in the castle by Bowser and crew.
Obviously, that’s the change the series desperately needed. Heck, that’s enough innovation for the decade, let alone one generation.
“Super Mario 3D World” kind of agrees with that sarcastic saying, which is slightly scary. It’s still the same story as the main Mario formula, but it replaces the Princess as the victim with original fairy characters. There’s two ways to look at this.
You could be of the opinion that this is a cheap way to attempt a revitalization of the formula, while also opening the Princess up as a playable character. And, well, you’d be correct.
But you could also have the mindset that Mario’s adventures don’t have to be all that deep, and opening a spot on the roster is a good thing. Again, you’d be correct.
How is this so? How can the negative mindset and the enthusiastic one BOTH be correct? There’s a happy medium Nintendo has to hit. Which brings us to point one.
The story can be thin, but the environments should be imaginative.
You get the sense that a lot of critics of Mario’s latest adventures, this writer included are just bored of the same backgrounds. The plumber used to have two distinct series. The first is the classic 2D platformer that has backgrounds that slightly different and pretty much exclusively cosmetic. In “New Super Mario Bros” games, the platforming is pretty much the same no matter what world you’re in. lava, bottomless pits, and purple soda goo all serve the same purpose. Instant death. Spikes, quicksand and snow hazards all serve for obstacles you can escape. Enemies don’t really differ outside of the castle areas, and even ice only impacts your control a bit.
The 3D series had very little of the cosmetic monotony present in the recent 2D games. The GameCube installment was more spectacle driven with a new, fresh mechanic called FLUDD. The Galaxy games on Wii took place in space, which is about as far from “World 2- Desert” as you can get. Mario 64… didn’t really do this, but it did do something present a little later.
You know what other game didn’t do this? Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U. Despite being 3D-ish in the way “Pac-Man World” on the PS1 is, it (with the exception of a couple worlds late) generally goes back to the classic world templates, making it seem like you’ve played it before. As someone who has played nearly every main series Mario title, this writer got tired of “3D World” very quickly. Famous Nintendo icon and Mario Creator Shigeru Miyamoto said himself that the game was intended to “bridge the gap” between 2D and 3D Mario, which is a fine concept, but Nintendo already released a 2D game to the Wii U and to this day has STILL not released a proper 3D game starring Mario and Luigi since the Wii.
How does Nintendo avoid the same monotony on the new Mario Switch? They can make a game that uses unique, memorable settings and backdrops that are both faithful to the history of Mario and new. “Super Mario 64″ did a good job of this, but other games they could look to for inspiration are as follows.
“Pac-Man World 2” has worlds that are similar to the typical Mario formula, at first glance. However, the areas were far more in-depth, with obstacles that seemed natural and legitimately dangerous. Those levels are cool to take tips from if they want to go more linear.
“Hyrule Warriors” is a different genre entirely, but the open-world atmosphere of each individual stage is something Mario games can look to get some style from. It could be cool to look at a darker setting.
“Spongebob: Battle for Bikini Bottom” has great diversity in its world’s and again, similar to PMW2, each world feels unique and has natural-feeling obstacles and goals. These levels are great examples of open-world 3D platforming levels.
“Cars-Mater National,” yes, based on the Pixar movie, has a fantastic open-world hub with familiar faces and mini-games, plus a ton to collect, if they decide to go that route. This is a great idea for a template for a hub world.
“Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga” and “Shantae and the Pirates Curse” both have great dialogue from NPC’s. They can incorporate this into a new Mario game with no question.
They can use some features from each of these games, plus a bit from each Mario 3D game of the past to create something truly new and unique.
Collection vs Mission-Based Platforming
Mario games have experimented with both these styles of platforming gameplay, with Mario 64 and Mario Galaxy being more mission based (similar to Battle for Bikini Bottom), and New Super Mario Bros/Mario 3D Land/World games being collectible-based. (Similar to the first two Pac-Man World games.)
It seems like they’re intent on making 3D Mario games more Mission based, in which case they should take inspiration from the Heavy Iron Spongebob games, where you can warp to any world or mission from the pause menu after you’ve visited the world or mission once. If you’ve gone to Delfino Plaza and witnessed Luigi explain you need to rescue 5 toads from the world, you should be able to go to that mission whenever you want, not just at certain situations like in Mario 64. It’s a great system that would work very well in Mario.
Nintendo will likely do a great job as usual with both Graphics and Music. It’s more the charm and gameplay style that they need to nail for Mario’s jump to the new platform. Let’s hope it’s great.