So. The grand-daddy of video games finally rears its ugly head on this blog. I figured I should cover some of the other classics aside from Zelda- although Zelda has been this month's focus, for obvious reasons. (OMGWTFBBQ 1 MOAR DAY). Here he is, folks, Mario.
It's hard to really explain Mario- it's a precision platformer. Well, never mind, I guess. That's pretty much exactly what Mario is. Mario has changed a great deal since his first iteration, though platforming has always been his focus. In the original games, it was all about using his limited move-set to get from the beginning to the end- in his 3D form, it's all about using his very wide move-set to complete various missions. (This is also why Super Mario Land 3D is so confusing to me.)
But anyway, I don't think it's any stretch to say that Mario is one of, if not the greatest icon of video gaming. That comes from the fact that he created a genre- the platformer, and no one else can really compare to the revolutions that Mario has made to that genre. However, the direction of recent Mario games have had an interesting quirk to them- they're not revolutionary. I guess this is kind of why I have a very odd opinion of Mario- I love me a good platformer, but sometimes Mario doesn't really seem like one.
Mario has been kind of stagnant as of late. He pretty much changed the game back around Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario 64, but since then, it's pretty much been gimmick upon gimmick. That's because honestly, Mario has pretty much capped. He has a wide variety of moves in his basic arsenal, and there's a ton of different enemies and level design aspects that have been created to work with his specific style of platforming. So the game designers have just altered the levels and left Mario pretty much unchanged.
Having my video game flower blossom in the time of the GameCube, I am a great fan of Super Mario Sunshine. Of course, any sequel to the fantastic Super Mario 64 would have been hotly anticipated, but this game was fantastic in pretty much every way. Harder, more innovative, and definitely more vibrant than its predecessor, Sunshine utilized Mario in every way that had been previously established in its annoyingly hard A Capella segments, but Fludd really took the plumber to new heights. The gimmick was pivotal and innovative enough to be missed when stolen- it felt as if Shadow Mario had cut off an arm when he took it. The gameplay mixed traditional Mario moves with the added issue of Fludd, washing off bosses before taking them down with a ground pound or something to that effect.
Of course, one of the highest rated games of the Wii's career is Super Mario Galaxy, which essentially uses the same method for success- add a "set powerup" to Mario's arsenal (the spin Luma) and integrate that into gameplay as much as possible. However, I am not very pleased with Galaxy's design, personally. The levels feel more like straight lines than open worlds- though there are one or two "playgrounds" there's also far too many levels that rely on shooting you from planetoid to planetoid rather than letting you take your own route- which is part of what I like so much about Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine- you had the freedom to run around and try multiple methods of approach, and the end of the level meant getting hit by enemies or taking great falls. In Galaxy, there's too much emphasis on black holes of death stopping your progression through the level. Having much more limited health kind of hurts your chances of survival, too. All I'm saying is that it was harder to fall in SM64 and Sunshine...
Another reason Sunshine really stands out is because of its art and level design. Everything seemed a little more grounded, of course- there were no Rainbow Roads or Tik Tok Clocks, but locales like a hotel, harbor, and town. The enemies were sunny, island-themed versions of classic Mario baddies- which just made it pop more. Galaxy has a fair amount of enemies, but it also keeps pretty close to tradition- there's a few too many wasted opportunities to do "spacey" versions of enemies. Art style has always been an interesting aspect of Mario, and I would just like to see it taken further. That's just me, though.
Mario had a return to his roots in New Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but the level design and homages kind of lean too heavily on nostalgia and not new ideas- however, don't get me wrong, I love me some New Super Mario Bros. Wii. I just wish that they hadn't played so close to the belt with it. Why not show us some really crazy locales with a new Mario game? Implement some of those cool new Galaxy motifs into a 2D plane! I do hope that, if we see another console Mario Bros. (which we will- SMBMii) we see some newer, fresher ideas.
Another thing that confuses me is the blending of 3D Mario platforming with 2D Mario objectives. Rather than having missions to complete, in Super Mario Land 3D there's a timer for 3D Mario, a platforming style that rewards exploration more than speediness- a little confusing, and just doesn't seem to fit. You have to reach a flag- which was never really the case with 3D Mario, and kind of doesn't make sense. Still, it could be an attempt to prove that 2D Mario structure works in 3D, which, from what I've played, it technically does- just in a weird way.
Also, powerups have to kind of change their nature for 3D Mario- Fire Flower and Tanooki suit kind of seem a little hard to control when in a 3D environment, mostly because the descent with a Tanooki suit is really awkward and your can't really home in on things with the Fire Flower. But, I digress. I've played very little of Super Mario Land 3D, and I'm not sure if I played it long enough to nail the mechanics down that much. However, I think that 3D Mario and 2D Mario should have separate powerups- SM64 had the wing cap and metal cap that worked because of the 3D environment- would they work in 2D? No. Likewise, the propeller cap and fire flower don't really work as well in 3D.
I am a fan of Mario- very much so. The trend I have noticed with his games as of late is a little off-putting, though. Mario used to be a pretty awesome guy- at least, he was when I was a kid. Lately, his games have seemed to settle into a level of platforming that doesn't really innovate- only utilize level design. Unlike Zelda, each iteration of Mario doesn't seem to be improving on the last, but taking the character in a different direction that still has a lot of ties to his original concept- very little feels really fresh. I hope that the next console Mario title proves me wrong, but for now, the plumber is clearly in second place against Zelda.