Super Mario 35: from 3D to space

Super Mario 35: from 3D to space
In this series of articles that retrace the history of Super Mario, on the occasion of its thirty-five years, we have already talked about the many creatives who have managed its main releases, the dazzling birth of Super Mario Bros. (which by some, erroneously, is made to coincide with that of the character) and Mario Mania, that shining period in which the plumber was at the head of the world of video games, even - in the United States - more popular than Mickey Mouse. We broke up with Yoshi's Island, at the end of the SNES era: while a team was finishing the splendid adventure of the Nintendo dinosaur, Miyamoto and Koizumi, also working at night, were drawing the first three-dimensional adventure of the plumber.

This year we have already talked a lot about Super Mario 64, particularly in the vicinity of the release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, which contains the first three dimensional episodes of the series. It was the last chapter of the saga developed directly by Miyamoto, and it shows how; It was also the last time - for now - that Super Mario has shaped the future of the entire industry, creating a polygonal (and three-dimensional) world like never before. Thinking back now, there is something moving in the development of this game: the master (who celebrated 68 autumns last Monday) who returns to the control room for the last time, so as to define three-dimensional gaming and give a route from follow, in the years to come, to the whole company. A process in which, from the very beginning, he is accompanied by his pupil and designated successor, Yoshiaki Koizumi.

The first Super Mario polygon experiment was very different from what would become Super Mario 64; it started on SNES, using the technology developed for Star Fox, and it was - as we have been told by those directly involved - an adventure on a linear path. For Miyamoto - and consequently for Nintendo - Super Mario has always been a platformer, but above all the tool with which to sink into the depths of interaction and control systems. Starting from here, from that polygonal and alive character for the first time, the master decided that, to fully enjoy him, he would need open levels, to be freely explored with acrobatic, almost circus moves.

Super Mario 64

As previously written, we recently replayed, and widely talked about, Super Mario 64. Although the shot has aged badly, it's amazing how the control system, for depth and variation, is still the most impressive of all. the three-dimensional Super Mario. Today, however, we are not interested in discussing what Super Mario 64 represents in 2020: rather, we would like to talk about what it was then, and that is, for anyone who lived it at the time, the most amazing and futuristic work available at that time. (and not only that, perhaps). Super Mario 64 dubbed the release of Nintendo 64, and showed what video games would be like from then on. There is at least one cell of this masterpiece in every three-dimensional adventure: remaining within Nintendo, that avant-garde and exploratory pleasure that the plumber communicated in 1996, has recently been taken up by Breath of the Wild, in this - and only in this - authentic heir of Miyamoto's masterful project, much more than Super Mario Odyssey.

Super Mario 64 ushered in the latest era in which platforming was the most important - or most important - genre of the industry: a literally epochal work. Climb to the top of the Bob-Omb Battlefield, find a spherical opponent who should not be jumped, but bypassed, then picked up and finally thrown to the ground: a journey that no one will ever forget. Just like Super Mario Bros. eleven years earlier, but perhaps even more so, Super Mario 64 not only led the interaction to uncharted wastes, but inlayed it into a simply stunning architectural context. The presentation and deepening of the mechanics is still admirable today, especially bearing in mind that, at the time, there was no model to copy from. The archetype, simply, would have been him.

Super Mario 64 was perhaps the most important title of the 90s, and one of the most relevant in the entire history of video games. It coincided with a moment of strong transition within the company: Miyamoto, given the importance of the operation, was back on the front line. But it would be the last time. There was a need for someone to take care of his sagas, to lead them into the new millennium: EAD split into various internal teams, and Yoshiaki Koizumi's hands fell on Mario.

Super Mario Sunshine

As happened in 1985 with Super Mario Bros., creating the successor to Super Mario 64 was not easy at all. Years passed, Nintendo experimented a lot with offline multiplayer, but no other Super Mario - from the main saga - arrived on the Nintendo 64. When GameCube came out in 2001, for the first time in two generations the plumber did not accompany the launch of a home. console: a team of young developers was working on the sequel, and would have taken an alternative path to say the least.

In retrospect, we can say that betting on Super Mario Sunshine, and his development team, was a profitable investment; at the same time it was a great risk, which immediately did not give the desired results. The problem with Super Mario Sunshine was not so much the anomalous mechanics, based on the use of the SLAC 3000 water pistol, but the very fluctuating level design and, above all, a great lack of content: it had half the levels of Super Mario 64, and with a disheartening percentage of fillers.

Super Mario Sunshine relegated the adventures of the plumber to a secondary role. Despite this, as we observed while reviewing Super Mario 3D All-Stars, it foreshadowed the two possible developments of the three-dimensional saga: a more linear one, manifested by acrobatic missions without SPLAC 3000, and a more homogeneous one, with each stage visible from the Delfinia island, prodromal - with the advent of more advanced technology - to a unified world Super Mario that we've never had.

Super Mario Galaxy

With the episode for Wii, which like the predecessor would not have attended the debut of the platform, Nintendo had two main goals. The first was to bring the sales of the series back to adequate levels, namely - at least - above fifteen million units. The second was to return to the excellent levels of quality expected from a prestigious series like this one. Koizumi, who had already moved to the newborn Edochian studio, hoped to reach both goals by focusing on a concept developed years earlier together with Miyamoto: a linear path based on the crossing of small spheroidal platforms, and on the consequent (imaginative) manipulation of gravity. This setting should have helped sales because, according to plan, it would have eliminated the "camera problem", making the experience more immediate, as in the times of the two dimensions.

We cannot say that the gravitational experiments of Super Mario Galaxy have greatly simplified the approach to the three-dimensional worlds of the plumber. And in fact the sales of this work, while remarkable, did not reach the extraordinary results of the two-dimensional chapters. However, the quality of the game turned out to be extraordinary: an adventure endowed with a pyrotechnic, overflowing creativity, capable of continually astounding thanks to the uninterrupted flow of ideas.

Although Super Mario Galaxy - deliberately - did not offer depth of the controls of Super Mario 64, immediately manifested itself in its magnificence. Koizumi's narrative inspiration also found full success, relegated - but not sacrificed - to secondary skits inside the library. Super Mario Galaxy was (and is) brilliant, visionary, volcanic and, in his most intimate moments, even melancholy. It was Koizumi's last game, his masterpiece, and the best Nintendo title of the 1910s.

Despite Super Mario Galaxy's critical triumph, a truth the company hated would soon be revealed. More than invisible, perhaps it would be better to say unexpected: during the design of Super Mario 64, Miyamoto had focused on the best way to translate the soul of the plumber in three dimensions. He, like many others, assumed that 2D was now a thing of the past. For once, the teacher had been wrong: indeed, he was wrong. But we'll talk about it next week, in the third to last installment of this series of insights.

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