Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Super Mario 3D Land and 3D World: When Mario plays it safe

The 3DS and WiiU were a weird console pair, weren't they? Bad launches, the WiiU can only be described as a financial disaster thanks to its strong but badly paced out library, and some of the company's biggest IP's either didn't show up as any form of single console exclusive (No joke, there is no Zelda title that is exclusive to the WiiU), or kind of showed up feeling a little "half assed" by Nintendo's standards. Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival comes to mind as one of those, and some people said that about Super Mario 3D World thanks to the 3DS title, Super Mario 3D Land. Well, as someone who's played both, I have to both agree, and disagree. Why? Well, read on to find out.

Starting with 3D Land and its plot: "It was a dark and stormy night... Bowser kidnaps Peach". Yeah, that's it. Once again, this is a Mario game, what more do you expect? The plot means nothing here. Even the nice artwork you get which tells a bit more of a story, like how Peach tries to escape by herself before being caught again. It's serviceable for Mario games, but at the same time you know they can do more, and that if it was any other game by any other company, it would be unacceptable. Even compared to the predecessors, the Galaxy games, or even the New Super Mario Brothers games it feels lazy, tacked on, and those are games with the exact same story!

I will say, in terms of 3D Land being the first original 3D Mario experience on a handheld, it does deliver on the promise, but it comes with a big thing they didn't bring up. With the exception of one big thing, this game has no teeth to it, no natural challenge. There are only two things giving it a challenge. The Camera, and the Screen Crunch. This was made for model 1 3DS systems, so there's no proper camera control, and thanks to the "need to use 3D technology" (which I didn't, who does?), it actually messed up my depth perception at times, making platforms that I thought I was going to land on turn out to next me, making me fall to my death and loose one of my 1000+ lives! And no, I didn't even farm lives, I just didn't die enough to actually loose them. Even the Star Coin pay walls (no there aren't any micro transactions) weren't a big deal if you know anything about places to hide collectables in a platformer. As for the Screen Crunch, again to facilitate that 3D, the Camera is quite close to Mario a lot of the time, and during the rare auto scroller, that has sometimes led to death or more often than not a cheap hit by an enemy. Both are easy to navigate around so while it does give the game a tooth of difficulty, it’s a very blunt one.

As for why the game is so easy? You can thank the big "new" power of the game, the return of the Tanooki suit, which breaks the game in half. Unlike the 3D games (64, Sunshine, Galaxy 1 and 2), power ups are treated like they are in the 2D games, where if you have one, you keep it until you get hit. As for the Tanooki suit, if you hold the jump button, you can hover down to the ground slowly and greatly extending the range of your jump. Like 2D games, all the levels are designed for you to complete with regular Mario, so having a power like this where you can also go around enemies, like Bowser, because his boss battles are similar in style to the original 2D Mario's (are you noticing a trend here?), you can easily break the game with the only thing making it easier is that you can hold onto another power up as a spare. Encase it wasn't obvious, 3D Land is designed to play like a 3D version of the 2D games, which leads to a mess of the two styles because everything hard about the 2D games is negated by a 3D space.

3D Land also feels short, as a lot of level ideas and designs are recycled both in the main 8 words, and Special worlds 1-8, which are "harder" reskins of levels from worlds 1-8. And to get to the level considered the hardest in the game, you have to reach the top of the flag pole in every level, get all the star coins, and play each level as both Mario and unlockable character, Luigi. This, ladies and gentlemen, is called padding, and it wasn't needed at all. Yes, a similar issue exists in both Galaxy 1 and 2, but for Galaxy 1 you weren't missing anything if you didn't do a Luigi run, the Luigi run was the reward. As for Galaxy 2, the Green Stars did feel like you were doing something new in the levels, here you just have to play all the levels again for an actual brand-new level. But, I will give 3D Land one benefit, it’s not as bad in the padding department as its sequel.

And with that, we move to 3D World on the WiiU (I'll come back to aesthetics for 3D Land later). The plot here is... actually different? Something original?! Unique?! What is it? Bowser kidnaps some magical fairies called the Sprixie (No not Spritzee) Princesses... Close enough! Why is that? Because in this game, Mario, Luigi, Peach and a Blue Toad, like the Western release of Super Mario Brother 2, are all playable at the start of the game. Huzzah!

Going onto the gameplay, it’s basically the same as 3D Land, but fixing some of the issues with the game. First, there is a lot more style variety with the levels, it actually feels like I'm going through a rainbow of levels designed for the game, rather than the same ones repainted (until some of the post final boss worlds but that's 2 worlds compared to 8 worlds). Getting the game's collectables also feels like a challenge in several of the levels, as a lot of the Green Stars require tasks to get rather than just looking around for them, and many that are just looking around require tasks to be done to reach them, such as the third star in the first level. Is it still easy compared to some other games? Yes... assuming you're playing Single player. Multiplayer on the other hand is another story because it, like many other 4 player multiplayer experiences like it, can me a complete mess to play, due to things like the camera, and the levels being made for one person to complete, not 4. But, as a counter argument, the levels are meant to be completed with four people, unless you really like padding because to complete the game, including the Stamp collection for Miiverse, you need to complete every level with all characters including late in game unlockable character: Rosalina. This includes Champion's Road which thankfully wasn't as hard to get as its equivalent in 3D Land, all you need is all the Green Stars up to that point, but it shows what the team can do when they actually want to give a game some difficulty, as it is brutal.

For both the games, While I don't like 3D Land's soundtrack, I love 3D World's original songs and there are some great remixes of older Mario music. While I love orchestral pieces in games, there's something satisfying about Jazz, especially with the big difference is that 3D Land's music is computer generated files, 3D World's was performed by a proper band in a recording studio. If you know what you're looking for, there is a clear difference between the two. Shame the same thing can't be said visually though as... "yep, they're Mario games" is the best way to describe them. Not saying that's a bad thing, but there's nothing that stands out about them compared to their older brothers like the Galaxy games.

I can understand the desire to have a Mario game that plays it safe, it was around the time of his anniversaries, Mario isn’t getting any younger. But it's hard to look at these two games along with the New Super Mario Bros games and not be disappointed when comparing the games to what came before them. Are they fun? Overall yes, but it depends on what you're looking for. For me, I prefer something closer to the normal 3D Mario's, which is why I'm looking forward to Odyssey. Let's just hope that 3D World and Odyssey are a jumping off point to breath some new life into the old plumber. Quite a bit of content planned for next week, a fan comic called "Heroes of Inkopolis" on Sunday, followed by Injustice: Gods Among Us along with its Years 1-5 comics.

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