By EvilConker 40 Comments
It was father time, with the retro flare, in the home console.
What inspired this blog post today of all days is a nice little game called Super Mario Galaxy 2. Yes, it is a good game, yes, if you don't have it yet then you're most likely a hell spawn that needs to be shot... twice, and yes, it is supposed to be the follow up to the original Super Mario Galaxy... And there lies the problem. If common belief holds true, Super Mario Galaxy was the sequel to Super Mario Sunshine, which was in turn, the sequel to Super Mario 64. Yes, it's true that all three are completely different games with no real constant story, but so are Super Mario Bros 1, 2, and 3.
Now how does this game relate to the death of the platformer? Well the thing is... It's linear.
Really... Damn... Linear.
Although I like defying gravity (or more so actually following the rules more then I should be) as much as the next guy, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 does a good job of doing so, I can't shake off the feeling that there's a hidden man with a gun right behind me pushing me through a set path. Even more so, this game makes absolutely no effort to hide it. You've got your "hub world," but that's in parenthesis because it's just a fancy way to get to the level select screen. The level select screen, although it always allows you to skip a galaxy or two, is litteraly drawing a line for you to follow. Yes, there are checkpoints, that's a bad sign.
Now this wouldn't be as important if the levels themselves weren't just massive straight lines which are just pushing you along from point A (where Mario makes his dramatic entrance) to point B (the star.) In fact, if you don't select the star from the chapter screen, it's down right not accessable while attempting another one. And this isn't just for select levels, this is for every one of them. The game does all sorts of things to make sure that you stay on the path it told you to stay on, and although there ARE secret stars that diverge from the path, they just end up being a small hidden room with a challenge, or a special code, a coin luma, or ANOTHER path to follow. The entire time I feel the game's telling me "Hey, you wanna skip ahead and get star 2 during chapter 1? WELL TOO BAD! See those critical platforms? Gone! See that boss? Gone! See that path? Blocked! Now stick to the linear path, sucker!"
Of course, this is the game being the game it wants to be, but that's the problem, the fact that this IS the game that Super Mario Galaxy 2 wants to be is just a hidden reminder of what once was: The Open 3D Platformer.
Although SMG 2 is a platformer and a 3D one at that, it's not open. And the cruel irony is... this is the series that created the concept in the first place.
When Super Mario 64 came around, it's most notable feature was the fact that for once, you could move around like you do in real life, with 360 degree control. And Mario didn't hide it, he was as happy as it gets, he jumped, ran around, climbed trees, did backwards summer saults, and all in all, platformed his way to 120 stars and saved the Peach for the 64th time or so. However, what Mario also created was one of the most important genre's known to man: The Open 3D Platformer.
The Open meant that you could take a number of paths from one area. Yes, if you were on Chapter 1, and you saw Star 6, you can get it if you have the skills. You may get a hint if you follow the game's path, but the game won't go at great lengths to make sure you get Star 1 on Chapter 1 or no star at all. If you notice, the only time you have a straight down path in Super Mario 64 that you couldn't avoid was during the bowser stages, and those were for self explanatory reasons.
Even more so, however, is that some stars in the game were downright unaccessable until you went ahead and found something that you needed to do it later on in the game. If the game needs a metal cap, well, go find the switch yourself.
However, what has happened during the line down is that Mario has found himself more restricted every new game.
Super Mario Sunshine wasn't TOO restrictive, but yes, there were a lot of triggers that were activated only if you have the Chapter activated, as in, you can't go into the hotel on Sirena Beach unless you're SUPPOSED to, and you're not SUPPOSED to until the game makes you, when the chapter becomes available. However, there were still those moments where there are those stars which you can't get to until you unlock something later on in the game. And so, I'm still not done with Bianco Hills even if Noki Bay is unlocked, simply because I need more stars from Noki Bay so I can get a new nozzle for Fludd that I need for Bianco Hills.
It's that kind of interaction that defines the open world 3D platformer, and although Super Mario Sunshine had less of it then it should've had, it still had it.
Super Mario Galaxy, however, didn't have that kind of interaction at all. If I was offered the chance to get the star, I could go and get the star. I only reached a level with Bee Mario if I already had Bee Mario. Thus, completely removing the unlinearity that Super Mario 64 had worked so hard to pioneer.
Super Mario Galaxy 2, however, removed that to every degree possible. It's downright impossible to get any star until it's offered to you. There are no switches to switch, power-ups are just handed to you, usually on a silver plate too.
Now this is just ONE franchise, but the problem is, this is an accurate reflection of everything. The 3D Super Mario Platforming games were the last hope of the modern unlinear open 3D platformer, and it's all but gone now. Super Mario Galaxy 2 effectively nailed the coffin shut.
However, this was a long time coming, too, the franchise had been dying for years.
Two franchises that come to mind are Banjo-Kazooie and Spyro, both didn't even have a chapter system. That is, you're never even given hints to where things are for the most part, the jiggies/whatever Spyro needs are just thrown around the game world. However, we all know what happened to those franchises.
Spyro got sold to a new company who has been butchering the poor dragon ever since, killing the franchise to a pulp, and then eventually dropping all the core concepts altogether and making a crappy combat based game which got crappy reviews, and as expected, sold crappily.
Banjo-Kazooie, one of my favorite franchises in gaming history, ended up with a sequel, Banjo-Tooie, which had a bad GBA prequel, Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge, which most people forgot and isn't really cannon. However, the cannon story setup at Banjo-Tooie, was supposed to be continued with Banjo Threeie... But it didn't. First it was delayed, then it was unheard of, then it was finally revealed as a completely new game... A vehicle costumization one at that.
Also known as Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, this game basically repeals everything Banjo-Kazooie/Banjo-Tooie did. Banjo Kazooie had open worlds with jiggies thrown around, Banjo Tooie went farther and connected worlds together, making you have to go to several worlds, connecting the early game and the late game, doing multiple various things to get one single jiggy. For example, you had to free a train in Glitter Gulch mine, then drive it to Hellfire Peaks, then cool it down with a camel that you freed from Witchy World, to go and get a jiggy in the ice side of the level... And that's only one thing, for one jiggy. However, instead of Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts continuing this, it provided us all with levels that aren't related in the least sense... at all. In fact, all the Jiggies were clearly laid out for you, and the only way to get them was through Jiggy challenges that were different in each chapter. So not only did the game not connect worlds, it didn't even bother to connect chapters. Each jiggy was its own individual challenge that wasn't related to anything else. The game didn't stop there, however, it basically garunteed you that as long as you finished the grunty challenges in order, you're going to be able to complete every challenge in the game. For example, Bottles never gave me a flying mission before I unlocked a set of wings. And so, Rare killed the back tracking that made its series so popular and unique.
Now where are the parallels in here?
These are all series that built off each other, shared a common gameplay element, and then repealed almost everything as soon as the 6th generation of consoles ended, for the most part.
Spyro 3 built on Spyro 2 which built on Spyro 1, but then it was sold and nothing afterwords continues any of that.
Banjo-Tooie built on Banjo-Kazooie, but then the 360 came and Nuts and Bolts doesn't continue that.
Super Mario Sunshine built on Super Mario 64, but then the Wii came Super Mario Galaxy doesn't continue that.
So what we have here is a complete lack of Open 3D Platformers.
But who killed them?
It wasn't Nico Bellic, it wasn't Master Chief, and it wasn't Marcus Pheonix.
It was father time.
What ended up happening with Super Mario Galaxy 2 is that it's a return to Mario's "roots." Mario was never an open world game, and once it became one, it went forward, but then it started going back again to be linear... again. I can easily say that it was the New Super Mario Bros that made Super Mario Galaxy 2 what it is. Think about it, the game sold like hot cakes, but why? It was because it was a linear, straight forward, game. None of those "complexities" such as back tracking or things you can't access yet. And then Super Mario Bros Wii came out, and that changed everything... It was the first 2D Mario game on a console not following Yoshi since Super Mario World... That's 19 years. And boy did that game sell.
You thought Nintendo's trying to appeal to the hardcore audience? Well, you may be right, but they've got their sights on the casual audience too. The casual audience is not what the 3D Open Platformer is all about, the casual audience likes a set path right down the middle. They like being told what to do, and if they see something they can't use right off the bat (such as a clear red box, for example) they get confused. However, if they're given a straight line right down the middle, with everything you need available, then they enjoy it and tell their friends. All the while, the hardcore gamers are enjoying it too because, yes, SMG 2 has its challenging areas (although I find it medium difficulty, to be honest,) and yes, this is Mario being as Mario as he gets.
So yes, they kept chipping away at the 3D Open Platformer until it's gone, Super Mario Sunshine was less open then Super Mario 64, and Super Mario Galaxy was less open then both, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes the cake for the least open 3D Mario game ever created. However, those aren't faults, those are what the games are TRYING to do, but the problem is, that's what they're trying to do...
The cruel irony is... We're backtracking. The worlds were too open and now they're closing up again.
Super Mario Bros was really linear, Super Mario Bros 2 was less linear, Super Mario Bros 3 was even less, Super Mario World had alternate routes, Super Mario 64 was completely open, Super Mario Sunshine was less open, Super Mario Galaxy was pretty linear, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 was really linear.
Alas, the poor Open 3D Platformer, I knew thee well, I enjoyed collecting yee magical items to open thein worlds, and I enjoyed doing it in any order I find fit, and I enjoyed yee teasing me with unaccessable areas, and I enjoyed the power of collecting thein items later.
Notice: I don't hate Super Mario Galaxy 2 or Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, I enjoy them both and they both deserve the ratings they got, however, they just aren't the games I was hoping they would be. They're fun, they aren't lacking, and they're pretty impressive. It's just a different genre now.