Mario Replay: Super Mario World

Super Mario World doesn’t change things a whole lot from Super Mario Bros 3. It is the closest any of these sequels has looked to the game before it, even taking into account SMW’s new SNES paint job. Yes, the series has made the jump to 16-bits, but the look of the series has started to solidify.  They aren’t going back to the drawing board every time now, or massaging an unrelated game to make it look like a Mario one.  This feeling is probably increased by my having most recently played the All-Stars versions of the NES games, were are designed to look as much like Super Mario World as possible.

In a few ways, Super Mario World reins things in from Super Mario Bros 3.  There are fewer power ups, the plethora from Mario 3 reduced to just the fire flower and the cape.  That is offset by making Mario himself more innately capable, with a new spin jump and the ability to climb on certain walls. That and the major addition of supporting character/power up Yoshi. While there  are fewer power ups, the levels are much larger. That facilitates the game’s change of focus from from speedy completion to more sedate exploration.  SMW’s levels, especially compared to its predecessor’s, are expansive.  It plays somewhat slower, but encourages a more thoughtful approach.  It helps that these larger levels are mostly very well designed.

Despite the fact that the games don’t play all that differently, there is a fundamental change to the Mario series that happens with Super Mario World.  Before that the games were all still arcade influenced action games, designed to be beaten in one sitting.  Super Mario World introduces saving and the game becomes much more exploration focused. While there are secrets in all of the games, compare what finding a secret area in Super Mario Bros or Super Mario Bros 3 gets the player with Super Mario World.  In SMB you can warp rooms, which let you skip large portions of the game.  The same is true in SMB3, where you find warp whistles that transport the player later in the game.  There secrets there are designed to help facilitate the experienced player beat the game by skipping it.  The games are designed to be beaten in one sitting, and jumping almost straight to world 4 really helps with that. Just knowing about the warp is not enough, an inexperienced player will be quickly stymied by the increased difficulty, but those who have seen it before can quickly get to the meat of the game.  In Super Mario World, though, the secrets are not there to let the player skip the game, but to open up more game to beat.  You can unlock star roads and alternate routes, but still you have to beat the vast majority of the game before you can have your showdown with Bowser.

That Super Mario World makes this change without dramatically changing how the game is played is rather remarkable. In many ways, Super Mario World is the last of the original run of Super Mario games.  After this we got Yoshi’s Island, which changes things up significantly, and then the 3D evolution with Super Mario 64. By the time the series came back to 2D with New Super Mario Bros it wasn’t really the same thing.  I’m not sure this is a bad thing.  I’m playing through the series as fast as possible, one after the other (while still taking time out for Zelda, Persona and Dragon Quest) and I would be overjoyed if there were another handful of 2D Mario games before the series went 3D.  Hell, we got 10 Mega Man games in that same time frame, and most of them are more than worthwhile.  But each of the console Mario games has a distinctive feel.  Mario World and Mario 3 might the be the closest any of the games feel to each other, with the exclusion of the glorified expansion pack The Lost Levels, and even between those two there are significant differences.  I don’t see how Nintendo could have fit in any more games without repeating themselves.  Super Mario World is the perfect end point for this vein of the series.

Super Mario World remains one of my favorite games.  In the eternal, pointless argument between Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World, I am strongly in favor of the SNES game. This playthrough did nothing to change that.  I love Super Mario World, even if I usually peter out about three worlds in. Now it is on to relatively unexplored territory.

A Super Friend Turns 20

August 23 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the Super Nintendo. This is a source of much celebration and rejoicing for right-minded people as the SNES is probably the best video games system ever released. It is also going to be the source of a week’s worth of celebratory posts on this blog.

AS much as I love the NES, I have to say that my favorite video game console is the SNES. As its name suggests, the Super Nintendo is simply a more powerful Nintendo Entertainment System. While there were a few different kinds of games for the system — like the 3D Star Fox and arguably Mode 7 racers like F-Zero, though they had NES precedents — most of the games for the SNES were fundamentally similar to those on the NES. Developers, however, had learned much in the six or so years since the NES first appeared. With the added power, they were ready to perfect the kinds of games popularized on the NES. SNES games looked better, sounded better, and played better. They were just more polished and expansive and just plain better in nearly every way than NES games. Compare Metroid to Super Metroid or The Legend of Zelda to A Link to the Past. (You could also compare Super Mario World to any of the NES Mario games, but that point is debatable.)

Better than Super Mario Bros. 3

Since the SNES was the last popular primarily 2D console (I said popular Saturn fans who only theoretically exist) it was the last time 2D games were the recipients of attention and dollars from publishers. After the SNES, 2D games were primarily throwbacks or fan-games, or the SNES’s second coming as the GBA/DS. This is why the SNES is 2D perfected; there was never anyone to make these games better than they were on the SNES. And while the SNES’s library isn’t particularly large, it is very top heavy. There are a disproportionate number of great games for the system.

Other than the games, the SNES also had maybe the greatest controller ever created. Nintendo has a way with controllers. Even their ugliest monstrosity (N64) works well in practice. The SNES controller is perfect in its simplicity. Instead of 2 face buttons, the SNES has 4, cleverly spaced and half convex, half concave for easy sightless button recognition. It also introduced the now essential shoulder buttons, which now are used as triggers for shooters but then were there to keep from gimping Street Fighter 2. For 2D games, there is nothing better than the SNES pad.

God's controller

The system itself was not as sleek as the controller was. It did fix the NES’s greatest flaw, the easily broken VCR-like sliding deck, but it looked very boxy, like a toy. The look of the system did not do it any favors in its competition with the Sega Genesis. In the battle between these two 16-bit titans, Sega tried to brand itself as the cool video game console. With claims of “Blast Processing,” a noticeably sleeker console and coups like blood in Mortal Kombat this perception was widely cemented. Sega’s success seems to have worked against it in the long run, though. Nowadays the Genesis is mostly remembered for fake “Blast Processing” and Sonic the Hedgehog. It is tempting to say that Nintendo let their games do their talking, Sonic may be facing some harsh critical reevaluations but Mario World is still widely regarded as a classic. But it is easy to remember that Mario did not beat Sonic back then, Donkey Kong Country did, with its “cool” digitized graphics. And Nintendo was hardly sitting quietly, it is just that their attempts to encourage players to Play it Loud were not so successful.

What could be cooler?

In the end, the SNES was not quite the cultural touchstone that the NES was. It faced stiffer competition from the Sega Genesis and mostly just built off the success of its predecessor. But the SNES was released at the perfect time to catch my attention and there are just so many great games that I could never love another console as much. So this week is going to be dedicated to my boxy friend sitting in the cabinet under the TV, growing ever yellower in its old age. This week I think I will Play it Loud, and I hope you will too. Or you could wait until the week that is actually the anniversary, but that doesn’t work with my blogging schedule.