Exploring Super Mario 3D World with Its Development Team

Why didn't the design team include online multiplayer with Super Mario 3D World?

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The next big Mario game from Nintendo unveiled at E3 this week for Wii U turned out not to be (strictly) a Mario game at all: Super Mario 3D World reaches back to the Nintendo Entertainment System’s halcyon days, when we were smitten with a little something called Super Mario Bros. 2.

Super Mario 3D World supports up to four players at once, handing you control of Mario, Luigi, Toad and even the series’ perennial abductee, Princess Peach. The twist? Everything’s fully 3D, and you can play either cooperatively or competitively.

Like Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad each have unique abilities, so for instance Peach can hover in the air when jumping, and Toad can sprint faster than his companions. Oh, and there’s the cat suit, which — no, that’s not just a yellow tanooki suit — lets you scratch enemies, climb up walls and even scurry up those precious end-level flagpoles.

Developed by the same team behind Super Mario 3D Land for 3DS and the Wii’s Super Mario Galaxy series, Super Mario 3D World for Wii U arrives this December. I spoke with the game’s director Koichi Hayashida (Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario 3D Land) and producer Yoshiaki Koizumi (too many to list). Here’s what they had to say about some of their design choices.

Why the choice not to support online multiplayer in Super Mario 3D World?

Mr. Hayashida: I think that we’ve always wanted to focus on being able to see the other players around you. I always thought that was fun.

Mr. Koizumi: The first Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System had two controllers, so you could play multiplayer with someone right next to you. I think that we wanted to accomplish the same kind of feeling in a 3D Mario game for the first time.

Mr. Hayashida: I’ve always really enjoyed playing games with my children. In Super Mario Galaxy, we had the “assist play mode” that was available, but this is the first time that we’ve implemented a real multiplayer where the second player is moving a character around on screen in a 3D Mario game. And so I’m really happily looking forward to the experience of playing that with my kids.

Mr. Koizumi: And now that Peach has been included, I’m also hoping that people will be able to play the game with their girlfriends. Perhaps some of their girlfriends will find Peach as a more appealing character to play – or your wife, of course.

How co-op/multiplayer-centric is Super Mario 3D World, say someone wants to play it as a single-player game? What’s the single-player experience like by comparison?

Mr. Hayashida: Yes, we spent a lot of time thinking about the single-player experience in this game, particularly when you’re using the GamePad while playing it, which is my personal choice as well. You can use the touch screen on the GamePad to interact with hidden coins and blocks and reveal them. Or you can activate the gyro camera controls on the touch screen, which you can use to look around in the game, much like you would look around in Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine with the camera controls in that game. I feel like we’ve gotten to the point where it’s feeling really good. And looking around in the 3D world is very important not just for navigation but also for being able to explore and to enjoy the fun of finding things that were hidden.

Will the player operating the Wii U GamePad have an advantage over other co-op players?

Mr. Hayashida: I think the person who is going to be using the GamePad is in all likelihood the person who owns the game and the Wii U, and perhaps has had a few friends over to play the game. And so they’re in a really good position to, let’s say, stop enemies using touch screen for these other players just to make it a little bit easier for them because they know where the enemies are. Likewise, they can reveal hidden blocks and coins for the other players. These are just little nice things they can do as the person using the GamePad. Now I don’t think people are necessarily at a disadvantage for using the Wii Remote, but if you are the sort of person who prefers the feeling of a stick for controlling movement in a 3D game, we will be supporting the Wii U Pro Controller, which does have analog stick controls.

Mr. Koizumi: Yes, I really like to think of the person who has the GamePad as the one who is in the best position to help out other players, not necessarily that they are the leader of this particular expedition but just that they have the ability to do a lot for the other players.

How do the competitive elements of gameplay, like hurling your friends to their doom, compare to the cooperative ones?

Mr. Hayashida: Of course people are free to play however they like, and that’s going to look different from one person to the next. But ultimately we envision everyone working together to finish a stage. But along the way there are certainly lots of opportunities for a little bit of friendly conflict here and there.

Mr. Koizumi: I’d like to point out that you can pick up and carry other players. At first it might seem like this is something that you would do to help carry someone through a difficult part of a stage. But that’s not necessarily the case because you can also throw them, which in certain situations is definitely not helpful and cooperative. So I think this is the kind of game play that really brings out the personality of each individual player. I have had a lot of similar experiences playing New Super Mario Bros. with someone when suddenly they did something I wasn’t very fond of and I was like, “what?!”

Which came first during the design process: the idea that you wanted to include a cat suit, or the gameplay mechanics of climbing walls, scratching and pouncing on enemies?

Mr. Hayashida: Well I think the first thing we thought of was: What kind of new experiences can we create? What’s really important to that is the feeling of the control when you’re playing through a new game-play mechanic. So we always spend a lot of time testing out new ideas. I think the first test that came in this particular design was Mario running on all fours like an animal. Once we started testing that out, we realized it felt really good. The next thing we did was trying out his ability to stick to a wall: What if Mario could jump and then just attach himself like that? And that test went well also. It was only after that that we then added climbing walls and started to put all of those different pieces together. Then we began to think about how best to express this as a new power-up. And that’s when we hit upon the idea that a cat would be best.

Will we ever see a primary Super Mario Bros. installment where Peach is more than just a playable character? Where she’s the heroine instead of one of the abductees in need of rescue?

Mr. Hayashida: Well I definitely should point out that there was a game called Super Princess Peach where you could play as Peach, so that’s definitely an option. It’s not something we have ruled out. In fact, we have made a game of that sort.

Mr. Koizumi: I always think of the Super Mario games as taking place in a really cute world that appeals to everyone. We certainly looked into who finds different sorts of things appealing in these games among boys and girls. I personally feel that Peach is very appealing to girls who play our games. But I sometimes wonder: If we made a lot of games starring Peach as the main character, is that something that boys would be as interested in? I don’t know.