We all know Super Mario 3D World is super rad. Just how rad is it? YouTuber Mark Brown took a look at the modern classic for his semi-regular “Game Maker’s toolkit” video series, and makes a case for putting 3D World in the time-honoured “totally hella rad” category. That might not be the name of an actual honorific.
Anyways, watch the video:
The point I like most in Brown’s piece is how Super Mario 3D World introduces mechanics in such a way that the game is constantly teaching you how to approach new sorts of problems while subtly (and simultaneously) changing those same problems. Brown credits this design philosophy to Koichi Hayashida, a longtime Mario developer who headed up 3D World and also worked on numerous other acclaimed Super Mario titles, including the beloved Super Mario Galaxy series.
Hayashida began to figure out his unique design philosophy when working on the Super Mario Galaxy games. He recalled in a 2012 interview with Gamasutra that Super Mario Galaxy 2 was the first game in which he started “[…] to get a little clearer idea of how this level design philosophy should work: that is, we would start with a very clear concept on a stage and it would be maintained through, I think, the rest of the galaxy more consistently.”
But the time Super Mario 3D World came about, Hayashida had refined his design process into a four-part structure Brown likens to “Kishōtenketsu,” a term used to describe a specific type of narrative structure Brown says is used in four-line Chinese poems and four-paned Japanese comics.
How does this four-part structure work in a video game, as opposed to a piece of text? To give one small example, Brown shows how the 3D World stage “Cakewalk Flip” introduces, then tweaks a single mechanic with four distinct steps in a single level.
First, it shows you how the flipping-platforms are going to work in a safe environment — i.e. one Mario can fall down in without dying:
Then, the level adds a challenge by removing the “safety net”.
Next, Mario must make it up a passage with the flipping platforms, not just across one:
And, finally, a twist: the level adds a shockwave attack that must be dodged on top of the flipping challenge.
It’s always fun to start picking up on these tiny details and appreciating them the next time you revisit a game like Super Mario 3D World. Brown might be giving Super Mario 3D World a ton of credit for doing something many good games should be doing already (teaching their players). But his video still helps demonstrate a unique appeal that Nintendo games like 3D World have to them: an experimental, almost toylike purity that privileges a concept’s game-ish-ness above any other conceivable qualities it might have. Why do you think Nintendo games make so little sense but remain so much fun to play?