Opinion; Five Things the Super Mario Bros Series Should Take from Wario Land

When it comes to recent Mario platformers, many have said they’re becoming a bit too ‘stale’ and ‘conservative’, with many of the New Super Mario Bros games and other recent titles sharing things like the same look, the same style of music and the same game structure.  But that’s not what it has to be like!  Oh no, as people who’ve played the Wario Land series should know, that franchise has shown full well how you can revolutionise a simple series of 2D platformers in every single installment.  And so here are five things from the Wario Land series that future Mario platformers should use as well.

1. A unique look and feel for every level

The first thing on the list, is a unique look and feel for every level.

This is because while reusing many of the same graphics, music tracks and ideas was a necessity back in the olden days of the NES and SNES (and honestly, not even then when you consider such games as Wario Land  3 and the Castle/World of Illusion series), it’s kind of becoming a bit boring in the more advanced and futuristic world of 2013, where we’ve got almost unlimited technical power and things we wouldn’t even be able to dream of back in the 80s and 90s.

And Wario Land 3 and 4 overcame this issue perfectly.  How?

By making EVERY SINGLE level have a different background, foreground, theme music and gimmick.  I mean, look at this level from Wario Land 4:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ye7zL3-cxo

Every single tile used in the stage would never be used again in the entire game.  The theme music, as great as it was, wasn’t turned into some ‘generic ghost world theme’.  There are enemies and gimmicks that show up in just this one stage and aren’t mercilessly reused for the rest of the adventure.  Heck, even the ROOMS often had different tilesets and backgrounds to the main area, and the music was actually subtly remixed based on what form you were in and what you were doing at the time.

That’s the kind of level of detail I want in a future 2D Mario game.  Where each level is brand new, unique, has lots of new ideas and has its own graphics and music that fit the feel of the stage perfectly.

Interestingly, it’s not the only stage in the game that does neat things with the music and graphics and what not.  Palm Tree Paradise for example not only had a pretty catchy tune with vocals (on a Game Boy Advance of all things):

But then it actually came up with a creepy, echoey, non vocal version of the same for the parts where you went underground:

That’s the level of work I want put into the levels and things in future Mario games.  And don’t say it’s not possible because of ‘tech limitations’ either, because similar stuff has been done on all manner of systems.  Wario Land 3 had unique graphics and music in pretty much all levels, but that was a Game Boy Color game…

And do you know what else did this sort of thing?

The Castle of Illusion/World of Illusion series on the Sega Mega Drive, and pretty much every Castlevania released from the SNES era onwards.  All these games were ten times fancier in terms of technology and such than any New Super Mario Bros title, so I think Nintendo should just stop putting the minimum amount of effort in and actually make these games more varied and interesting on a per level basis.

2. Multiple final bosses, story paths and endings

The next thing on the list that I want to see is something that’s found in one very well received game in the series, namely Wario Land 2.

Or in other words, its different story paths and endings.

You see, how this worked was simple.  You played through a main ‘storyline’, and then depending on what exit you took in different levels, you saw different cutscenes and played different levels until you reached a different final boss and ending.  You could go like normal until you encountered Captain Syrup in Syrup Castle…

Or you could divert from the patch to all kinds of weird locations.  Like a haunted mansion…

In which a ghost captures the Big Bad and you have to defeat it (rather than said normal villain) to proceed:

Additionally, you could sink the main villain’s pirate ship to end up in an underwater ruins area (in which you had a different boss based on what path you took)…

Heck, you could even stay asleep at the beginning and get chucked out your house (instead of fighting off the invasion while inside), leaving you to storm your own base!

More games need to do this kind of thing (and not just the pathetic ‘moral’ choices found in certain ‘triple A’ games).  Actually give you different gameplay and story related things based on how you complete certain levels and where you go.

And I think the Mario series would be a perfect place to try it out.  I mean, imagine how cool it’d be if instead of just eight worlds and a bonus one, you actually got a different set of worlds/final world/final boss depending on what exits you activated in them?

For instance, the sky world could lead to a secret Mario Galaxy style space one, which would then have its own final level, boss and ending sequence.  Perhaps Bowser gets a new zero gravity strategy to use.  Perhaps the Shroobs/X-Nauts/Fawful/Smithy Gang/someone else returns briefly and beats Bowser and his troops up before trying to take over, leaving you to stop them.

The ocean could lead to a tropical island or Atlantis style area, with Bowser discovering a new forgotten superweapon or something and you having to stop a new plan for a few levels instead of heading towards the generic ‘Bowser’s Castle’ world.  Perhaps it could be set up with a few Sunshine references too.

And imagine if other worlds could have secret ‘new’ villains who take over the plot, new bad guys at least as powerful as Bowser who have their own plans you wander into and need to prevent.  Perhaps like Wario Land 2 (where the ruins lead to the secret second ruins level, boss and ending) one secret world/storyline could lead directly into another one rather than just an alternate ending or the main game path.  Wouldn’t that really be something special?

So come on Nintendo, use Wario Land 2’s multiple endings/story paths structure in a Mario game and truly revolutionise the feel of the series.

3. Difficulty Levels

The next point on the list, and one thing I think even the Mario series needs to finally accept is good, is the existence of different difficulty levels.

Because frankly, we’re not all the same when it comes to video game skill.  What’s fun for some people is boring and easy for others, and what’s fun for some is just too much for other gamers.

And I think Wario Land 4 is an example of a platformer which showed that difficulty levels could work.  It had three difficulties (Normal, Hard and Super Hard), which did things like change the amount of enemies/types you faced, changed the endings, added some new types of enemies, moved secret items and treasures around and much more.  Heck, here was what Palm Tree Paradise was like in Normal and Super Hard Mode:

Above: Normal Mode.  Nice and easy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt2saihs8Dk

Above: Hard Mode.  Start off and the self destruct countdown begins the second you enter the stage.

That’s the sort of thing more 2D platformers need.  Make it so the good gamers out there can have a mode where they have truly have to struggle to beat a single level, and yet the lesser skilled ones can catch a break and still see the ending.

Maybe they can also make the bosses way harder to match.  I mean, Wario Land 4 gave you just 15 seconds to kill the first boss on Super Hard Mode.  So imagine how tense it’d be if you only had that long to kill Boom Boom or something.  Maybe even with Mario being forced to be small in every boss battle, to make the tight time limits and sped up/made more difficult fights even more brutal.  These things are long overdue in the Mario series.

4. More interesting levels with new themes and more lengthy designs

Because let’s face it, these same old Super Mario Bros 3 inspired world themes are getting damn repetive about now, aren’t they?

Grass Lands

That one pic, shows every single ‘first level’ with a grassland theme.    And guess what?  Every single new 2D Mario game since New Super Mario Bros on DS reused this exact same theme.  That’s just lazy.

But even in case you’re all ‘but this is fine because Mario games and grasslands’ go so well together, keep in mind that this is pretty much a perfect summary of every world theme in every Mario game now:

  1. Grass Land
  2. Desert Land
  3. Water Land
  4. Ice Land
  5. Forest
  6. Mountains
  7. Sky
  8. Bowser’s Castle/Dark Land/Mordor
  9. Outer Space

Don’t believe me?  Have a nice ‘comparison’.  Some maps from three different New Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros 3, comparing the themes…

world theme compare

Wouldn’t it instead be nice if we got some more… interesting level themes for a change?  So that’s another thing I want the New Super Mario Bros series to learn from the Wario Land one, how to come up with more varied concepts for levels.

After all, when has the New Super Mario Bros series included stuff like a level based inside a pinball machine?

A world of toys with an interactive board game, dominos and a sketchpad?

A lava filled cavern that actually freezes solid when you hit the switch at the end of the level?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIhAHgJ31L0

Above: Forget Freezeflame Galaxy, Fiery Cavern is the most interesting ‘fire and ice in one area’ level I’ve seen.

Or even the more ‘mundane’ level themes. Because come on, a level based in a rubbish tip is at least ‘original’ in some sense, even if it is the kind of place you see in real life. As is a level based inside a giant fridge, or one set in some arabian town filled with axe crazy mummies.

Heck, even Wario Land 4’s Crescent Moon Village (the level shown in the first video in the article) is based on an idea that’s surpisingly rare in the Mario franchise (aka a creepy haunted town with a sort of ‘British’ feel to it and set in the middle of Lovecraft/Campbell Country.

The rest of the series does pretty well here too actually. Shake It at least had levels set on a moving train in a pseudo Wild West setting and other set inside a Las Vegas style city with casino and neon lights everywhere. Wario World had levels where you had to use mirrors on the wall to navigate around and creepy circuses filled with zombie clowns and exploding missiles with clown faces. And Master of Disguise, for all its faults, had such areas as a bizarre cruise ship and a castle ruled with conquest mad dolphins not too unlike those from that Simpsons episode.

Above: As much as Shake It messed up in quite a few ways, you have to admit its casino and train levels were a breath of fresh air for the series.

Nintendo needs to learn from these games when it comes to level themes. Add some new level themes that aren’t just generic ‘element’ themed worlds or SMB 3 biomes. After all, it’s not like the Mario series has always been like this. Mario Land 2 had a giant robot Mario as one of its settings and Super Mario Bros 2 had Subcon. Super Mario 64 had Wet Dry World and its water raising stuff, as well as Tick Tock Clock and its whole clock theme. And Super Mario Bros 2 was pretty much all kinds of crazyness (albeit due to it being a dolled up version of Doki Doki Panic).

It’s just that nowadays, Miyamoto and some others there seem to have locked the series into just ‘Super Mario Bros 3 but more’. They’re not trying to add new content to the New Super Mario Bros series or make a true ‘successor’ to the classics, but milk nostalgia and memories and add very little that’s actually ‘new’ to the mix.

5. No more ‘remixing’

Okay, this isn’t just something the modern Mario games should take from Wario Land, but also from pretty much every other Nintendo franchise prior to the last few years too.

Stop the remixes and reusing content. After all, is the point of a new game that it’s ‘new’?

Every past Mario game (up to at least Sunshine or Galaxy), every past Zelda game, every Wario title, every Donkey Kong game up to at least 64… they all used ENTIRELY new content, at least for the most part.

Oh sure, the characters were sometimes the same and elements did return. But the actual content was always new. The music was entirely new between games, with Super Mario World not using a single song from an older Mario game throughout the whole title. The graphics and designs were new, games then at least looked significantly different between installments. And the level design/boss design?

That was definitely new. None of this ‘same overworld’ or ‘World S level remixes’ stuff (come on, Mario Galaxy 2 having its bonus levels consist of Luigi’s Purple Coins as a Galaxy, the Stone Cyclone as a Galaxy and a Mario Sunshine bonus stage was lazy as heck). And certainly none of this ‘lets tweak minor things and hope to sell it at full price’ crap than some non Nintendo devs have been pulling:

http://uk.ign.com/articles/2012/10/12/fifa-13-ea-sells-old-games-as-new

Above: That is just horrible. EA at one point sold a game that was identical to the last year’s version, with the exception of maybe the title screen (not even graphics updates).

And that’s just the point. Companies like Nintendo (as well as pretty much everyone else in the industry) need to realise that people want NEW content, not remixed levels, remixed music, reused elements with nothing new, etc. Want a good example? Well how about the New Super Mario Bros Wii castle theme, which for some reason was used for the last THREE games in a row:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZ4x_RsBf6A

Come on! Really? Even the Mario 3D World Castle theme is literally just the 3D Land castle theme as orchestrated. What happened to the days of ‘new’ music? Where we had all these different castle themes?

I mean, even New Super Mario Bros for DS had a different song. As did New Super Mario Bros Wii, until the same track got reused three times in a row.

And that’s not even getting into the poor underground theme. Oh God, Nintendo seemingly hasn’t come up with a new song for that in years now…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYd0buQa2HQ

I mean sure, they edited it well (and 3D World has an amazing intro for it), but come on. We’re talking SIX games with near enough the same song playing in the same type of level. More if you count Mario 64 as basically remixing it for Hazy Maze Cave’s theme. Again, it’s not like there’s only this one song to choose from, the older games at least came up with their own new versions in most games:

Enough already. This fan pleasing stuff was nice the first one or two times, but now it’s just getting utterly repetitive, as is the whole ‘only add the bare minimal amount of new content’ thing that the entire industry seems stuck with. Let’s have another Mario game which is entirely new. In which the worlds are new, the levels are unique, the soundtrack is new, the graphics style is updated, the bosses are new and all kinds of new things are introduced as well.

In fact, you know what? Let’s try something new. Let’s have a Mario game in which NOTHING from Super Mario Bros 3 returns. Have the development team operate under guidelines that are the exact opposite to those Sticker Star was made under. Aka, all content must be new bar Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser and some enemies.

And so that’s my list of things the Mario platformers should take from the Wario Land series, like the more original level themes, the amount of variety between areas and the multiple paths/endings.  Do you agree?  Would you want this stuff in future New Super Mario Bros games, or even the next 3D Mario installment?

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