Real Talk By: Ms. Throwback (Heather Kiley)
According to Wikipedia.com, Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS has sold 5 million units total so far with an overall average review score of 90% by top websites. I gave this review only three MF’s out of five essentially dropping the overall score of this game to between a 60-69% and some people seem to be asking themselves, “where is the other 30% Ms. Throwback, your reviews aren’t legit. I must be on the wrong website.” Oh no my friend you’re here, that’s the right score, and we are keeping this totally legit. Let’s find out why.
First I might need to give you a little history on myself and the approximately 180 million other people who over the course of 27 years have purchased Mario titles for their consoles. I’m in my mid-twenties which means that since I’ve been alive, Mario has been jumping on enemies, saving the princess, creating memorable music, pushing the boundaries of level design, stunning audiences with visuals beyond compare, and redefining the entire gaming industry. Many people look at Mario as a kids title but it is a hardcore gamers force to be reckoned with, and the majority successful developers and game designers at some point in their career find inspiration in Mario. He was the beginning of a lot of things and will continue to be. That is the expectation, and while it is a high one to hold, it is the highest honor for Nintendo. When we hear about a new Mario title coming out we set the bar of excitement and expectation at the highest level. It is an excitement from our childhood, and an excitement for Nintendo to continue its success, not only for the good of its own company but for the onward evolution of the entire gaming industry.
What have we seen out of Mario that is so great? The list is obvious and endless but we may need a refresher to remind us of what a game rated in the 90th percentile consists of:
Super Mario Bros. NES – best-selling video game for over 20 years until Wii sports and continues to be the second best-selling game of all time. This title also single-handedly ended a two-year slump of console gaming sales in 1983 and has some of the most recognizable theme songs to date.
Super Mario Bros. 3 NES – Created the overworld map where a choice could be made for the player in what level to complete (this alone was an industry changer. It seems small but where would we be without amazing world map creation like this?)
Super Mario World SNES – introduced Yoshi as a separate playable character element (something that was mostly unheard of at the time.)
Super Mario 64 N64 – Camera Camera CAMERA! This was the invention of the dynamic camera, an absolutely essential part of the newly established three-dimensional environments. This invention led to the automatic adjustment of cameras in video games as we know them today.
These are just four Mario titles that are worldwide gaming industry changers, not just for the moment in which they were created, but for the moment that we are in now. Overworld maps, separate playable characters that interact as a unit, camera angles, and the entire video game industry itself that was all but failing in 1983, owes thanks to one character, Mario. Keep in mind that I could write this article for the next two years if I listed all the things that Mario has done but I’m pulling what I feel to be the most important examples of the power of a Mario game. Mario is the best-selling franchise of all time point-blank, by an insane margin of 56 million copies compared to the number two spot. Which brings us to Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS.
First lets talk about what made this a game changer for the Mario franchise. I think it’s relatively obvious. The 3D technology of the system itself creates a dynamic interface for level design. It’s not just an option with this game, the 3D feature is essential during some parts of game play to pull out certain interactive aspects of the level. It’s wonderfully done and along with the incredible graphical design, and fun-loving Mario environment, any Mario player would feel right at home smashing up enemies through these beautiful worlds. This is the evolution of the industry I’ve been talking about and meets the expectation we have for Mario, but what went wrong?
With such a leap forward through the visuals and interactive environment of the game the rest of it took a back seat. How can I put a game in even the 80th percentile when it took me a single day to beat it and I ended the game with 100 lives. I’ve never done that with a Mario game before. Yes I ended Mario Galaxy with over 100 lives but I didn’t beat it in a day. Yes I can beat Super Mario Bros. NES in a day, but not with 100 lives. It was unacceptably easy and on top of that they offend me with a new item that literally makes me totally invincible unless I fall in a hole. That item alone could have deducted 10% bringing it down into the 80th percentile. Essentially no matter where you are in the game you can kill yourself several times and the “golden raccoon tail” item will appear letting you race through the whole level.
Honestly this is a throwback moment and since that’s my name let me point out that in 1992 a game called Super Mario Bros. 2 was released in Japan. It was not the same Super Mario Bros. 2 that was released in America. The one released in Japan was considered “too difficult for Americans” and was not released until 1993 as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost levels in the bundle of games known as Super Mario All Stars. This game was intense and in my opinion remains the most difficult Mario levels I have ever played. These levels represent the extreme and they were frustrating, but even when I was young and I had finally beaten the game after many frustrating weeks, I realized what Mario is all about, the challenge. Part of the fun of any Mario title isn’t the gameplay dynamic or the music or the colorful backdrop. It is by far level design. The feeling of overcoming insane obstacles with a simple platformer is about as good as it gets.
When it comes to the level design of Super Mario 3D Land it’s not just about comparing it to the most extreme form of Mario but any other Mario within memory. Super Mario 64, New Super Mario Bros. DS, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Smash Brothers. Half the fun of these games is the technical and challenging level design. Mario 3D Land just doesn’t have it. There are very few levels that present a challenge even if you didn’t have to deal with the absolutely bogus “golden raccoon tail” item. There is the innovation of the 3D aspect of the handheld that makes level design different than the norm, however, it still isn’t challenging and so an unfortunate waste in my mind. level design is defiantly a 15% mark off, and difficulty setting is a 10% mark off. If you’re keeping track we are now at a game rated at 65%.
So with less than stellar level design, a low difficulty setting, and an item that ruins the entire game, for a Mario title this is a reasonable disappointment. That’s three huge strikes, creating a game that I hate to say, I only believe, is worth three MF’s out of five. Maybe this isn’t something that would be a big deal for another game franchise but this is Mario. Our expectation should be pitting this title against other Mario games not just every other over-saturated platformer on the market. When I look back on the history of Mario This title isn’t even going to hit my top ten Mario’s. It’s forgettable and it’s not ground breaking and if it’s not those things then it isn’t the mario we know. If your looking for a repeat Mario game with the stunning visuals, beautiful music, and mushroom kingdom environment, it has all that. There aren’t glitches, the controls are nice, everything is tightly knit including the new arrival of the 3D visuals, but why wouldn’t it be. What would I give a Mario game that didn’t have stunning visuals, the answer is probably below the 60th percentile. What about if it had glitches, completely unacceptable. Why is that? because that isn’t Mario. Mario doesn’t come with glitches, bad music, or bad visuals. Our default notion when we even begin to play a Mario is that we are getting a quality title but Mario raises the bar over and over again and it has to continue doing so or it will become the next Crash Bandicoot. The kind of game that was once a 9/10 becomes a forgettable franchise. None of us will forget the beautiful experiences that Mario has brought us, but we cannot give a title an unforgettable score when it is not unforgettable.