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Preferred 3D Mario Level Design

After seeing Seth's thread about peoples' favorite Super Mario 64 level, I was reminded of the shift away from that game's level design that recent 3D Mario games have undertaken.

Super Mario 64 is the ultimate Mario "sandbox" experience, so to speak. Stars could be done in any order. Super Mario Sunshine still spawned players in the same location and didn't bar off parts of the level, but most shines were required to be obtained in a particular order. The Galaxy games often didn't allow players to even return to parts of galaxies they have explored for previous stars.

And recently, the shift with Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World has been a marriage between a 3D world and classic 2D Mario gameplay. Even though some people may not consider these games to be "proper" 3D Mario games since players don't collect stars, Nintendo has referred to these games as 3D Mario, and there is more than an X and Y axis that players navigate.

With a lot of variety in the way 3D Mario levels have been presented, fans often debate which is their favorite, and which they think is best for the series in general. Do you prefer the open world of Super Mario 64, the more objective-based focus of Sunshine and the Galaxies, or the classic 2D gameplay of the Super Mario 3D games? Also, do you think any one approach is optimal for the franchise?

Kylo Ken

I will finish what Spyro started
Aug 10, 2011
Super Mario 64 had a kind of magic to it that I didn't experience in Sunshine or 3D World. Maybe because Mario Kart 64 had the castle in one of its stages. That made it feel more authentic every time I went back.


つ ◕_◕ ༽つ
Nov 12, 2007
In bed
Mario 64 did it best, I think. I preferred Galaxies level design and overall gameplay, I thought it improved upon what the other Mario games did in style, but in terms of player and game progression I definitely think 64 continues to be the best example of "how to do it right". :)


didn't build that
Galaxy is my favorite Mario game, but I think 64 had the best level design because it really hammered home the sense of freedom. Few other games capture that feeling half as well, but Mario 64 not only allowed you to play at your own pace, but had level design to back that up.

I constantly see people group Mario 64 and Sunshine together, but Sunshine's level design bugged me. The levels were too difficult to navigate, and half the time I felt less like I was freely exploring a world than searching for the objective they wanted me to do. I felt like there was a new surprise around every corner in Mario 64, but exploration was not half as gratifying in Sunshine.

For linear Mario games, Galaxy showcases the best level design, and seems like the proper 3D approach to the traditional Mario experience. If Mario 64's freedom can be equalled, though, I'd love to see another game like it.

Snow Queen

Mannceaux Signature Collection
Mar 14, 2013
Grand Rapids, MI
Transwoman (she/her)
I like the Mario Galaxy sort of level design better than the level design in Mario 64. In Mario 64 I was overwhelmed by being given so many goals to complete at once that sometimes I just got lost and didn't know what to do. Mario galaxy is a bit more linear and I think that works in it's favour, because the galaxies are huge and I don't wanna get lost umu


Jul 1, 2012
I think the Bee Galaxy, from Mario Galaxy, showcased what I think is my perfect level design.

Not so much that is was some amazing level, but that it had the perfect formula so to say. An open, unique level with multiple things to do, nonlinear in design and almost like a self contained world. It had a perfect balance of platforming to just generally exploring.

Having levels with a sense of freedom while still maintaining that focal point of platforming is how Mario levels should be in my opinion. So basically you have quite an open level which branches out to different sections each with their own unique challenge.

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