Should a 3D Mario Platformer with Co-op be released on 3DS?

With the rise in the number of 2D platformers with a multiplayer option (New Super Mario Bros Wii, Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby’s Return to Dreamland being key examples), I personally think now would be a good time to revisit this idea.

First though, here’s a quick history lesson.  You see, Nintendo have been working on trying to implement multiplayer in the 3D Mario platformers for a rather long time.  Indeed, right back in the 90s there was a plan to make a ‘Super Mario 64 2’ on the 64DD, and that was supposed to feature multiple playable characters and at least two player co-op as well.  While no real screens seemed to surface of the game (Nintendo only mentioned the features planned when confirming the game was cancelled), this was what people imagined it would work like:

This April Fool's Day joke illustrates what people imagined Mario 64 2's co-op to be

They then tried again those years later in Super Mario 64 DS (remember it was called Super Mario 64 x 4 at one point after all).  Yet alas, while we got cool screens like the one showing all four playable heroes flying around with the wing cap at once, the game itself was a strictly single player affair outside of a boring, limited multiplayer mode.

Isn't this what Mario fans once dreamed of?

But since then, Nintendo has never even tried to bring co-op into the 3D Mario games (outside the 2nd person being able to move a cursor around in the Mario Galaxy series).  However, here’s why I think a 3D Mario platformer with such a feature should be released on the 3DS at some point in the future.

1. The 3DS is the first handheld with new 3D Mario games, and it avoids camera issues

The first point being what makes such a game feasible (Super Mario 3D Land was the first ‘new’ handheld 3D Mario game after all), the second being what makes it possible.

So why is the camera such a problem usually?  Well, let me explain.  In a platformer which has co-op multiplayer, or any such game with the feature in general, you need to be able to keep all players on screen at the same time.  In a 2D game, this usually works by having the camera generally follow the player in the lead (or player 1 if such a designation exists) while sort of zooming out the camera to show everyone up to a certain point.  Then, if you’re too far away you’re either killed or warped to the group/first player.  Think of how New Super Mario Bros Wii, Super Smash Bros Brawl’s Subspace Emissary or Donkey Kong Country Returns does it.

But this doesn’t work in 3D.  First problem is that the camera can zoom out too far and make the gameplay almost impossibly hard.  Think of how annoying it is to play on New Pork City in Brawl with the camera barely showing everyone in the match:

Where is everyone?

Not to mention how visually distracting zooming out the camera too much is with heavily detailed levels.  Imagine seeing everything in Bianco Hills at once and trying to figure out which few polygons happen to be Mario and which few correspond to Luigi.

What’s even worse is that it’s fairly difficult to move a character around in 3D space when you’re viewing the action from a distance away.  Imagine trying to move your character around when they appear only an inch or so high on the TV screen and simultaneously trying to figure out which platforms are even possible to jump to.  Depth seems like it’d be a pain if everyone were located all across the level and trying to figure out how to reach the next location.

This is already confusing with just one Mario running around...

Imagine trying to figure out how to reach that shell secret level in Mario Sunshine’s Noki Bay if the camera was zoomed out to show the various characters on different levels of terrain.  It’d be a camera/control/usability nightmare.

Plus, tech limitations come into play as well on a home console.  See, if you zoom out the camera and everyone is standing at various places across the level map, the engine has to load absolutely everything that’s on screen at once.  That’s not how 3D games work though, they usually dynamically load new objects and areas in as the player approaches them, and mask it with transitions like tunnels and warp stars.  Or in Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, distant objects just faded into existance when the player got with so many metres of them.

But for a game which worked like New Super Mario Bros Wii, you’d have to load absolutely everything near the human players, and make it all work as far as AI goes.

Finally, it’d be nigh impossible for the game to figure out who’s closest to fulfilling the mission objective in a free roaming 3D world.  That whole ‘snap back’ to the player in front would be impossible to achieve if the world in question was say, Bob-omb Battlefield.

But the 3DS (and handheld consoles in general) can avoid these pitfalls by using the different console’s screens to only show what’s going on near each player at any one time.  Each person can only see their own view of the level, and the console doesn’t overheat/get set on fire due to trying to have to load in absolutely ever single object in a ten mile radius.

2. Co-op is a big thing in games at the moment and it’d be a logical progression from New Super Mario Bros Wii

Think about it for a minute.  First we had purely single player games, then we had localised multiplayer like that from Mario 64 DS, then proper albeit basic co-op in the Super Mario Galaxy titles before getting the full thing in New Super Mario Bros Wii.

First the 2D games, then the 3D ones?

So what else would a logical step to take than bringing four player co-op into the 3D Mario games like they did for New Super Mario Bros Wii?  It’d also make a lot of sense in today’s gaming market where nigh on every game of importance has co-op play of some kind possible and where more and more platformers are focusing on multiplayer.

All these new games were 2D platformers with co-op multiplayer...

In the current market, a 3D Mario game with co-op multiplayer would be almost expected and would be a great addition to the growing line up of platformers focusing on multiplayer.

3. The linear worlds of Super Mario Galaxy and 3D Land would be easier to design around multiplayer

Finally, the change of design from wide open sandbox type worlds to more linear 3D courses means that co-op can now be much more easily integrated into the design of a 3D Mario platformer.  Look at Super Mario 3D Land and how the gameplay is now built around reaching a flag pole rather than different mission objectives and star collecting.  This can let you avoid many of the problems mentioned in the first reason given, namely that of the game not knowing who’s closer to the objective or off the snap back type effect bringing players who fell behind back into the fold not working due to the possibility of going off in different directions.  With the general gameplay style and game mechanics used in Super Mario 3D Land, it seems co-op multiplayer would be much easier to achieve, and it’d work a lot like a 3D version of New Super Mario Bros Wii.

In conclusion, I think the 3DS may be the perfect console to release a 3D Mario platformer with co-op on due to the Mario 3D Land style being much better adapted to co-op, the multiple consoles needed for multiplayer allowing for different viewpoints and the general focus on platformers having co-op multiplayer in the market in general.

But what do you think?  Would you want a 3D Mario game with co-op multiplayer on the 3DS?

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