One of the major complaints about recent entries in the Super Mario series is that the environments have become generic and uninspiring, and players find themselves traversing the same grass, desert, ice, etc. levels in game after game. (Of course, the people who complain about such things forget that the early Mario games dragged them through the exact same areas too, so it’s not exactly a new problem. Methinks gamers were just spoiled by the interplanetary hijinks of Super Mario Galaxy.) All of the commotion, however, has gotten me thinking: With the inclusion of a scene from a new Mario game in the Nintendo Switch announcement trailer, where should such a game take us?
In thinking about this topic, it’s admittedly been pretty hard to come up with completely new locales for Mario to visit. Instead, I think the way forward is to focus on the details on these worlds, and tweak these smaller features to make the worlds feel unique. Instead of a generic forest level, for example, what kind of forest should it be? Maybe it could be a rainforest filled with tropical flora and ancient temple ruins. Maybe it could be a maple grove in autumn, full of brilliantly-covered leaves. Maybe it could be a redwood forest full of vertical tree-climbing levels. This focus on detail could extend to enemy design as well: For example, tropical forests feature Piranha plants and Koopa Troopas wearing safari helmets. (Even better: Introduce entirely new enemy designs!)
Nintendo has already shown us that it’s been thinking along these same lines, as shown by the Mario level seen in the Switch trailer. Instead of being just another desert level, the developers decorated it with a ‘Day of the Dead’ theme, and added buildings reminiscent of the old Southwest. (I’d love to see them take this a step further, like a boss battle involving an Old-West style shootout with Bullet Bills.) This is exactly the kind of thinking the Mario series needs.
Of course, there are a few new locations I’d like to see Mario venture to:
- The urban jungle. No, I’m not talking about Neo Bowser City; I’m talking about something like Rhythm Route from Kirby: Planet Robot, with big buildings and Goombas driving around in cars (hey, if they can play baseball without hands, they can probably drive a stick shift). With the exception of Super Mario 3D World, Bowser usually opts for gothic castles and flying wooden ships, so why not have him upgrade and join the modern era for a change?
- Cyberspace. It’s time for Mario to join the rest of the world online. Imagine a world with a background of green characters dripping down the sky Matrix-style, a blocky Minecraft-esque world that can change its look at will (with platforms that materialize and disappear in a flurry of code), and mechanical version of classic enemies standing in Mario’s path. I think there’s some potential here.
On the whole, though, I think Nintendo doesn’t need to make grand, sweeping changes to make Super Mario Switch (or whatever they end up calling it) a success. It’s the little things that matter, and if Nintendo can tweak their level designs to bit more noticeable, it will help make the game more memorable and put the criticism about uninspired level design to rest.