Castles, Fortresses, Ghost Houses Fallen From Grace
Editorials / Features
Remember the old days of 2D Mario games where you had a castle or fortress at the end of every world, and lots of traps and obstacles to overcome? How the final level used to be room upon room of awesome traps and gimmicks with eight little numbers over the doors and a hallway filled with Ninjis, or a giant hall filled with laser shooting statues?; Now do you notice something else, how no 3D Mario game has every really had a proper castle or ghost house in glorious 3D?

Super Mario 64 started off the trend. The Bowser levels, while technically closer to a traditional 2D Mario level than the rest of the game, never quite lived up to the castles and fortresses of the 2D games. There was no real flow or structure to these levels, just a random assortment of floating obstacles in mid air (albeit with two really nice backgrounds in the Dark World and Sky levels). What happened to castle levels with proper walls, lava pits, roto discs and fire bars since then? No 3D Mario game has ever just gave people what they wanted here.

Super Mario Sunshine shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath here, Corona Mountain was a fair old let down compared to the classic castle levels of old, and it wasn't even as well designed as the obstacle courses from 64, Galaxy and Galaxy 2. A volcano? Mud boats? Clouds? What is this, this isn't no realm fit for an evil Koopa King, this is a last minute throw in because the game was likely rushed for an earlier release date.

Galaxy and Galaxy 2 were admittedly closer. At least you can see clear castle walls and towers, and they did bring back the firebars from the original Super Mario Bros. But really, it's much the same thing, it's either an obstacle course with no real heart to it or 2D, almost as if Nintendo as some great problem with just providing a 3D castle experience. This is closest I'd say:

1:20:00 onwards is about as close as you'll sadly seem to get to a 3D Mario game even bothering to try and include a proper Bowser's Castle level. It's even called 'Breaking into Bowser's Castle' here, although it's not quite the same, and it's still sadly 2D.

But I don't really get why they can't make a castle or fortress level in the style of SMB 3 or SMW translated into 3D? I know 3D games and developers seem to have some mad obsession with open fields and boring old ocean scenes (and why not castles? Plenty of those in the real world to base your game designs on) But it seems all the exciting level types from 2D games never really seem to make it into 3D games in anywhere near as interesting ways. It's not a technology limitation, as I'll show later, it's either plain laziness or plain arrogance from the developers. What happened to proper airship levels for example when 3D came along? You can do so much with airships in 3D, especially with Galaxy's physics system and technical power, yet no one even seems to bother. Doesn't it bother anyone the best 3D airship level we have is still Airship Fortress from Mario Kart DS?

Why weren't the Galaxy 1 airships this epic?

Similarly, it's not like castles are technically impossible in 3D. I hear lots of rubbish like how 3D means levels should be less epic and detailed than in 2D because of this or that limitation (usually used to refer to towns and cities in RPGs and adventure games being smaller than your standard English small village), but the Mario Kart series has perfectly adequate castle levels which could quite easily be refitted into levels for a future 3D platformer. Look at the 64, Double Dash and Wii versions and then tell me how a proper Bowser's Castle level is 'impossible':

Note, I'm not playing in any of these videos, so I don't take responsibility for the users being practically horrible at Mario games, but wouldn't these be good bases for a future Bowser level in a Mario game? Add some firebars here, some Ball and Chains over there, some Roto Discs, some Dry Bones around the place, some Hammer Bros in that room and some Boos in another one and you've what's far closer to a proper 'castle' level than say, Bowser in the Sky or Bowser's Lava Lair. I remember someone (oh come on! -Ed.) saying how Creepy Castle in Donkey Kong 64 could be a good basis for such a level as well, just with some lava added and such. They're right.

Another good place to look for what a castle should be like might be the Legend of Zelda series. Ganon's Tower in Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, as well as Hyrule Castle in Twilight Princess is, while still smaller than the 2D equivalents (God, Dark Hyrule Castle in Minish Cap was massive), are fairly close to what a true to form Bowser's Castle level could look like.

It's not just castles and forts that get the short end of the stick though, as the title of the article itself should show. Ghost houses too really just never captured the 'mansion' feel in the 3D games compared to what they had in the 2D ones. Maybe it's because in 3D you could tell just how big the place really is from the outside, but haunted houses in 3D platformers tend to be really, really small compared to in reality or even in the source material.

Remember the best ghost house in Mario history? Probably Luigi's Mansion to be honest, and do you know why? Because it's the only ghost house which really feels like it's a mansion to explore. Big Boo's Haunt is a great level, but it's the size of your standard suburban house bar the basement and there's just something very cold and clinical about the level design. Maybe it's all the metal walls and floors and general style, in that it seems like a place no one could really live in. Luigi's Mansion was a game, I know, but even a level the size of one of the floors with an outside area would feel more like a 'mansion' than much of the Mario game 3D ghost houses do. Super Mario Sunshine? Good bosses in Sirena Beach, but a haunted hotel with Piantas is just not particularly scary or menacing.

The above is truly a haunted house.

Okay, it doesn't quite live up to the brochure Luigi received (let's face it though, don't trust letters saying you won mansions in lotteries you never entered):

Above, E Gadd shows how not to ghost hunt, and Mario gets kidnapped in an absurd display of cutscene incompetence. Of course, amyone else wish actual ghost hunting was more like Luigi's Mansion? Forget Most Haunted or those crappy pseudo science shows, it'd be more interesting going around with a vacuum cleaner (with flame thrower and water gun functionality), shouting for Mario and investigating every minor thing with your nervous steps.

In contrast, many of the later haunted houses never really got anywhere near close to the feel of the above. Ghostly Galaxy in Super Mario Galaxy looks the part, but you never really seem to explore the place very much in any way, and most of the building is taken up by huge rooms rather than hallways, side rooms and exploration. In mission 2 or 3 it's apparently closer if you can glitch into the top part of the building.

Galaxy 2 basically gave up with the Haunty Halls Galaxy, although the Boo Moon Galaxy had a lot of very nice ghost house type sections.

But will Nintendo ever make a castle or fortress of the quality of those in the 2D games, or a haunted house even approaching the quality of Luigi's Mansion? Doubt it, they seem too obsessed with trying to replicate a boring old near empty field in 3D or another bloody beach level based off of Super Mario Sunshine.

And now, some examples of the castle levels which in my opinion suceeded:

As well as those that did not:

Oh when will Nintendo make a proper castle, fortress or ghost house in a 3D game?

~Waluigious: Probably when we're all dead. Good night, kids!

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