Moving up in my “get good at Mario side-scrollers” quest, I just finished Super Mario World. I’d heard a lot of feuding over the years between people who prefer this game and people who prefer Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s almost all I could think about playing through World, and I’m still trying to figure out what exactly sets them apart.
Let me put it this way: to me, SMB3 feels more like a game — on the level of Monopoly or something, whereas World feels more like a typical modern “video game.” They both have very simlar structures but a few key differences.
In my LTTP post on SMB3 I displayed surprise at how much its world map felt like a tabletop game. The way the game gives you choices for how to move about the “board” and between levels while gaming the lives and items system makes exploration its own game where I make decisions. World on the other hand feels like a “world” Nintendo wants you to travel through. It has alternate routes and secrets to find, but there isn’t the sense that moving about the map is a game in itself. That’s fine, but World’s size in today’s terms just isn’t what it was 23 years ago.
Y’know how everything felt bigger when you were a kid? I guess video games can be the same way, because that’s how I feel about World now compared to when I dabbled in it as a child or watched my brother play it. The copy I just finished is a cartridge my family has had since 1991. We played the game on and off for years and my brother never beat it. It felt like a huge, labyrinthine thing. Playing through it now though, I was able to blast through the better half of World in a day, and complete the main game in a weekend. Not to mention overall it’s far easier than the NES entries in the series.
In today’s terms, World feels like a lot of indie games — fun, but very short. I think a big reason for this compared to SMB3 is because World has its own save system.
When I start a game in SMB3, I feel like I’m starting a one-time “session” of the game, and the next time I start it up I’ll just start over from the beginning. Even when I have save states I avoid reloading them. I really treat it it like starting a new game of Monopoly or something like that. I think this is the reason why I immediately started a new game upon finishing SMB3.
With its save system however, World instantly becomes a game that’s finished after multiple sessions. Once I’ve reached the end and even found all the secret content, it feels like it tries to be the end of a long journey and not a short game. I’m generalizing of course, but let’s compare both to recent indie games and other console action games of its era. What it’s really about I guess is replay value.
Older games couldn’t have a lot of content, so they were made difficult so it would take you 50 tries to get through certain parts. By the time you beat the game you’d probably played some parts dozens of times. You were also already trained by that repetition to possibly start the game again after beating it. That was the replay value. A lot of indie games from the last few years try to emulate 8 and 16-bit gaming, but when you bring a save system into an 8-bit platformer that’s the same length as most 8-bit platformers, people end up finishing it in five hours, often in a single session. Maybe most people don’t mind that, especially if they only paid $15 for these games, but it’s something that bothered me about some indie games — I felt like I was done with them too quickly with little incentive for replay.
This is why I really like some more recent indie games that are roguelikes or incorporate new game plus. The roguelike elements force you to constantly restart and slowly master these small games while introducing randomization. It’s kid of a way to bring back the pacing and replayability of old games in a modern way. A great way to maximize the value of a low-budget $15 game is to design it so the game never truly ends.
Of course there are short, linear games I like replaying all the time. Maybe I simply don’t have that urge for World the same way I do for SMB3. I think it’s because World attempts to be a grand, epic experience set to play out in relatively linear way, but in 2014 it ends up feeling tiny.