SMB Crossover: Balance & Design Space
Monday, May 3, 2010 at 5:35PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Balance, Design Space, Indie, Review, SMB Crossover, Variation
Followers of the Critical-Gaming blog know that I am a Super Mario Bros expert. I started by breaking down Super Mario Brothers mechanics, moved on to its suspended design elements, and finished with a series analysis that covered 7 of the most well known 2D Mario platformers. Super Mario Brothers for the NES is still one of the greatest games of all time, which makes it perfect for teaching and illustrating various game design concepts. Interestingly enough, one of the best ways to learn how good SMB's mechanics and level design is is to play as Link, Samus, or even Mega Man.

Super Mario Bros. Crossover (SMBC) is the result of the dedicated and explosive mind of Jay Pavlina. The game is essentially the original Super Mario Bros. with the option to play as 5 other characters from other game series. The concept is simple enough to understand at a glance, so I won't belabor the point. As you can imagine, this game is one of the greatest games of all time. I'm being mildly facetious here. Though it's nearly perfect and polished, Jay did copy/borrow/steal (however you want to think about it) the copyrighted work of highly successful games from highly successful companies. I figure SMBC is about to 2-5% original content. What reflects positively on Jay is his sense of balance and the excellently crafted adaptations of the 5 new characters.
To begin, I'll briefly cover discrepancies I found. Super Mario Bros. Crossover isn't exactly a perfect translation of Super Mario Bros. The following is a list of minor glitches and/or incongruous details.
Now I want to cover the brilliant character design. The three areas I want to focus on are character size, movement, and power up abilities. 
Click image to enlarge.
In the image above notice how Mario and Link are the same size, Samus and Bill are about the same size, and Mega Man and Simon are in between. We know that Mario lives in a world that's mostly quantified by the brick unit. Mario is a brick big, and Big Mario is two bricks tall. This is why the new comers may automatically feel like they're somewhat out of place. Their various sizes that extend just above or below the perfect brick by brick measure makes them look out of place. Furthermore, because SMB is a platforming game, the actual size of the character affects whether you hit something above you, fit into a small space, or dodge an incoming enemy. In other words, if you don't see the different small changes in size make, you'll feel the change in the gameplay. Of course, all of these actions are largely dependent on how your character moves.
Click image to enlarge.

Like or hate the movement of any particular character, the discussion wouldn't be complete without considering their offensive/powerup/special abilities. 

Click image to enlarge.
There are several additional key design decisions that really support Jay's 2-5% original content/design.


The final points I want to end off on are issues of balance and design space. Mario's classic gameplay is mostly made up of 3 layers; Mario (the player character), the level structures, and the enemies. Take Mario and put in any other character, and you'll still have challenges that are mostly Super Mario Bros. challenges. What I find immensely enjoyable about Super Mario Bros. Crossover is how the same layers of level and enemies create very similar, familiar, yet new challenges when played using different characters. Surprisingly, even the projectile heavy characters that can demolish bricks and enemies from afar still yield very Mario like moments/gameplay challenges. It's like magic. You can discover more Marioness out of SMB by playing other characters. Who would have thought? And the best part is, as I've highlighted in this article, every character takes up a unique design space size, movement, and ability wise. I guess that only comes naturally when you plug in characters from completely different games. 

I'm afraid that this game won't last forever on the internet. So grab a piece of history and learn about SMB's history before it's too late. 

Update on Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 12:39AM by Registered CommenterRichard Terrell (KirbyKid)

A quick video I made of some neat tricks/plays. 

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