What Made Mario 3DS Fun
Mario for the 3DS is hands down one of best games I have played in a long time. Part of this may be that I have a soft spot for Mario ever since I used to play the original one in the arcades. The other part is that for the first time in a long series of mediocre console versions, Mario for the 3DS is the first game to emulate what made the original Super Mario for Nintendo so much fun. Making a new Mario game for a portable system is quite the challenge in the age of mobile devices and short attention spans. While I played the game I noticed three important features that helped the game move along while keeping my interest in completing it high:
Free Lives Everywhere - Going back to the original Super Mario Bros., extra lives were always easy to come by. As the game evolved Nintendo became really liberal with their extra lives. Mario on the 3DS is perhaps the most lax of any of the games about giving out extra lives. At one point I was up to about 70 or so lives halfway through the game. By taking out the stress of maintaining a decent life collection I was more comfortable taking risks and less upset when I spent three or four lives trying to beat a level. Through the entire game my lives never dipped below 50 so I always felt like I was going to have enough saved up towards the end of the game where you usually need them.
Short, Creative And Mildly Challenging Levels - Levels were incredibly short, shorter than I ever remember them. Most of the time I could beat them in under a minute. Never once did I run the risk of running out of time as opposed to what always used to happen to me in the old games. Time became a bonus so I felt more obligated to get extra points by completing a level faster, then the constant fear that I would lose by running out of time. Also, each level appeared to be lovingly handcrafted. There wasn’t a single level I hated, although the ghost ones were never my favorites, and I didn’t skip a single one on my way to completing the game. Finally, each level had its own unique set of challenges. None of them were terribly difficult so I never had that sense of utter frustration over dying time and time again when I missed a jump or ran into a bad guy by accident.
The Super Raccoon Suit - The final “safety net” in the 3DS game was the super indestructible raccoon suit that would magically appear after you die in a level more than three times. Basically, a yellow box would appear with this suit power up, and outside of falling to your death, you were unstoppable. What made this so helpful was that after dying three or more times on a level frustration tended to creep in and I questioned if it’s worth beating the level or moving on with my life. Once the suit showed up, I could breeze through the rest of the level and continue enjoying the rest of the game instead of putting down the 3DS and walking away.
I think the big takeaway, and what the developers of Mario on the 3DS nailed, is to not penalize your players. Let them have a good time and keep them moving through the game without making it too easy. A big part of Mario is still all about jumping and hitting the correct platform at the right time. If you punish your players by making them start all over they are going to quickly lose interest and cheat or stop playing all together. Most platform games now totally do away with the notion of lives and allow players to infinitely restart at checkpoints. I think there is something fun about trying to collect lives and treating them as a kind of inventory versus having no ultimate penalty for messing up over and over again. There is also something to be said about having really well thought out and designed levels that feel unique, even when they borrow elements or puzzles from one another. All in all, these things help make Mario for the 3DS stand out and are worth taking a look at for inspiration in your own game.