THEME // LEVEL DESIGN // ENVIRONMENT + ENEMIES // MISC.
- Big outdoor hub that is constantly changing – Delfino Plaza
- Much less emphasis on swimming
- Gating player with boss fight and 1 jail cutscene and 1 chase sequence before letting them naturally practice out the mechanics uninterrupted.
- Bowser Junior’s voice.
- No fall deaths on regular stages as water is safety net (excluding last level and final boss level) + Fall damage was drastically reduced = plummet to non-peril. [debatable]
- Enemies too ineffectual as platforming combatants; they also don’t evolve to bring more trouble on latter stages
- No huge stage manipulation ala Super Mario 64’s raising water levels, tiny/big switch – granted, stages will have large scale pollution to clean.
- No high-to-low level
- More populace than enemies
- Tower based segments than mountain based [decentralized vs centralized]
- Unbalanced from Super Mario 64’s all-around approach
What is level design balance. Free-roaming peaceful hubs or athletic courses?
Level design should contain a healthy amount of the latter. Quality>Quantity.
While a ton of games require hours to get to the good stuff Sunshine only takes 3 shines before entering an athletic course.
The nice thing about having such excellent character movement is that there is no fat in the game. No trudging around on-foot for days to get to the next level like so many of the N64 platformers. The hub is the best designed level. It allows for rooftop running, corridor running, cabana roof bouncing, running underground in sewers to pop out of manholes sky-high into the air, etc.—all of which is closely spaced together.
(A) Water slide through hub to a stage portal in less than 10 seconds.
=> (B) Enter stage almost immediately by doing some action, usually spraying water on portal
==> (C) Click the shine mission to begin the stage
Isle Delfino keeps evolving (the change in sunlight, the introduction of new people and stages, the different news feed messages that scroll across the screen, the great flood). The regular levels need to follow the hub approach and get rid of cycling through missions and the mission preview clips.
Unlike 64 there is a lot of terrain that produces helpless sliding due to steep structural inclines. It is no fun to slide backwards; your momentum slows and then you get zipped away from whence you came—imagine being a bug trying to scurry up out of flushing toilet. In scientific terms: “as Mario’s energy is exhausted and gravity pulls him back, he rushes back down again as ‘backwash’.” In 64, steep hills were to overcome; In Sunshine, steep hills overcome you with their placement on banks where you have no room to build momentum running up them. Even the trusted hover nozzle fails to lift you up when Mario movement begins to stall against this downward force. Also of note is that this strong pull downwards activates when flipping out of a dive.
Mischief theme – bopping on Pianta’s heads, kicking fruit around like a soccer ball, spraying water on everyone, the spread of graffiti. Mario games have never been violent, and in times of peace the desire for mischief kicks in. Insidiously enough the inhabitants of Isle Delfino were changed from human beings in the beta version to Piantas to entice bopping on their heads by giving them gooey body shape.
Difficulty, Enemies & Stage Control – When Mario went 3D the enemy interaction did not transition well. In 2D things were nice and lined up: chasing after a shell while it bowls over enemy after enemy, bopping on heads of foes in successive order, finding a way through arching hammer projectiles or flying fish – all of these stylish designs of performing combinatory patterns are gone with the introduction of a third axis. The enemy placement became mostly inconsequential. Without any platforming utility or space-encroaching ability they turn towards a combatant model. Defeating regular enemies should not be a focus-point unless it has some connection to advancement through jumping or evasion. Unfortunately in 64 only ‘Bowser in the Fire Sea’ actually had a big connection of an enemy using the arena to its advantage by making it tilt which made it possible to fall to your death.
The environment is too peaceful. By making the game world based off the real world Nintendo needed to create more threats of violent ecological disturbance to keep things lively. All the death traps to fall into like bottomless pits, quicksand, and lava have been replaced with water. Nothing is going to leap out of the water and devour Mario. Make it across or plummet to your…safety. Nintendo does introduce mass-scaled goop pollution for one episode for each level. And that has the power to kill. No life-saving, no life destroying—sans heroism. Only in missions like Goop Inferno where movement is restricted, thus slowed, do slow enemies like Swoopin Stus threaten the player.
Levels designed for the fight for space on small platforms become 2D-esque like in 64’s ‘Tiny, Big World’ where getting hit by even a pint-sized Goomba would mean death. When you’re on a tightrope a wind duppy usually appears to swoop around and hit Mario. With the stages being set to locales the islanders co-exist peacefully without many problems. Goop producing enemies can make a Pianta sink into the ground like quicksand.
Early on the enemies are too docile. Getting hit is a discovery; it is a matter of fulfilling curiosity. Which is too bad since the hits they lay on Mario are quite brutal looking (mechanically they only deliver 1 HP of damage). The enemies in this game have better tracking than in 64, but not even mobbing helps them. Enemies mostly reactive. Enemies can’t jump over rises in terrain to continue after Mario. In these big worlds enemies are easily evaded.
WHAT IS MARIO?
The game’s meaning is movement, Mario’s movement. Mario is the projectile. All projectile properties not involving Mario’s propulsion are ineffectual to pleasure. Moving forward is strength; Moving backwards is weakness. What is the nature of platform games and what genre are they close to? Jumping/bouncing (lifting / temporary suspension) + speeding = Racing genre – F-Zero.
WHAT IS THE OBJECTIVE?
The objective changed after the 2D games.
Super Mario Bros. – 2D: Perform maneuvers on platforms to avoid succumbing to bottomless pits, stage hazards, and enemies to advance and reach the end of the level
What if Mario was stuck on that level..?
Super Mario 64 – 3D: Perform action sequences in open environments to collect a star
examples: (1) aim to be shot out of cannon to land onto floating land continent, (2) slide down slide, (3) open chests in correct order, (4) grab a rabbit, (5) talk to Toad, (6) chip corner off wall via shooting out of cannon, (7) swim through consecutive rings, (8) Collect 8 or 100 coins, (9) Win a race
Platform Sequences – Nintendo put most their effort into designing environments. The most challenging levels in the game (athletic courses) feature zero enemies. It’s as if the enemies have realized their obsolescence and morphed into various blocks to unleash havoc. These levels are sans goop. Doing the second athletic course without hover to get the 8 red coins on the first stage is crazy. It is here where you test how well you can control Mario jump diving around to distant platforms trying to perform midair coin swipes. If you are going to overshoot you can butt stomp. While the level offers you two 1-Ups, the level is very challenging with no time to waste. Level design really shows off the nozzles. The most impressive of which is charging the turbo nozzle on the side of a rotating cube and turbo jumping off the adjacent side.
What makes these levels so great is that they consist mainly of platform that are in essence timed. Whether it is the sand blocks that dwindle away, the red & blue mats that flip over, or the rectangular blocks that are in constant rotation, everything is requiring speediness to overcome.
Chase Sequences – Every stage has a Shadow Mario chase sequence. This is different than rabbit chasing in 64 since the goal is to keep a spray going weakening the opponent through steady aim; it is no longer a simple game of tag. A chase sequence forces the player to navigate through the stage in a thrilling manner. It’s much better than navigating by collecting 100 coins. It gives the friendly populous an added value (challenge) of being obstacles. It is a nice change to the race sequences to have an opponent create time (distance) and the endpoint.
The execution of the Shadow Mario chase sequences is sub-par because he is defeated too easily to accomplish a long and crazy chase scene; the chase is over within 5-10 seconds if you are skilled enough. Making Shadow Mario harder to stop (or if you toy with him by allowing him to rise) is for the best.
Pinna Park – chase shows off the adept camera as you weave in and out around persons, structures, and trees, dodge enemy attacks, squeeze around the expanse of a large structure, run through underpasses, somersault over tall planes of land.
Noki Bay – the best chase sequence. Here Mario tails after Shadow Mario doing a series of wall jumps, jumps from bluff to bluff, and one massive jump down to the bottom of the stage.
Hotel Delfino – Shadow Mario can tag you as a surprise tactic when you get too close. He is more aggressive where he will run back and floor Mario. The level design is great being able to run up stairs and jump off onto different floor stories.
Gelato Beach – the worst chase as there is too much open space and lack of obstacles and varied terrain result in easy lining up of the target to spray. If only Shadow Mario ran through the Cataquacks.
When Shadow Mario appears in the hub there is no ‘select Shadow Mario’. The game needs more spontaneous moments like this. It is wasted when 50 shines in the game throws all the special stuff, the two additional nozzles and a Yoshi egg, one right after the other to recover from Shadow Mario.
Destroy Sequences – Starts off by defeating goop-covered piranha plants three times moving from the airstrip to the plaza to the hills.
While most of the enemies have tame designs the bosses are well-designed but not much in the way of challenge. Drown Petey Pirahna, rip tentacles off a Giant Blooper, capsize a Wiggler the size of a train–very lively scenes of violence. The manta ray invasion is super impressive with the splitting off in two with each hit resulting in a swarm of deadly rays each individually spreading electric goop trails everywhere. The downside to the bosses is the squirt nozzle preference over using jumping techniques to beat them. Take the Plungelos: They have similar mass to horned Bob-ombs in 64 and come at you in similar numbers. And it’s way better to have to butt stomp the opposite end of the battle area platform to bounce them off the stage after spraying them there than a simple one-step process of spraying them off.
Mario’s hat magically returns to his head when leaving the area he lost it from.
Fixed – No health recovery on resurfacing in water & separate breath gauge like in Super Mario 64.
All of this is seen in full force on the pachinko mini-course: it has both helpless sliding and resistance to momentum change when bouncing off a spring pad. If you aren’t using the hover nozzle you might as well quit the level.
Yoshi fruit machine unexplained.
Grate-flipping section unexplained. Complete “mini-level” design with grate climbing whereas Super Mario World had plenty of Bowser stages with grate climbing.
OPEN AREA to OPEN WORLD
Throughout the game you can see stages far out in the background that are later accessed by warp pipes or portals. Could the game function well if all the stages were connected?”
Speaking of the “hidden courses” (what I call sky puzzles) these things could’ve been implanted more in actual levels in the game” — this is something I’ve been thinking about on 3D platforming design. It seems that incorporating a platform-heavy stage means making the game a linear level experience (i.e. Super Mario 3D World). And if the levels are made linear (2Dimensionalized) then that damages the expansive move-all-around 3D experience (i.e. Castle Courtyard). This critique applies when going from Wario Land’s courses to Wario World stages. (BTW, the “hidden courses” are referred to as “Athletic Courses”.)
With the way things are now the design is to sharply contrast locales (stages) to athletic courses (sub-levels). Back to the incorporation of sub-levels into the main stage critique, I am at odds with how sub-levels always have you pop out back to the original trapdoor whereas in Super Mario Bros. the pipe you enter leads you to exit out a pipe farther down the level. What was neat in Sunshine was the underground sewer system in the hub and the underside Pianta Village that function as a type of sub-level with a seamless transition.
What I especially loved about blue coins were the timed ones that gave you reason to move quickly through the stage terrain to reach the coin before it disappears. This design reminds me a lot of Crazy Taxi go-anywhere to pick up passengers and get them to their drop-off destination in time. (Nintendo brought this back with Balloon Hunt in the mediocre Odyssey game). A transcendental quality is now applied to these ordinary-looking levels. It’s a battle of making the game brisk and fast-paced. SM64 was brisk, SMS was a mixture, Crazy Taxi is fast-paced.
Red coin vs Blue coin vs Shine
Red coins are usually timed. Blue coins let you save. Shines let you save and exit you out of level. Swapping out blue coins for 8 red coins would have been one way Corona Mountain could have been improved for challenge-seekers. That would have made a great secret athletic course or a regular (untimed) shine.
What they don’t do, however, is guarantee that this is a game children will enjoy. For all its success at garnering the reputation of a family-friendly company, Nintendo has done a poor job here of presenting a product children can appreciate. The challenge is more than most impatient children these days will likely care for. No game in the history of the franchise has ever been this difficult, with the possible exception of the original, Japan-only sequel to Super Mario Bros.. And even though the presentation here is (not quite sickeningly) cute, it’s not enough to disguise the fact that the typical eight-year-old some would suggest this title is geared at will not be able to experience so much as half of this game’s greatness.