Is Nintendo Playing It too Safe with Mario's Content?
Editorials / Features
When it comes to mechanics, Nintendo have always been great at changing them around. Each Mario game (bar maybe New Super Mario Bros and the Lost Levels) add a new mechanic or ten, and switch around vast chunks of the gameplay. But what about the content, the worlds, the level themes, the enemies and the bosses? Well truth be told, it seems those DON'T get enough change and variety.

This is a problem. Each new Mario 2D platformer has kinda lost any incentive to change the core structure and content around. Remember how in the old days, each 2D Mario platformer would be add all new world themes and level archtypes? You had SMB 3, with the Koopalings, airships and distinct worlds, Super Mario World with a more natural feel in the prehistoric setting of Dinosaur Land, and the Mario Land games with all kinds of weird and somewhat gimmicky ideas... but after that, it just seems to have stopped.

Comparison of areas:

Super Mario Bros 3
  1. Grass Land
  2. Desert Land
  3. Water Land
  4. Giant Land
  5. Sky Land
  6. Ice Land
  7. Pipe Land
  8. Dark Land

New Super Mario Bros

  1. Grass Land
  2. Desert Land
  3. Water Land
  4. Forest
  5. Ice Land
  6. Mountain
  7. Sky Land
  8. Dark Land

New Super Mario Bros Wii

  1. Grass Land
  2. Desert Land
  3. Ice Land
  4. Water Land
  5. Forest
  6. Mountain
  7. Sky Land
  8. Dark Land
  9. World 9/Rainbow World

Basically, they've just become Super Mario Bros 3.5. New Super Mario Bros, despite adding two rather dull level archtypes (forest and cliffside), had nearly the same worlds as Super Mario Bros 3 (grass, desert, water, ice, clouds, dark land), and for the first three, they were even in the same ORDER. Then New Super Mario Bros Wii... do we get new ideas? Well gameplay wise, yes, but thematically no. We get a grass land... which is world 1, a desert... which is world 2... and this is all looking a bit familiar. Okay, they mix it up with ice as third and seaside as fourth, but ho hum, forest is next, world 6 is a cliff, world 7 is in the clouds and world 8 is Dark Land 3. It's like Nintendo can't stop trying to mimmick the entire structure of Super Mario Bros 3.

Now, I will admit, they livened it up a bit... the bosses are fantastic in the Wii game, especially the final Bowser fight, and it's got four player. Fair enough, but the rest seems just like a bit of a nostalgia trip. Same style of overworld as the last four games, same type of enemies with few additions, same flagpole as an ending symbol (change it around people, I liked the different endings the old games had for levels!) and such. I like they added cool power ups, but really, I think some new world themes would have done brilliantly.

Don't think the 3D games get a pass here either... note how every single one has had 120 shiny objects to collect, at least the first time around? It's almost like that's Nintendo's lucky number and they can't be bothered to change it.

Or that we still have a ridiculous amount of collectathon coin missions, and the same silver stars, and the same such stuff? Or that for three freaking games, we get Petey bloody Piranha or a carbon copy of him as the first boss?

Negative points for originality!

It's entirely possible to make these games better and more interesting. Ditch the stock environments found in every single platformer under the sun, and start up some new, clever ones like the NES and Game Boy games had. Remember how awesome Giant Land was back in Super Mario Bros 3? It was trying to be original.

Ground breaking all those years ago!

Or Pipe Maze?

Heck, look at the Mario Land games. The first one, however hated by some it may be, did at least try to change things around a bit with four all new, unique settings based on Egypt, the Bermuda Triangle, Easter Island and China.

Or Super Mario Land 2. I remember and loved the Pumpkin Zone there, being a whole world of haunted house levels! We don't see that much now, Luigi's Mansion the original game aside. Or what of the Mario Zone? Okay, the 3D games have toy worlds, but how many have a giant Mario robot? There was also the Macro Zone, the giant house Mario had to explore, the always cool looking Space Zone with a Tatanga reappearance, and the less exciting but still clever in their own way Tree and Turtle Zones.

Why have we never had a space world in a 2D game since? I thought Mario Galaxy would mean this would be MORE common, not less...

Oh I loved how it tried to keep the gameplay a bit fresh with actual, unique levels. No silly little grassy fields to run around with a changed background, each level had a unique point to it. The Pumpkin Zone had a cemetary, haunted house and witches lair, the Turtle Zone had a submarine and the inside of a whale and the Tree and Macro Zones actually took you to different places which fitted with the location on the map. Can't say that happens much any more, the high mountain areas in New Super Mario Bros Wii are about as standard and flat, and usually as safe as the ones near the base, with no real level geography difference. Really, apart from water levels, it seems many recent Mario games just seem to use the map as glorified background decoration, and your location on it never really seems to play into the level design and gimmicks themselves.

So what of 3D Mario games? Well to be honest, they're not much better here level wise. I mean, many good levels exist in them, but it seems like more of the interesting ones are the one off stars/shine sprite areas, while the standard traditional ones get the size and depth of Bob-omb Battlefield in Mario 64, Need examples? Look at the poor Slimy Spring and Flash Back Galaxies, with maybe two stars each, while rubbish like Starshine Beach is considered a 'full level' with three unique missions.

All the cool ones lose the 'importance in game' award. Just like Kingfin's galaxy being an one off mission in the original despite having the best boss fight...

I could also possibly note what may hurt Galaxy 1 and 2 is the same thing that makes them excellent... the innovation, with the designers often getting sidetracked by silly side gimmicks and ideas and not really exploring them enough. Poor, poor Shiverburn Galaxy, one mission packed with clever ideas needing a mission each, and getting two stars wasted by that *** Chimp moron and a 'kill all the enemies' mini game. Or how Melty Monster ended up becoming the unofficial 'ten pin bowling' galaxy rather than a proper fire one.

How is this lava related?

So how about an idea of a series with content innovation and archtypes done right? Well, some of the Donkey Kong series possibly. Okay, Jungle Beat went off the deep end and being an awful game almost entirely from not having enough from the previous ones, but Donkey Kong Country itself I'd say is a good example of changing a game just enough to keep the levels and content fresh.

All three had the same general mechanics, but they all went for a different feel, with different versions of old enemies to suit said feel and a different player character duo each. Okay, the last bit wouldn't work for the Mario series, but I think the general difference in feel per game would.

The first one felt like a tropical jungle paradise, albeit with some factories and such. All the enemies were generally jungle animals, all the bosses were and the music was more ambient.

Aw, peaceful overworld, nice levels.

The second one went straight for a darker and edgier, movie type epic pirate romp. All the enemies were pirate variants of the first game's foes, the music was nice and 'epic' to fit the mood and it all felt like a dangerous, heroic adventure through what was basically Mordor.

Creepy epic overworld, dangerous levels.

Finally, the third game (although opinion is mixed) was more calm, and from what I hear, felt more like you were in a European type setting. Forests, lakes, cliffs and mountains were the norm, there was a certain mad science theme to many of the enemies and the bosses and such all felt quirky.

Peaceful overworld and levels.

This is an example Mario could probably learn from a bit. Change up the level archtypes and settings each game, and go for a different overall feel each time. Too many recent games have just been 'standard Mario' sty;e.

Heck, you can even find this trend back in the NES days. You had the medieval fantasy style of the first game, the more arabian nights type style of Super Mario Bros 2 and the Mushroom World trotting style of the third game. Each was different, each was good in it's own way.

Structure could be varied too. Do we always need eight worlds per game? Why not ten, or twenty, or five? Do we really need three hits to the head per boss? Heck, here's a new one...

Do we need to collect things in a Mario game? Why not scrap the stars and such and go for a more mission based but still open kind of 3D game? And scrap the star coins and such and find a new way of giving better players challenges, maybe in the Wario Land Shake It and Punch Out Wii mission style.

Would it be so wrong to maybe have instead stuff like (for missions)... beat the level as Mini Mario? Or get all the coins? Or don't get hit?

Maybe make it half new enemies and half old enemies, with the new ones being plausible variants of classic ones in a different style? Mix up some old enemy attack patterns, like having loose Chain Chomps, Hammer Bros throwing three hammers at once or each Bullet Bills which go down or up?

A possible redesign.

Or Thwomps going up/left/right/diagonal like in Super Mario Bros 3?

And I'll leave with one thought...

What we need isn't another Super Mario Bros 3, but another Super Mario Land 2.

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