We've come to the end of The Measure of Mario article series. I have worked very hard to detail the layers of Mario's gameplay so that we all can understand Mario better. In case you were wondering, here's how I currently rank the Mario games.
Though I can and certainly have backed up my rank list with comparative, objective examples, at the end of of the day my list reflects my preferences in specific types of gameplay. I love action and making decisions in real time. I love challenges, and how Mario is designed in layers so that the challenge is emergent with deep, subtle variations. I also love creative and intricate game ideas that are created out of a level's functional possibilities rather than visual aesthetics. SMB3 has all of these things more so than any other 2D Mario game. At the same time, I love playing with other people. I've waited most of my whole life for a Mario game that I can play with my brother without having to take turns. For these reasons, NSMBWii ranks high on my list.
The more I think about it, the exact order of my list shifts around. This is not to mention that I need to finish playing NSMBWii solo. For the most part, each Mario game "does the Mario" in a very unique way. I feel that it's more important to understand these games and specifically what elements contribute to your opinion than to worry about how one ranks against the other.
Breaking down the games and putting everything in perspective is something that doesn't come naturally or easily. Even if you've played all the Mario games before, unless you've recently gone back and played them all as I have, there's bound to be much that you've forgotten or simply never knew in the first place.
With thousands of words of research behind us, we now have the ability to effectively debunk erroneous statements about Mario. Take Jeremy Parish's comments from his reviews of NSMBWii, NSMB DS, and his comments from episode 81 of The Retronauts podcast.
Here's what Parish said about NSMB DS.
In terms of aesthetics, NSMB is pure Super Mario Bros. 3 -- everything from the level designs to the characters look like they were taken straight from the NES. Even the worlds themselves are practically cribbed directly from SMB3.
- Not quite. NSMB takes its structural design from SMB, SMB3, and SMW. Its art style is is a mix of the 3 games as well with its use of blocky design, flatter colors, and detailed backgrounds.
For the most part, NSMB lacks that inspiration, the ability to defy your expectations and make you gasp in surprise.
- There's a lot that was surprising in NSMB for me. There are some completely new ideas and a lot of creative extensions/combinations of older ideas. The ability to defy expectations is all about variation and development. Just like the previous Mario game, NSMB takes the familiar and mixes it in with the new to hide secrets and possibilities in new ways.
But in the process, they've undermined Mario's tradition of innovation. The new power-ups are decent, but they lack the manic genius of SMB3's special suits -- the Turtle Shell is a poor substitute for the Hammer Bros. Suit, the Mega Mushroom is inherently limited, and the Micro Mushroom is too weak to be of use for normal play. There's nothing as practical as the Tanooki Suit or as utterly fun as the Kuribo Shoe. In fact, you'll spend most of the game using the boring ol' Fire Flower. The new enemies are generally ugly and seem out of place next to the traditional Goombas and Koopa Troopas...
- "Manic genius." I'm not sure what Parish meant by that, however, the Blue Shell powerup is more like the Hammer Bros. Suit, Frog Suit, and Tanooki Suit all in one. Like I said in the powerup article, I doubt even a player like Parish knew about all of Shell Mario's intricacies when he wrote the review.
- Yes, the Mega Mushroom is limited, but it also has a clear function of allowing players to adjust the difficulty of many levels and all bosses. You could say the same for the Frog Suit from SMB3. It's clunkly movement on land makes it only practical underwater, and there are only a few levels in the game with lot of water to swim around in.
- Yes, the Mini Mushroom is difficult to wield, but that's precisely the point. The level designers have been struggling for many Mario games on a way to make certain areas/secrets only accessible to Small Mario. The developers of SMB:LL played around with this idea, but ultimately found forcing players to hurt themselves or rewarding them for making mistakes was counter intuitive to the powerup design. So, the designers made the Mini Mushroom and mini pipes to solve this problem. Also, Mini Mario has many emergent progression uses that are very interesting including augmented platforming and WALL JUMPing abilities.
I figured Mario would be running and jumping and tossing fireballs in a left-to-right direction until the end of time, and my friends and I wrote off Mario World for being uninspired.
- Seems like Parish has written off NSMB in the same way.
With all of that said about NSMB, Parish turns around years later and raves about NSMBWii's design even for the solo player. We know from this series that NSMBWii's design is the most like NSMB in every way (mechanics, structures, enemies, coins, and secrets). So how does Parish make such a small difference seem like such a big one? Lets see.
What makes the game great is the way it recaptures the sense of effortless creativity that the best Mario games have always possessed -- something sorely lacking in the first NSMB -- and the way in which that breezy spirit of invention is presented so accessibly.
- I find this statement interesting. Just like NSMB DS, NSMBWii takes many of the ideas from previous games and combines/extends them while adding new elements into the mix. He even admits it in the following quote.
The real strength of NSMB Wii isn't that it incorporates every great idea from 20 years of Mario games into a satisfying whole;
Ultimately, though, the greatest compliment you can pay NSMB Wii is that it feels like the perfect expression of the classic Mario style: It's the true sequel to Super Mario World we've been clamoring for all these years.
- By the similarities in design approach of NSMB DS and NSMBWii, I would think that NSMB DS is the "true sequel to SMW." Since I've played through the DS game, I've been waiting for a way to share a similar experience with my brother (because handheld games especially tend to be very solo, isolated affairs). So I've been specifically clamoring for NSMBWii because of NSMB.
The way in which the game smoothly scales to accommodate any number of players without actually changing the content of a given level is especially impressive...
- Here it seems that Parish comments on the (p)layered design of NSMBWii. But scaling isn't the same as (p)layered dynamics or level design. The ?-blocks release a powerup per player and the camera can pan out significantly to keep as many players on the screen as long as possible. These are mostly design features of NSMBWii's accommodating scaling. I understand that this is a short and sweet review, but I still can only comment on what's here. And from what's here, I don't get the impression that Parish fully grasps NSMBWii's (p)layered design.
Jeremy Parish is a great writer, reviewer, and overall games man. I don't blame him for any lack of research or understanding on this massive and rich game series. I'm curious more than anything to know what he thinks now of the Mario games or of this article series. But before I move on, I'd like to point out a few short sighted comments from another writer.
Without going into detail, the game I have the biggest problem with is New Super Mario Bros. The new mechanics that were added weakened and undermined the overall gameplay. Abilities like wall kicking turn what would be a threatening, dangerous pit into fun holes where players can wall kick in and out of to their hearts content. The triple jump, which originated from Mario 64 (a 3D platfomer), feels out of place in the limited and scrunched 2D world that was made to fit on a Nintendo DS screen. Because the level design in New Super Mario Bros. was so heavily inspired by the original, the developers have decided to remove the liberating vertical scrolling from the game. Without much flexibility vertically, the triple jump loses a lot of its practical use. Because of the poor design choices in New Super Mario Bros. the game feels like a watered down "Mario experience" rather than a solid platforming video game.
If you're a long time fan of Critical-Gaming and you have an exceptional memory, you know that this quote is taken from a Mario article I wrote July 6, 2008. Though it's true that the WALL JUMP mechanic makes many pits much less threatening, as I have said in the first part of this series about undermining mechanics, it is important to consider the new ways the game creates challenges as opposed to focusing on all the old types of challenges that can be undermined.
The triple jump may be much harder to use in NSMB than in Super Mario 64 or NSMBWii because of NSMB's tight environments, but it's not without its uses. Some levels are much more open than others and facilitate triple jumping. Finally, the extra height on the 3rd jump can be especially useful for accessing areas that would otherwise need special powerups to access. Beyond these applications, the triple jump isn't a core mechanic. It's an extra, expressive touch players can execute for flourish. Therefore, designing obstacles that require the triple jump to surmount would go against the design aim of the mechanic.
My first play through NSMB was a fairly smooth one mainly because of how easy it is compared to other Mario games. I had not dived completely into the game when I talked about it as being "watered down." Also, I didn't go into detail at the time because I couldn't. Notice how I had to resort to talking about how the game "feels" instead of pin pointing any specific elements of design.
I try to keep myself as critical and thorough as possible, but I do make mistakes.
Thanks for staying with me throughout this long series. Not counting any of the linked to content, this series is over 26k words! I'm convinced now that the 2D Mario games are the greatest action games ever created. I'm working on another final exam like I did with the Mario Melodies series. If you have any questions, send them my way.
I wonder what series I should do next? Metroid? Zelda? What do you think?