A New Dimension

(Editor’s Note: We have two Mario Mondays that we’re celebrating this week to make up for last week’s miss due to the holiday and school vacation. Isn’t that crazy?! Well, to make it even more crazy, we’re celebrating this first Mario Monday on what should be Wario Wednesday!)

As “processing power” (whatever the hell that is) increased, programmers took advantage of that increase by pushing games into the third dimension. As with most change, even those int he name of improvement, the journey into 3D was met with mixed response. While most gamers today will argue that 3D gaming as the standard is a good thing because it provides for so many possibilities and a wider variety of games, at the time older gamers were unsure about the change.

I mean, I understand some of the consternation. We went from talking about number of bits and colors to number of polygons and real time physics. DoA and the beach volleyball game introduced even another type of physics, but I will leave it to you to Google that one as it is slightly NSFW. No matter the controversy at the time, 3D was here to stay.

Or, just take a look at the cover of the game.  Think about it...only for a second.  Don't overthink it.  Yep, you got it.  Now, feel free to Google your brains out.
Or, just take a look at the cover of the game. Think about it…only for a second. Don’t overthink it. Yep, you got it. Now, feel free to Google your brains out.

In keeping with the theme of Mario Monday (on Wario Wednesday and a week late!), we will explore how adding this 3rd dimension affected Mario games. Maybe we can talk about what 3D Mario does better than 2D. Perhaps we will discuss if, and how, the 3D could have been done differently or better. Mostly, in keeping with our other tradition of the month, we will simply use it as an excuse to play some great older games.

Super Mario 3D Land/World
Super Mario 3D Land/World

More recent (not the most recent, as I will discuss them more in the next article) Mario games have taken what was great about the early games and brought them into the third dimension. Unlike the other games I cover in this article, these games aren’t complete reworks of the mechanics of Mario.

Instead, they imagine how the old school Mario platformers might play if you were able to turn into the screen instead of just traveling left and right. You have full 3D range of motion, but are still restricted to a mostly linear path. The result is an interesting and unique experience unlike anything offered in most other Mario games.

The Verdict: A unique Mario experience, but I’ve seen 3D platforming done better in other titles.

Super Mario Galaxy
Super Mario Galaxy

A friend texted the other day to sing the praises of this game. It, along with the sequel, are the last two games that present Mario in a completely 3D pseudo sandbox game. Galaxy does give full range of movement, but it is not as immersive of a world as GTA or Red Dead Redemption.

I don’t expect Mario to follow directly in their footsteps. I don’t even know how such a game might work. Part of Mario’s charm is the limited levels that provide immediate gratification when you complete them. So, I’m glad that they kept that part of the games intact. With that being said, the Galaxy games do more with 3 dimensions than any game.

The worlds are contained on spheres and you travel from one to the next in x, y, and z (for you no math people, that’s front-back, left-right, and up-down). Sometimes you luach yourself through the air. Sometimes you free yourself from the “gravity” of one of the microplanets to fall to another. In both cases, the effect is nothing short of magical.

The verdict: Full range of motion makes these games more interesting and fun than other sandbox games in spite of the comparatively limited size of the worlds.

Super Mario Sunshine
Super Mario Sunshine

For some reason, this is one of the least popular Mario games. I’m not sure why, but I suspect that it is because of the different gameplay. In addition to the normal run and jump, mario had a water cannon mounted on his back that allows for all manner of different abilities. It allowed you to reveal secret areas, defeat enemies, and even fly for short distances.

As I discussed, gamers can be the most sensitive when it comes to changes. Any time Wizards of the Coast updates their band and restricted cards, players invariably complain. More recently, Blizzard updated Hearthstone to include a standard mode. You’d have thought that they required players to pay a monthly subscription to remain in the game. While I think that the entire concept of Hearthstone is ridiculous, people enjoy it and the concept of standard is necessary for the health of any card game.

The point of it all is that gamers complain about every change, no matter how small, benign, or even necessary it is. So, it’s no surprise that Mario’s water cannon met with mixed reaction, to put it mildly. Many people hated the idea. What I find funny about that is that it is a logical step between Super Mario 64 and Galaxy. Not content with a 3D world, they pushed the envelop to allow players to more freely move around in the up and down direction.

The verdict: A fun game with slightly different gameplay that wasn’t appreciated in its time. Actually a decent step forward in the evolution of 3D games.

Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64

At the time, this was the greatest game that I had ever played. I wasn’t alone in that sentiment. So many people loved the game for so many reasons. Even today, it remains my favorite Mario game and the first game that I beat to 100%. I had to cheat on a few of the trickier star pieces, but I still got it done. Heck, I even launched myself onto the roof to meet Yoshi.

I purchased an N64 strictly for this game. Sure, I owned other games, but this is the one that sold me the system. It took everything that we loved about Mario and brought it into the brave new world of three dimensions. Unlike the 3D World and Land games, the worlds were immersive and worth exploring beyond just the linear path. That same immersion makes up for the fact that it doesn’t offer the same full range of 3D motion that Galaxy does.

The verdict: In my opinion, still the best Mario game ever made. A great marriage of the old and the new makes for a great experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.