Super Mario 3D World Is So Conservative. How Did That Happen?

The idea that Nintendo rests on its laurels, that Nintendo regurgitates old concepts, refuses to innovate – I’ve always resented this idea. I can’t think of another developer that takes more risks with its most valuable IP. This is the company that put Mario into space. The developer that followed Ocarina of Time, the most celebrated video game in history, with a hyper stylised sailing simulator. These are the men and women who plunked a water jetpack on Mario and sent him to a weird holiday resort to scrub off graffiti.

That’s what Nintendo do. They create. They give zero fucks about the masterpieces they’ve just built, and display a haphazard disrespect towards the characters and games we hold dear. When you think about it, it’s glorious.

The hallmark of Nintendo’s greatest games has been a sense of controlled anarchy. A designed anarchy. A playground where rules are broken but there are always rules. This idea is exemplified best in the 3D iterations of Mario.

Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy – these games are mind bogglingly radical, linked only by a sense of delirious chaos. Mario 64 was a game that basically invented how platform games worked in a 3D space. Sunshine was a brave (some would say failed) experiment. Galaxy? That may be the most revolutionary of them all: a video game that took an almost childish glee in inventing mind-bending ideas, exploiting them for one magical level, before tossing them in the trash like a spoiled child-genius. ‘Here, you have this idea,’ it seems to say. ‘I’ve got a shit tonne where that came from.’

‘Fuck rules, fuck gravity, fuck everything’. It’s been the mantra of every 3D Mario game released on a home console since Mario 64.

Why then, is Super Mario 3D World so conservative?

Super Mario 3D World is the first 3D Mario game that feels like it is coasting. Instead of embracing the anarchic spirit of its 3D predecessors, it appears dulled by the hubris of the 2D New Super Mario Bros. series. It bears all those hallmarks: a lack of innovative ideas, a samey approach to ‘worlds’ (here’s the ice level, the water level, the lava level). Worst of all, it commits the cardinal sin we’ve seen in every 2D Mario released in the last decade: it attempts to sell itself by virtue of a new single power-up.

Guys, Mario turns into a cat in this one! MEOW!

I spent the majority of my time playing Super Mario 3D World waiting for those moments. The levels that tugged and pulled at the fleshy part of my brain, the levels that stimulated me. Moments that seemed almost commonplace in Super Mario Galaxy. The levels that flung game design principles on their head, or the levels that followed those same principles so tightly that you could only marvel at the high level of craft.

Sure, they came. Eventually. But they came sporadically. The exception rather than the norm. Padded with the forgettable, squished uncomfortably between the banal. For every level like the Mario Kart themed level there are at least six I simply can’t remember, because they flew past in a dull, uninterested blur. That’s not the level of originality and dazzle that I’ve come to expect from Mario in the third dimension.

Super Mario 3D World is conservative. How did that happen? It’s a well-made video game by every possible measurement, but it also represents Nintendo at its worst: painting by numbers, Nintendo by rote. It’s a game that can be played on auto pilot. A game that lives up to all the worst things detractors believe Nintendo represents. They make the same game over and over, they don’t innovate.

Well, that’s not even close to being true — but if the only Nintendo game you played this year was Super Mario 3D World, you’d be forgiven for believing it.

Super Mario 3D Worldis a very good video game, but it also represents the Nintendo that terrifies us. A relaxed Nintendo. A Nintendo resting on its laurels. A Nintendo afraid to experiment. A Nintendo that panders to its audience. A Nintendo terrified of change.

Fuck rules, fuck gravity. Fuck everything. For the next Mario game, we need that Nintendo back.


    Mario 64 :
    [Developers] - HOLY SHIT GUYS. LETS DO A 3D MARIO GAME. *everyone cheers* *players are impressed*

    Mario Galaxy:
    [Developers] - GUYS. GRAVITY & STUFF. WHO NEEDS IT. *everyone cheers* *players are impressed*

    Mario 3D World:
    [Developers] - Umm... GUYS. WTF DO WE DO NOW?! *crickets*
    [Work experience kid] - I LIKE CATS *beat* *everyone cheers* *players feel a bit let down at the lack of innovation*

    Edit: constructive idea - time stuff.
    eg: like in Ratchet & Clank - crack in time where you can clone yourself performing certain actions to solve puzzles, collapsed bridge? go back in time to when it was fixed etc. I'm sure the devs could make something fun & workable with that concept.

    Last edited 17/01/14 2:11 pm

      Mario Sunshine had a water cannon-jetpack hybrid. I reckon an open world Mario game could work, in the style of the first Jak and Daxter game. You collect coins (precursor orbs) and stars (power cells), and all the power ups will be just like eco. Holy crap, I've just realised that Jak and Daxter is practically and open world version of Mario 64.

        The original Jak and Daxter is one of my favorite platformers of all time. If Naughty Dog stole ideas from Nintendo in its design, well ... It's time for Nintendo to steal them right back.

    true...ish but it's so damn fun. i think the multiplayer is where it's at for this one. i reckon it's getting us ready for a galaxy style multiplayer mindfuck. baby steps.

      honestly? & I know its a bit cynical, but I think 3D world was made just so Ninty would have their leading mascot in a game on their new console.

      it was marketing rather than gaming that made this game.

        they already had one with him out though, new super. i honestly believe they are testing the multiplayer waters before going all out chaos on the next one.

          really? I thought New Super 2 came out after 3d world :/ oh well.

            launch dude

              I'm getting em confused. I knew there was a Mario game at launch, just mixed up which one.

        I'd say a little of that, but also the fact that they absolutely didn't want to fuck it up. They were like "just follow the formula, play it safe, and we will give the WiiU some strong sales". Plus they are also aiming the product at kids, a lot of whom are not old enough to complain about lack of innovation because it is their first or second Mario game :-)
    The Mario cat toys look great! C'mon admit it, who doesn't want Cat-Toad!

    For every level like the Mario Kart themed level there are at least six I simply can’t remember, because they flew past in a dull, uninterested blur.Funny, that's kind of how I felt about Galaxy in general :P I mean I didn't hate it, but I don't understand the overwhelming love and praise it seems to get from everyone else. I feel like I can barely remember any of it, and I sure can't distinguish between memories of Galaxy and Galaxy 2 at all.

    Also Mark, you started talking about 3D *Land* in the last couple of paragraphs there :P
    Edit: Aaaand they're fixed now.

    Last edited 17/01/14 2:14 pm

      I'll bloody never be able to get away from that habit!

      Yeah, I personally found Super Mario 3D World to be just as memorable as Galaxy 1/2.

      Not to say they were bad, but possibly I have a shit memory. That said, I usually try to collect everything on each run through of each level, so I rarely go back and play levels multiple times.

      It was an improvement over 3D Land though!

    I liked Sunshine.

      I love it. And frick, it's a tough game!

      The game's only real fault was it's accessibility. It's difficulty was tuned for the people who started with Super Mario Bros on the NES when they were little and stuck with the series right up to the GameCube. So if you were in that group it pushes you hard enough to challenge but not hard enough to break you which is absolutely brilliant, but if you weren't in that group the game quickly became a struggle.

        I actually missed Mario 64 so it was my first 3D Mario game.

      Me too. Apart from those stupid blue coins you had to hunt down.

      The controls were so much better than 64 though, I can remember bouncing around off walls and triple jumping like a pro in Sunshine.

        Amazing controls. Came so intuitively, I was doing wall and triple jumps in no time.
        Maybe I need to dust it back off for another run.

    I can't disagree with this article more. Super Mario 3D World was just SO. DAMN. FUN. The game is more than the cat suit, to suggest that it carries the game makes me think you maybe haven't played through the whole game? There is an interesting, innovative idea/mechanic in each of the levels in the game.

      To say they're innovative is a bit of a stretch considering they've been used in older Mario games like Galaxy etc in the past. I do agree with you that it was fun because each level had a different idea to it.

    Mario 3D World seemed to be New Super Mario Bros with 3D bits, and the NSMB series grew stale the instant they made a 2nd one. They're all good solid games, but they're not anything to make you jump up and down with excitement.

    I am really hoping that 3D World was just a stopgap measure to get a new Mario game out while Nintendo secretly work on the "real" 3D Mario that's on the scale of 64/Sunshine/Galaxy, but I think that's wishful thinking.

      I was really hoping NSMB would be a nostalgic once-off but It instead became the new paradigm the Mario series seems to be sticking to: time limits, confined platforming spaces, single hit health system, 3 big golden coins to collect.
      Even Galaxy 2 had elements of this design, way more so than the first Mario Galaxy. I hope they get over it soon, it can't be profitable forever.

      I chuckle to myself now when I remember a small article about next-gen Nintendo in Hyper, saying something along the lines of seeing the characters you remember in all new gaming experiences. If we only knew how wrong we were.

    I've enjoyed my time with 3DW. Multiplayer is certainly the flavour you need to be trying with it.

    That said though, I'm rapidly losing faith in my Wii U to deliver me future excellence. I smell blood in the water, and I can't say I'll be overly thrilled if they snuff out the console prematurely.

    I can't help but wonder, Mark himself said that he enjoyed SM3DW. I haven't played it myself but if we assume that on its own merits, it's a good game, why should it really matter that it hasn't tweaked the formula all that much?

    Innovation for innovation's sake isn't necessarily such a good thing.

    Last edited 17/01/14 6:46 pm

    Don't agree at all. I think this game is actually better - more inventive and fun - than both of the Galaxy games.

    Let's be realistic here - the Galaxies' main point of difference were just small planetoids and gravity physics, of which only a handful of levels in the first one made use of and was barely touched upon in the second if I remember correctly?

    Anyway, regardless, that was it. This isn't some kinda revolution, really. It's more just a minor tweak to the 3D Mario formula created by 64, same as the Fludd in Sunshine was. The levels in the Galaxy games weren't, beyond the gravity stuff, any more inventive than what we have here in 3D World; in fact I'd say 3D World wins in this regard with the sheer volume of different ideas tried throughout its' levels. As a side note I also remember finding it annoying how the power-ups in Galaxy only lasted for a short time.

    3D World has exactly the same (maybe more) amount of invention as all 3D Mario games that have followed 64. So if you wanna point the finger at one of these games, the point where Nintendo dropped the invention ball, I'd say you can point it at Mario Sunshine.

    Last edited 19/01/14 12:55 pm

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    Last edited 30/06/15 5:02 pm

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