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Why Mario Needs A New Platforming Playground

Close your eyes for a second and think back to the first time you played Super Mario 64. Every triple jump, every crevice of the castle, every slide sent our imaginations spiraling into a revolutionary new world filled with pristine graphics. Soon after, Super Mario Sunshine’s charm and crisp controls redefined Mario’s capabilities as an adventurous lead character. And in the Wii’s two platforming classics, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, mind-blowing spherical landscapes served as a backdrop to another seamless Mario production, as racing through each course was as natural as you’d hope it would be.

Each one of these games planted Mario in outlandish environments that still stick in our minds to this day. But when the Wii U debuted Super Mario 3D World, it was hard to consider that game a part of the same universe as these preceding titles. The worlds felt like uninspired three-dimensional reworkings of Mario’s past 2D adventures. While the game was redeemable, Nintendo fans craved more, anything that harkened back to the recent glory of Galaxy.

With the dawn of Nintendo’s NX console rushing upon us, doubts have echoed from the gaming community over whether the Japanese company still holds a sustainable future. In need of a ninth inning ringer, I happen to know of the perfect pinch hitter to call on to bring the hearts (and pockets) of gamers everywhere back to the Big N. Yes, he wears that signature red cap and faded overalls, and yes, he’s the obvious answer. But Nintendo’s return to the big leagues will ride on more than just Mario; they must finally cultivate the right game to elevate his potential  to new heights.

They must make Mario a true platformer again.

Sure, Nintendo can release another batch of Mario Tennis or Mario Party. But when have fans ever raced to the nearest Gamestop to purchase a console JUST for these titles?  And while these games focus heavily on a multiplayer dynamic, they appeal more to those who already own Nintendo’s systems. As Wii U sales continue to plummet, the company’s objective is clear: they need to appeal to the many consumers who once enjoyed their consoles but have since migrated to Playstation and Xbox.

While Nintendo once was the undisputed leader in first-person gaming, times have changed. In the years since, the arrival of classic IP such as Uncharted and The Last Of Us to Playstation’s arsenal have sliced into Nintendo’s lead by a significant margin. These titles not only drive hardware sales, they bring momentum to sales by underlining the depth of their console’s capabilities. Over that same span, Mario’s been shuttled into the same tired formula, funneled into just another playable character in a cavalcade of party games.

Maybe we can agree that Mario is long overdue for another single-player escapade. But what’s wrong with all of the Mario 2D sidescrollers that usually accompany consoles upon launch? For one, the 2D landscape remains rigid in flexibility, siphoning ingenuity from evolving the genre. Each new installment in Mario’s 2D adventures involves a plethora of similar-looking water, desert, and grass terrain levels, barring, for instance, a new cat costume for Mario to change into. We don’t JUST need new features, we need broadened horizons, we need ridiculous juxtaposition of environment, we need to let Mario breathe!

Imagine Mario scaling the Pyrenees or roaming the hollows of a dungeon. Picture him swinging on vines in the jungle with Donkey Kong or pacing on Yoshi’s back around the glacial caps of an arctic tundra. That’s the point: the 3D space brings limitless options to Mario AND the versatile IP that Nintendo holds. You can’t go wrong mixing each of these character’s well-defined quirks and skills with diverse open-world settings.

Each of these new worlds would require creative re-sculpting  of Mario’s abilities. Look at how Sunshine transformed Mario into part-amphibian. I’m sure development was an uneasy process for that game, trying to determine whether reconfiguring Mario’s move-scheme was a great idea. Yet every time Nintendo takes these risks, they pay off. And at the end of the day, it’s not really a risk; fans are just hungry for Mario to tackle a fresh new 3D world filled with innovation and surprise.

At the moment, Nintendo might already be in the business of risk-taking. They recently announced Mario’s first go at mobile gaming with the upcoming app Super Mario Run. While this title falls into the sidescrolling category, it raises hope that the company hasn’t given up on featuring their main star in brand new ways. Put it like this: if Mario Party can continually concoct wacky environments for its mini-games, there’s no reason why these backdrops can’t be expanded into a full game. This is the type of thoughtful cliff-jumping, if you will, that Nintendo built their ’90’s empire on. Now, the competition is sailing by, begging the Japanese giant to unleash the full potential of its IP. It’s finally time for Mario to take that leap off the edge and see what enthralling new challenge lies at the bottom.

You know, that would make a great opening scene for Mario: NX.