Friday, March 10, 2017

Top Ten 3D Mario Levels

Today is Mario Day! That's because it's March 10 (or Mar 10)! SuperPhillip Central has done plenty of top ten lists that were oriented to the plumber synonymous with video games, but we've never looked at this subject in a top ten list surprisingly. With it being Mario Day and with Super Mario Odyssey being the next big Mario game set to release, why don't we cover our favorite 3D Mario levels of all time! That's exactly what we're going do. Other than the ten on this list, we also have some honorable mentions with links to get your reoriented for those picks in case your mind needs some refreshing.

After you've checked out all of SuperPhillip Central's most loved 3D Mario levels, sound out with your own faves and why!

10) Ricco Harbor - Super Mario Sunshine (GCN)

We begin with the only Super Mario Sunshine world to peek its way into this list. Ricco Harbor is the second main world in Sunshine, and it is loved by me due to how much variety it has. I was wrestling with this world and Bianco Hills, but Ricco Harbor shined it out (ha, ha, puns) because there's a great mix of pure platforming, having you needing to use the various FLUDD nozzles to make your way through the level, and a good mix of pure high seas fun. Such interesting scenery includes the initial ship docked at the port where the level begins, the Blooper surfing to not only collect red coins along the ocean waves but also competing in a timed obstacle course, as well as the labyrinth of elevated platforms hovering over the center of the level, Ricco Harbor is a wonderful world and my favorite from Super Mario Sunshine.

9) World 7-4 - Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)

Super Mario 3D Land introduced a new type of structure to the 3D Mario games, which didn't sit well with the entire Mario fan base, but it thankfully did for most. Levels became less about exploration and freedom and more about concentrated, linear obstacle courses that led to an ending flagpole. There are still plenty of means to meander and stray from the main path to find secrets like hidden Star Medals, but that's really the limit of freedom available. That said, World 7-4 in Super Mario 3D Land sports an interesting aesthetic and series of platforming challenges. It takes place in a clockwork area, sort of similar to Super Mario 64's Tick Tock Clock but without the major verticality involved.

Clockwork gears are here, spinning around in all sizes in the first half of the level. The main threat besides the bottomless abyss below is a barrage of Bob-Ombs that stand on various gears. The level takes you into the clock itself through narrow paths with Mega Moles to contend with. Through carefully maneuvering through this portion, the final section of 7-4 presents itself, You then have L-shaped platforms that turn and halt with every 90 degree angle. World 7-4 is all about timing your jumps with the timed spins and rotations of the clockwork machinery running rampant in the level.

8) Hands-On Hall - Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

Super Mario 3D Land's successor is next on this list with a multi-leveled Japanese themed castle to roam through, Hands-On Hall. Each floor in this castle is home to an abundance of unique challenges and secrets both good and bad hidden away behind traditional sliding doors. One can even don the a Goomba costume to fit right in with groups of Bowser's traditionally most weakest minion without them batting an eye. The level has both indoor and outdoor portions. The most prominent outdoor portion offers the most freedom to explore in the level. While one has to avoid the prickly rolling spires tossed by Spike enemies as well as evade getting crushed by Thwomps, they can put on a Propeller Block and take flight while basked in the moonlight starry nighttime sky. Hands-On Hall is a memorable and loved level because of how different it is compared to most Mario levels. I mean, a Japanese castle as the theme? That's just awesome. It's also one of the only 3D World levels where my party of players had to give up and check a guide for the level's truly tricky Stamp location!

7) Tiny-Huge Island - Super Mario 64 (N64, DS)

One of two Super Mario 64 worlds (or courses as the game refers to them as) featured on this list, Tiny-Huge Island is a world in the final third of the game. Mario can leap into one of two paintings in Peach's Castle to reach it, and depending on the painting leaped into, it will greet Mario with either a tiny version of the world or a huge one. Guess that's where the name of the world comes from! Nevertheless, you can easily change between the tiny and huge versions of the island by jumping into various pipes sprinkled around the level-- sort of like in Super Mario Bros. 3's one Giant Land level where Mario could enter doors to switch between big and small versions of enemies. Tiny-Huge Island has a wide assortment of challenges to it, from taking down a patch of potent Piranha Plants, racing against Koopa the Quick for a second time (but on this occasion in a very gusty section set over a scary bottomless pit), taking on Wiggler who isn't too happy Mario flooded its domain, and also simply reaching the summit of the huge version of the island. Everything about the world is marvelous. Well, maybe not that sunglasses-wearing fish that can pop up and swallow Mario whole. Perhaps someone who has written for SuperPhillip Central in the past got a phobia from that...

6) Mount Mush Dash - Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

We return to Super Mario 3D World with a pure unadulterated level intended to have players race through it. It only makes sense to race through it, as Mount Must Dash (get the pun?) is totally modeled after Mario Circuit in the SNES' Super Mario Kart, complete with rainbow blocked curbs on the track and remixed Mario Circuit music. Speed is encouraged on Mount Must Dash, as it's filled to the brim with boost pads to let you and other players pick up great agility as you vault over enemies, gaps in the track, and try to collect coins in the process. Jump pads are also strategically positioned in the level to give you big air along with your big speed, and slides give some slight breathers along with playground-style fun. It's an absolutely exhilarating experience to speed run this level, as it seems totally designed around that factor. Again, that only makes sense as the whole point of Mario Kart is to get to the finish line as fast as possible. It might lack difficulty for most seasoned players, but Mount Must Dash makes up for that in pure originality and most importantly, fun.

5) Fluffy Bluff Galaxy - Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

Super Mario Galaxy 2 might just be my favorite 3D Mario in existence. That's big props as the 3D Mario games are all of tremendous quality (well, maybe not Super Mario Sunshine for me, but that's not relevant here). Fluffy Bluff Galaxy presents players with an opening island that is immense in scope compared to the general planetoids seen in the game. You get a series of stone spires that have grassy tips on their tops. From the relatively large pond on the first giant island to its tall tree, exploring the natural structure and stony mounds brings lots of enjoyment and a sense of freedom not present in many of the more linear galaxies of the game.

Eventually you encounter the Cloud Flower for the first time, which opens up the possibilities for how to tackle the galaxy in nearly infinite ways. Through a jump and a shake of the Wii Remote, Mario spawns a cloud under him that serves as a platform. He can summon three clouds in all before having to wait for one to disappear. Clouds can be influenced by the gusts to travel across otherwise impossible-to-cross chasms. Then, there's the hidden planet in the galaxy, a castle tower that is summoned once Mario feeds a Hungry Luma its desired amount of star bits. Scaling this with ingenuity and creativity with Mario's Cloud Flower is an absolutely delightful platforming challenge. It's really the magnificent setting of Fluffy Bluff Galaxy and the many ways you can use Cloud Mario to navigate the galaxy that makes it one of my favorite levels in Super Mario Galaxy 2.

4) Bowser's Galaxy Reactor - Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)

The final level ends with Mario finally taking on Bowser once and for all for all the marbles and the fate of the universe. But before the portly plumber can engage with the King of the Koopas, he must face one of the most creatively designed obstacle courses in Super Mario history. First, Mario must walk inside various spotlights that each possess their own specific gravity. This allows him to run up walls and carefully keep inside the light as to not slip off the wall into a black hole below. After a long hike up the side of a tower (while avoiding rotating fire bars in the process), Mario finds himself transported to a fiery planet with rotating platforms. Through outpacing the platforms to make progress and avoiding the fireballs that occasionally come out of the fiery lava below, Mario then moves on to an icy planet. This planet spawns ice blocks to walk as Mario proceeds along the planet. Else he face a very painful burn from the ice water below.

Mario will then move across a sand planet where entering the actual sand will consume him and lose players a life, and he'll progress through a side-scrolling section with varying gravity, reminiscent of Mega Man 5's Gravity Man stage. Finally, the best is saved for last. The entire last section of level is a giant corridor of lava that revolves around a full 360 degrees. Through careful jumping on the platforms while avoiding massive Bullet Bills being fired at the player's face, Mario can reach the final area where his much awaited confrontation with Bowser takes place. Bowser's Galaxy Reactor is an extraordinarily epic final level for one of my favorite platformers and games of all time. A perfect send off for a near perfect game.

3) Bob-Omb Battlefield - Super Mario 64 (N64, DS)

Perhaps this pick has some traces of nostalgia tied to it, but at the same time, I just think that Super Mario 64's first world is just a perfect introduction to players of how the game's levels work. Of course, most first-time players of Super Mario 64 around the time of release found themselves spending hours just running around the grounds of Peach's Castle without even advancing the game. It was just an amazing and surreal experience to control Mario, a character who moved so wonderfully, in a 3D space. After that initial wow factor subsided, players eventually progressed through the game enough to uncover the first world of the game, Bob-Omb Battlefield.

I feel this world is a tremendous playground like the outside of Peach's Castle. The only difference here is that there is some challenge and difficulty to be discovered through the enemies and possible fall damage to contend with. The enemies in general don't put up much of a fight besides the ornery Chain Chomp tied to its post in the center of the level. This allows players to experiment in a relative safe yet slightly challenging area. I remember traveling up King Bob-Omb's mountain, avoiding the iron balls that rolled down the mountain slopes, and finally facing off against my first boss in a truly 3D game. Bob-Omb Battlefield allows for a varied amount of challenges for the player that make for just enough difficulty to be the perfect introduction to the world structure of Super Mario 64.

2) Grandmaster Galaxy - Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

Super Mario Galaxy 2 isn't quite like the formula of Super Mario 3D Land and World due to offering a greater amount of freedom. However, some galaxies' levels are very much linear as you can get. The final challenge in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is such a level type, though the point isn't to give players freedom to explore at all. Instead, it's a pure skill-based obstacle course that will turn any gamer's knuckles white as their hearts pound as they try to progress and overcome this final galaxy, the Grandmaster Galaxy. This galaxy has several stages to it, having Mario use Pull Stars to navigate through a mine and enemy-filled maze, use Yoshi's tongue to successfully pull the green dino and Mario through a challenging course, leap over machinery that produces shockwaves, use Cloud Mario's abilities to create moving cloud platforms through a section surrounded by laser walls, and a final section that is home to Hammer Bros. and other brothers of varying types.

Perhaps completing this galaxy's first run isn't that much of a task for you. Maybe it's a short order. But how about doing this run perfectly-- as in without taking any damage? That's the absolute final task provided by Super Mario Galaxy 2 to master the game. After having beaten the game, gotten all 120 initial stars, collected all the Green Stars, and such, now THIS is your final challenge! Were you up to it?

1) Gusty Garden Galaxy - Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)

The Super Mario Galaxy possesses some of my favorite examples of clever and intelligent level design of any games out there. Nintendo EAD constantly amazed me with what they had to offer concept and execution-wise. Gusty Garden Galaxy might not be the best level on an objective "this is 100%, without doubt, the best level in Mario history" basis (and this is a subjective list anyway obviously), but it was the first in Super Mario Galaxy that absolutely blew me away in all manner of speaking. From the aesthetic of a bright and bouncy world with grassy planetoids, giant apples that when Mario pounds on their stalks, produce giant caterpillars from them that serve as passageways to other planetoids, the undeniably epic orchestrated theme that originated from this game and is still used in Mario games today, and all of the platforming challenges in general, Gusty Garden Galaxy is such a joy to play through. This pick of this level to be my favorite 3D Mario level is partially based on my own experience with Super Mario Galaxy, but I would bet that there are plenty of other players who found Gusty Garden to be a tremendous and magical level, one of the Mario series' best.

Honorable Mentions:

Champion's Road - Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
Snowball Park - Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
World 5-2 - Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
World 7-5 - Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
Bowser's Galaxy Generator - Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
Melty Molten Galaxy - Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Bianco Hills - Super Mario Sunshine (GCN)
Whomp's Fortress - Super Mario 64 (N64, DS)
Wet Dry World - Super Mario 64 (N64, DS)

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