The claws are out
E3 is over, but two of GamesRadars editors cant stop thinking about the game that should have been Nintendos marquee title, Super Mario 3D World. Early reaction was positive, but the first trailer didnt give off the same kind of thrills that we expected from the successor to Super Mario Galaxy, a.k.a. one of the best games ever.
GamesRadar UKs David Houghton feels pretty disappointed about 3D World, saying it falls far short of what a legitimate home console Mario should be. US editor Henry Gilbert thinks the game has more to offer than the five-level demo shown, seeing the potential for 3D World to be a real core Mario game. Both editors will throw out their four best arguments, then counter the others as concisely as possible. Who will win the debate? Thats for you to decide.
Henry says: It's made by the same devs as previous 3D Marios
Henry: Nintendo publishes enough games that it employs a vast number of developers, and based on past performance, Id say EAD Tokyo is currently Nintendos strongest internal team. Both Super Mario Galaxy games were the best titles on the Wii, and 3D Land is easily one of the top 3DS games. And who served as project director and/or producer for those games, as well as Super Mario Sunshine? Koichi Hayashida and Yoshiaki Koizumi, the two men heading up 3D World. As far as I can tell, the talent is still there at EAD Tokyo, and until those guys ship a lesser game, that goes a long way with me.
Dave: Its true that EAD are Nintendos absolute top-flight developer, but past results dont interest me when were talking about a new, different game here. Id rather appraise any game in real, concrete terms based on what it actually brings to the table. Im not saying that I dont have faith in EAD. I absolutely do. But simply saying these guys made some other good stuff, so this will be great too is speculation, not an argument about the objective quality of the actual game in question. Platinum Games are brilliant, but lets face it, MadWorld is hardly in the same league as Bayonetta, and Shadows of the Damned is no Resident Evil 4. Also, Super Mario Sunshine was a massive let-down.
Dave says: It feels like an awkward half-way house between styles of Mario
Dave: There are two types of Mario games. There are the pure, razor-sharp, demanding ones (like SMB 1-3, SMW, and SM3DL) that squeeze every bit of creativity they can out of a very structured framework, and then there are the showstopping, lunatic ones which use freer 3D design to open up all kinds of spirally imagination and unexpected scenarios. SM64, the Galaxies. You know what Im talking about. Theyre the ones that feel as much action adventure as platformer. 3DW so far seems to have a foot in both camps, without really possessing the most exciting qualities of either. I didnt come away feeling challenged by its mechanics or blown away by its spectacle. It was just good. And thats not enough for a Mario game.
Henry: Based on the five stages shown at E3, it is a little hard to categorize 3D World. According to you it doesnt feel like a bloated version of 3D Land, which was many peoples complaints, but that it cant find its footing in either camp. Just like with your first brief experience with 3D World, I found 3D Land hard to categorize after my first demo. It didnt play exactly like any 3D Mario I played before. But the final game impressed me to the point that I felt it easily earned a 4.5 out of 5 in my review. Its funny how our earliest assumptions arent always correct, huh?
Henry says: 3D Land seemed too simple at E3, too
Henry: Flashback: E3 2011. The 3DS was floundering and one of the systems only hopes at salvation was Super Mario 3D Land. The demo looked pretty, but played far too simple for my tastes. Mario seemed to be dumbed down for the masses; made far too easy for his first 3D portable adventure. I held onto that feeling until I beat the first set of worlds and unlocked the truly challenging secret world. Clearly those were the levels made for the Mario faithful. If 3D World is really 3D Lands bigger brother, whos to say the game wont offer at least that much quality bonus content for the dedicated fans?
Dave: My issues with SM3DW do not come from simplicity. In fact, I totally disagree with your appraisal of 3DL. Its absolutely one of the best Mario games ever made, using that isometric perspective to create a pseudo-3D version of the tight, focused gameplay that made the original 2D games great back in the days of the NES and SNES. Rather, 3D World at the moment feels a bit unfocused, losing 3D Lands sharpness in favour of creating a big, goofy, multiplayer playground. 3D Lands tightness of design was its true secret weapon. 3D World seems a bit lacking in that respect so far.
Dave says: The focus is too much upon multiplayer nonsense
Dave: Im a solo Mario player myself, and Im uneasy about this recent Wii-inspired tendency to turn the games into knockabout multiplayer silliness. New Super Mario Bros. Wiis level design really suffered for it. New Super Mario Bros. U turned things around of course, by effectively being a proper, single-player, hardcore Mario with multiplayer tagged on if you wanted it. Play through it on your own, and its the real Super Mario World 2 in all but name. But 3D world feels like a step back. Aside from the lack of design precision, there are certain sections that feel like theyll fall completely flat in solo play. From the demo I can imagine the river level in particular--which charges the players with using simultaneous control inputs to steer a swimming dinosaur--being really quite dull without three or four people shouting at each other.
Henry: Firstly, multiplayer in a 3D world makes more gameplay sense than in a 2D Mario. New Mario games had players bouncing around and getting in each others way, but the third dimension gives players a lot more space to maneuver. Second, I think its interesting you point out the river stage as one of the most dependent on multiplayer, because that autoscrolling level was the one that most reminded me of Galaxy. It might not be as exciting as the giant bird and manta ray stages of Galaxy, but the beast pulling you from point A to B works fine in single player just as similar stages did in previous games.
Henry says: Single player's camera gets close to Galaxy's feel
Henry: So the multiplayer of the game locks the camera into place, just as the camera was locked in 3D Land, only it makes way less sense without stereoscopic 3D. But play solo (as I intend to) and the camera becomes unstuck in the stage, drifting free just as it did in Super Mario 64 on up to Galaxy 2. Admittedly the single-player camera wasnt perfect in the demo, but Nintendo is one of many developers that learns much from its public demos and other playtesting. Im betting the final camera will work much better when it ships in six months.
Dave: Yeah, the free camera is definitely a bonus in single-player, and I absolutely intend to play the game that way myself. But camera angle doesnt change level design. Visuals can just trick you into thinking something feels familiar at first, even if its core structure is very different. The Super Mario 64 Galaxy level design was made up of vast, complex, explorable worlds full of hidden objectives, secret nuances, and massive surprises. SM3DW so far feels like a linear A-B game with some slightly bloated additions stapled to the sides. Thats not the Galaxy feel.
Dave says: It's typical of the disappointing way Nintendo is handling the Wii U
Dave: The lack of ambition in the Wii Us games so far disappoints me, and Super Mario 3D World surmises it better than any other game. Nintendo has always been the most creative, unexpected, wildly unbounded platform holder and games developer. Thats why I pledged my fanboy allegiance to them in the mid-80s. But the Wii Us current and upcoming line-up feels more like a decent handheld catalogue than that of a home console. Its like Nintendo forgot how to really impress on a living room machine. The advent of each new core-series Mario game, from the NES to the Galaxies, has been a major landmark in the companys creative development, as well as that of gaming itself. However different they are from each other, the core Mario games are unified by surprise and innovation. And however fun it is, SM3DW does not deliver that so far. Its just not what a proper Mario game should be.
Henry: So in other words, Super Mario 3D World sums up Nintendos wrongs? Now where did I read something like that before? Hmm... Oh yeah, in this 2009 article where you had similar complaints about Super Mario Galaxy 2 after it premiered at E3. Apparently Galaxy 2 was looking pretty poor by your estimation four years ago, yet now you refer to it as a major landmark in the companys creative development? How can you be so sure your opinion wont be similarly swayed by the time you play the retail version of 3D World this December?
Henry says: Princess Peach is playable for the first time in 25 years
Henry: Ignore the karts and parties. Peach hasnt been playable in an original, core Mario game since Super Mario Bros. 2. She was way overdue for another shot at playable stardom, particularly after being cruelly skipped over for a second Toad in the New Mario franchise. Nintendo is finally setting the young lady free again, and she can even throws fireballs this time. This isnt a massive victory for equality, but its definitely a step in the right direction for Nintendo. And I assume this means, for the first time in too long, 3D World wont begin with an identical scene of Bowser kidnapping Peach.
Dave: Were not arguing whether the game is a blow for feminism (it totally isnt). Were arguing whether its a worthy home console Mario. Yes, the game is harking back to the US version of Super Mario Bros. 2 with its selection of four playable characters, but that was never a real Mario game in the first place. Youve just argued that this is a legit series entry by comparing it to the most famous non-Mario game of them all. That aside, the most important point is that the best Mario games thrive on precision level design built around rock-solid fundamental rule-sets. Once a game is catering for characters with wildly different abilities (as SM3DW is), level design has to become looser to compensate. And that worries me a bit. Mario and Luigi werent that different in SM3DL. In 3DW, Luigi has long wobbly jumps, Toad can barely jump at all and Peach can virtually fly.
Dave says: Its no kind of advertisement for the Wii Us potential
Dave: The other important thing that core Mario games always do is show off the capabilities of their host console. Super Mario World was one hell of a calling card when Ninty entered the 16-bit era. Super Mario 64 changed everything. The visual splendour and design creativity of the Galaxies even showed that the Wii was a machine to be reckoned with in the right hands. But Super Mario 3D World does nothing that couldntand in fact doesntexist on the 3DS. If Nintendo wants to excite gamers and third-party developers (and it really needs to), it has to bring a technical and design showcase to the Wii U and make the impact that it so far hasnt. Thats tough to do in pure visual terms given Nintendos traditional art style (no-one wants a photorealistic Mushroom Kingdom), but a core Mario couldand shoulddo so much more in terms of gameplay. 3D World is just too modest and polite.
Henry: I agree with this to a point. Every 3D Mario grows with the new console it appears on, usually by embracing whats special about the console. 3D World is seemingly incapable of this, mostly due to its multiplayer nature and the fact that only one player will be holding the GamePad. But were barely scratching the surface of this game. There could be some new mode or power-up thatll embrace touch functionality, or some big twist on the levels that greatly deepens replayability. Im not promising any of those feature will be there, but we still know so little about the game that we could end up making too heavy of assumptions. Maybe we should hold back a little until weve played more than five levels that even you would admit are better than most other, current 3D platformers.
Who won this round?
Youve heard both sides, now where do you stand? Is Super Mario 3D World a legit Mario game or a compromised alsoran? Let us know in the comments, because both Henry and Dave are dying to see your feedback.