The situation with 3D Mario games is much the same way. Super Mario 64 brought Mario into the 3D world in the form of an adventure-platforming game. The platforming from Mario's 2D days carried over, but now there was also an emphasis on exploring large, open levels in search of stars. In many cases, each level's multiple stars could be found in any order and through a variety of paths by utilizing Mario's new repertoire acrobatic moves. In some cases, the star would only be available when it was selected upon entering the level, causing minor changes in the stage.
Out of all the 3D Mario games, Super Mario 64 placed the biggest focus on adventure and exploration. Since then, each game in the series has shifted the focus little by little, back towards Mario's roots of linear platforming. Super Mario Sunshine retained Super Mario 64's wide open levels, but had more objectives that required level altering changes, which resulted in most cases in a set order within each level. It also expanded upon Super Mario 64's pre-level hints by showing a short video of the goal's location, thus reducing the amount of exploration required. The Super Mario Galaxy games took Mario even further in the direction of linearity by mostly having levels that were less open and explorable, but which had clear objectives and focused platforming. Finally, Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World are the culmination of these trends, retaining no semblance of the adventure genre and focusing entirely on 3D platforming.
|Not bad, just different.|
One advantage of linear level design is that the objective is clear, though this is also a matter of personal preference. What is described as "exploring" by some players could be described as "wandering around" by others. With linear levels, you know exactly where you're going and can focus on platforming at a faster pace. Also, with less possible routes, the challenge and experience in each level can be better tailored to the designer's wishes, since they know exactly where the player will be at any given point. Since most levels have only one or two objectives, there can also be a wider variety and greater number of levels. That also means that you won't spend as much time retracing your steps by exploring each level multiple times like you would in more nonlinear Mario games. Of course, linear level design also means that you won't be able to be as creative with how you get to the goal.
|Super Mario 64's nonlinear design meant going through the same areas |
multiple times; even more so if you didn't know where you were going.
On the other hand, multiple routes were possible.
I'd also like to note, now that Mario has returned to his platforming roots and Rare isn't developing N64 games any more, it sure would be nice if another franchise picked up the adventure-genre slack. Make it happen, Nintendo!