Genius in Game Design

Posted By at 6:51 AM on Monday February 1, 2010

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Genius in Game Design: Things I Like About Super Mario World

(With Help From Benj)

Super Mario World got it right the first time. Selling over 20 million copies, the game was a huge success and its legacy lives on as a twinkle in the eye of any seasoned gamer. Despite its release two decades ago, the game is still fun to play.

Nothing about Super Mario World is formulaic. While level completion can be achieved by taking the shortest and most direct route, there is so more much to see and do, amazing on a 2D platformer. The levels most often run from left to right, but a player who doesn’t look everywhere will be missing a lot. Often, the sky holds hidden pipes and platforms reachable only by cape. Blocks hide vines twisting up to secret levels, and even falling off a platform can reveal a new route to fetch a Yoshi coin or a shortcut to the exit. Even the world map can be traversed in many ways by skipping areas entirely, travelling through pipes, or swimming through water to get to different sections. The world map also shifts and changes according to the player’s progress, with new ways being opened up and barriers disappearing/new structures appearing depending on how one completes a level.

The gameplay is easy to get into, the controls simplistic and requiring only a minute of maneuvering to figure out what the buttons do. While the game is simple to learn, it’s a challenge to master, and manipulating Mario’s moves to get into tight spaces and fly great distances requires some knowledge and practice.

The bright, cheerful graphics give life to the world’s many enemies, each with their own personality. Quirky and interesting, they ensure a trapeze through the game’s many environments is never repetitive. It’s hard to get used to enemy patterns when one often encounters creatures that knock one’s previous strategy for a loop. Take the blue Koopa in Level 5. While the defeat of its multicoloured predecessors was assured by stomping on their backs to remove the shell and throwing said shell in their direction, the blue will catch the shell and chuck it back at Mario. Drybones are normally fairly innocuous enemies who wander back and forth on platforms and occasionally revive, but ones found in later levels will toss bones at the player. Even enemies that don’t do much are given personality in some way or another, like the orbiting Hotheads who rotate blocks and switch their gaze to whatever direction they’re going.

One can strategize by picking and choosing the items they use, each being helpful at a different time. It’s sometimes tough to choose between the glider-like Cape the fire-spitting Fire Flower, but both come in handy in different situations. Different Yoshis (Mario’s rideable dinosaur) can be obtained that grant the player a range of powers such as flight, a heavy ground-pound, or fireballs (even all at once!). Nothing is all-powerful, and while certain items aid progress, they never take away the challenge.

The game’s music, written by Koji Kondo of Mario, Zelda, and StarFox fame is bright and catchy and ranges through many themes, from the bouncy title song heard in overworld levels to the waltz of the underwater worlds, to the bass rhythms of Bowser’s Castle and beyond.

Sidequests reward the player with extra lives and the activation of platforms that simplify dungeons and levels. Certain areas allow the player to stockpile lives if they know the secret, tricks that earn more tries for the challenges ahead.

Different areas have a variety of themes and features, such as the Forest of Illusion which requires the player find the hidden exit of each level in order to advance. The Chocolate Island region’s levels are affected by the player’s actions, such as how many coins are collected or how much time has passed.

The Super Mario World team has also injected their own sense of humor into the game, with Mario destroying the lairs of Bowser’s underlings in increasingly amusing ways. The lead character bombs, kicks, hammers, and erases castles out of existence with the help of a scrub brush. Once, a hill that is hit by a rocketing castle after a detonation spends the rest of the game with a bandage affixed to its summit.

To facilitate transportation and ensure the player doesn’t have to slog back and forth, a warp world called Star Road connects the various areas of the game. Star Road is also a series of levels in itself, each providing a different-coloured Yoshi, and requiring the player to find a hidden exit to progress to the next stage and complete the pentacle. Once all are done in conjunction with finding all the game’s hidden Switch Palaces, the player can access a series of levels designed to be challenging and causing the whole game’s appearance to change upon completion.

On top of all this is the multiplayer. Players trade off completing levels and advance through the game together, a difference in skill negated by the ability of the more experienced player to donate lives whenever needed to a player that’s struggling.

In conclusion, whether one is a hardened gamer or a fresh beginner, they’ll find something to enjoy in Super Mario World. With its exploration, strategy, secrets, challenges, unlockables, and plain old fun, this Mario is truly a game for the ages.

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