Nov 8, 2007
There's no point trying to pigeonhole Mario - a simple hold on Z and a tap of A, and he'll backflip straight out - but most people tend to refer to his 3D outings as 'playgrounds'. True, levels are littered with holes to leap, slides to pelt down and obstacles to ooh, ahh, waa-hoo over - but funny no one mentions wasted space. Because whenever there's a space for running, for leaping, or just an empty space, in comes Miyamoto with his design chisel.
Chipping away everything around the platforms, slides and swings has left design team EAD Tokyo with no choice but to take the remaining joy-lumps into orbit - it's the only place such level design nuggets would make sense. The importance of star gates blasting Mario from rock to rock cannot be understated. In eliminating superfluous footwork, you're never strolling towards the next interesting 'bit' but always playing, playing, playing.
All this would be in vain if the planets didn't hold their end of the bargain. But do they ever. Just as every step that Mario takes has to justify its place in Galaxy, so each planet follows suit. Although your goal on each area is pretty much the same - you're either leaping towards a gate to fire you to the next rock/egg/apple/spoon, or building a new gate from star shards - each planet is more experimentally alien than the last.
And so you're not just collecting shards, but wading through treacle muck as tumbling boulders try to smush you into a 'you lose' screen. You're not just trying to grab star bits, but spinning into rubbery demolition balls to send them tearing through a wall of razor-sharp flora. Slamming a switch, you watch a planet crumble to reveal a new sphere within made of crystalline waters. And you see that Yoshi-shaped planet teeming with Goombas? Here, have an invincibility star to tear it up in a 30-second fun splurge lit up by a trail of Mario's rainbow clones. Now factor in gravity.