Hey everybody. The theme for this month starting right now is… wait for it… Super Mario 3D All-Stars. That’s right, we will be talking about the three games included in this package which are: Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. Of course not all at once. We have to save some games for the rest of the month. So we will be primarily focused on the first game in the package: Super Mario 64. Of the three games in this package, this is the one I have the most experience with playing. Of course I couldn’t play in when I came out since at the time I was about a month old. However, I exposed to it later when they introduced it in the virtual console and I even managed to play the DS version. I won’t say I’m an expert on this game, but I know it well enough to get all of the power stars at least. When I got the game from my friends this holiday season it took me about three days to fully complete the game. I could have taken less time if I weren’t spending half the time fighting with the controls. Mario can be stubborn with how he decides to move sometimes, but that isn’t the main mechanic I fought with, not by a long shot. It was controlling the camera so that it could keep up with my platforming.
Now the reason that I want to bring special attention to the camera in Super Mario 64 is because I think this is a good example showing how important controlling the camera is for 3D platformers. Sure it sounds obvious when you think about it, but you don’t really feel it until you play the game yourself. Now in 2D platforming games, unless it’s one of those annoying auto scrolling levels, you should always be able to react on time to what is coming at you since you can see it all on screen at once. You also do not have to worry about the angle of your jumps since there is less precision required with the exclusion of the third dimension. Once you have 3D platforming though, you have to be a lot more precise with jumping and having the camera angled correctly could mean the difference between landing on a platform or missing it entirely. Not only that, but the effects of a limited perspective usually cost you more in some levels than others. Why is that? Well that’s why we are here. So, let’s start from the beginning and work our way from there.
So after you start the game and enter Peach’s Castle, you find out that Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach and stolen the castle’s power stars (big shocker there everybody). So you jump in paintings to go to different themed worlds to retrieve the power stars and defeat Bowser, again. Now at first the levels are pretty straightforward and take place in areas that are not as platform heavy so that you have time to adjust to Mario’s varied new move set. However, even in the early game some missions require serious mastery over controlling Mario and the camera. For instance, any mission that requires the use of the wing cap, because without precise direction you are not getting anything done. Part of the reason for this is since the camera is so close to Mario it usually is hard to properly aim while flying. You’ll notice the camera is very close to you while you are flying as if the cameraman wants to zoom in and capture the gracefulness of this fat Italian plumber soaring through the skies. Because of this a lot of things that just pop into frame as you get closer to them causing you to be caught off guard and occasionally veering off course. Of course there is no way to adjust the camera distance on the fly so good luck collecting coins for those 100 coin stars.
There aren’t just problems when the camera is too close. There are also problems when the camera is too far away, because precision platforming can be an absolute nightmare. Sometimes in can be hard to gauge where a platform is if the camera distance is too far away so your only option is to adjust the angle that you are looking from so you gain have a better chance of not falling to your doom. The problem is that the camera only circles around Mario and never really provides a top down view so the back view is the best you can hope for, making it a little troublesome to gauge distance appropriately. The problem with using the side views is that if you are angled incorrectly you can end up failing in a different way by just missing the platform completely as opposed to under or overshooting it. Again, this problem doesn’t apply to every level in the game. It only applies to certain ones, especially those towards the end of the game with a heavier vertical climbing focus. Ascension through platforming vertically when the camera is usually by your side can be an absolute nightmare in the later stages since you may have to take a leap of faith to reach the platform. I’m specifically looking at you stage fourteen. Thankfully the camera isn’t on the level where you would have trouble getting the required stars to beat the game. The final boss though…. I just want to say good luck getting your throws to be able to hit anything, especially during the last phase of the fight.
Now, I don’t think that how the camera is used changed a lot in later 3D Mario games. I felt that the camera was more flexible for sure, but it is not just the camera angles that have improved since Super Mario 64. The other thing they have improved on is the means of recovery when you make a bad jump so you can recover as opposed to accept your death. These improvements have also helped deal with the verticality problem where traversing platforms that are higher up is much less of a gamble. All this makes sense those as they have had years of improvement and Super Mario 64 was Nintendo’s first attempt at a 3D Mario platformer. The reason I wanted to bring up my thoughts on this topic is not only to show how far we’ve come, but also so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Being able to control where the camera is angled effectively gives you an area of your character’s surroundings which is an important aspect of any 3D videogame. So as my closing thoughts on the matter, perspective is one of the most important elements of telling a story and creating a stable difficulty level. There is a reason why there are a lot less games featuring platforming in a first-person perspective. You need to be able to see different angles to have a good grasp on your jumps. I’m not saying Super Mario 64 is on that level, but I do want to say that the camera angles that end up blocking your figure half the time do make 100% completion a challenge. Just thought I would give fair warning. Although, despite all the hardships due to level design in the second half, it is still easier to complete than Super Mario Sunshine. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, since that game is next week.