Video game series don’t get any more iconic than Mario. Initially appearing in 1981’s Donkey Kong, Nintendo’s portly plumber has enjoyed monumental success for 3 and a half decades now and is arguably the mascot of the gaming industry as a whole. The Mario series now has sales in excess of 509 million and consists of some of the most enjoyable games ever. From platformers and kart racers, to RPGs and sports games; Mario has featured in over 180 different titles, and whilst many series begin to show fatigue after just a few entries, Mario’s quality doesn’t look like it will be fading anytime soon.
Possibly the most revolutionary set of Mario games are the 3D Super Mario platformers. These were the games that took us beyond the second dimension and highlighted just what a platformer could be. Nintendo had already perfected the 2D platformer with 1988’s Super Mario Bros 3 and 1990’s Super Mario World, but true 3D gameplay had remained elusive to the company. Super Mario 64, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, changed all that in an instant. Players once again took control of Mario in his seemingly never ending quest to save Princess Peach. This time however, Mario was not limited by horizontal movement; he could move in any direction. Back in 1996, a game with a fully interactive 3D world simply didn’t exist. But Super Mario 64 wasn’t just ground-breaking, it was also thoroughly enjoyable. Roaming the grassy plains of Bob-omb battlefield or traversing the perilous heights of Cool, Cool Mountain, all whilst searching for the 120 power stars was just a blast. The game’s mastering of the third dimension was just an added bonus.
The highly anticipated Super Mario Sunshine, which released to the GameCube in 2002, despite being somewhat controversial for some fans, was also an utter joy to play. Ultimately, Sunshine had the same run and jump gameplay of its predecessors, however it also stood out from the crowd due to the introduction of some unique and experimental mechanics. Most notably; F.L.U.D.D. The aquatic jetpack worn by Mario has been the cause of much controversy however it arguably only served to enhance the platforming mechanics of the series. It may have shaken things up, but that’s what a sequel should do. Certainly the abilities to shoot water and hover around are ones that make Sunshine stand out as a breath of fresh air. When combined with the distinct seaside aesthetic and masterful level design, it’s not hard to see why many consider this to be one of the GameCube’s best games.
Despite being polarising; Sunshine highlighted the fact that the Super Mario series was not bound by conceptual limitations; truly the sky was the limit. However following the releases of Super Mario Galaxy (2007) and Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010) on the Wii, not even this was true anymore. The games took Mario into the final frontier… Space. From the literally stellar soundtrack and stunning visuals, to the imaginative settings and seamless integration of motion controls; these games were fine crafted to perfection. The biggest hook was the way in which they manipulated gravity. Whilst some levels were more attune to traditional platforming, many consisted of lonely planetoids drifting in the vacuum of space, each with gravitational pull. Mario could land on these planets and then hang off them at any given angle. This blend of traditional and gravity based platforming meant that the Galaxy games had some of the most inspired level design to ever grace the industry. You’ll be floating through the majestic void of space and collecting vibrant rainbow coloured Star Bits as you battle the pull of monstrous black holes and lone planetoids, and that’s just the first level.
This blend of traditional and gravity based platforming meant that the Galaxy games had some of the most inspired level design to ever grace the industry.
Following the Galaxy games, Nintendo took a slightly different direction. 2011’s Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS, and 2013’s Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U did away with the openly explorative elements of the series, and instead adopted the more linear style of the 2D Super Mario platformers. For example, the 120 collectable power stars were replaced by flagpoles at the end of every stage. Whilst not as innovative as previous entries in the series, these games were still fun. The level design was as polished as ever, the soundtrack was brimming with charisma, and each game also had its own merits. 3D Land was the first original 3D handheld of the series, whereas 3D World was the first in the series to be fully HD. Also these games could be seen as representative of the Mario series as a whole. It took the highlights from prior games and combined them into a celebration of the series’ history. There a sliding levels from Super Mario 64, all the playable characters of Super Mario Bros 2, power ups from Super Mario Bros 3, the best music from Super Mario Galaxy there’s even a level based off Super Mario Kart.
It’s clear that Nintendo puts a lot of thought into the 3D Super Mario platformers. It’s not that easy to predict what they will be working on next however. Nevertheless there are a few things we know. Firstly, besides the GameCube, every Nintendo home console has launched with a main series Mario title. This means that with the supposedly upcoming release of the NX, we can expect to see a new Mario platformer. Secondly, we can also assume that we will not be receiving a 2D Mario anytime soon given the 2015 release of Super Mario Maker and the longevity of that game. So it’s incredibly likely we will be seeing a new 3D Super Mario very soon. The only question that remains then is what such a game will bring. Will we return to the far reaches of space in Super Mario Galaxy 3? Could we possibly get to create our own levels in Super Mario 3D Maker? Both entirely valid predictions that I would be delighted to see come true. However, I feel a brand new concept is far more likely. Maybe an entirely nonlinear game? You could freely explore the Mushroom Kingdom and enter new levels in whatever order that you find them. That is just one idea though. Ultimately, it’s safe to assume the game that we get next will continue the series’ traditions of precise controls, first-rate level design and being immensely fun.