Friday, August 23, 2013

2D in 3D

When Super Mario transitioned over to 3D at the start of the 64-bit generation the series central game mechanics were fundamentally altered. It was no longer a game about precision jumping, instead it became a game about exploration and star collection. Like the original Super Mario Bros set the template for the 2D platforming, Super Mario 64 would guide the platforming genre in to the age of 3D. Both were undeniably brilliant games that would define their respective consoles, yet they were very different games. For those gamers who grew up on the NES's Super Mario Bros trilogy, Mario's jump in to 3D would signify the end of traditional Mario platforming. This in contrast to Zelda, where Link's first 3D adventure Ocarina of Time was basically A Link to the Past in 3D, with all the central game mechanics preserved.

Of course the two dimensional platforming experience Miyamoto developed back in 1985 would return in the form of the New Super Mario Bros series games. But the games central game mechanics never survived the transition in to 3D, instead the Super Mario Sunshine and the Galaxy games would all follow the new template set by Super Mario 64. It was as if the traditional gameplay that defined the platforming genre in the 8 and 16 bit generations was unfit for the three dimensional format.

This has all changed with the arrival of Super Mario 3D Land. With some help from the systems stereoscopic 3D and undoubtably motivated by the popularity of the New Super Mario Bros series, 3D Super Mario has been redesigned in a way much more faithful to its two dimensional forerunners. Despite the game's 3D environments, the gameplay of 3D Land is much closer to that of the original Mario platformer than that of the Nintendo 64's flagship title. Thanks to the 3DS consoles stereoscopic 3D, a refocusing of the gameplay back to precision jumping has been possible, to the point that even the famous flagpole has returned.

With the reveal of Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U it would seem Nintendo has decided to stick to this traditionalist approach to the Mario series. For those who view Super Mario Bros 3 or even Super Mario World as platforming perfected this will likely feel like a welcome return to form. While for those who favor the more modern approach offered by Super Mario 64 it will likely feel like an unwelcome divergence from a formula they have learned to love.