Thursday, January 18, 2018
You could ask the question of many game mechanics: Why are they there? I've heard death in games just in general questioned... but in this post I'm specifically looking at Super Mario 3D World and why lives are still a part of the game?
Donkey Kong and later Super Mario Brothers released in the arcade and arcade games make money by accepting quarters, so 1 quarter for 3 lives and fairly robust systems to gain more lives was a good mechanic for arcades and I assume this is where the idea of lives started in the Mario series
In 2013 however, Super Mario 3D World only released on consoles. The game saves after EVERY level so as long as you complete a level no progression is ever lost. (a good thing) 3D World also gives you unlimited continues as it should, so the only thing lives do in single player is give you x number of tries from the level's mid-level flag checkpoint if you need them.
You might not see a problem, indeed lives are a pretty useless mechanic at this point except for personal goals like you only used one life, or didn't use a continue. The problem is playing multiplayer especially with players of unbalanced skill levels. Specifically I've been playing with my 3 year old son quite a bit, and if he is on a level with challenging platforming or avoidance he will go through all of our shared lives and won't be able to play while I either finish the level or give into his please to kill myself so he can play with me again. This is a needlessly frustrating co-op game mechanic. The game gives you an invulnerable raccoon/fox suite that completely breaks most of the game's mechanics, but limits you to 5 lives per continue? So why not simply give unlimited lives in a multiplayer game? This doesn't even break any other game mechanics.
My speculations as to why lives are in the game:
The advantages to having lives: Lives do artificially limit the game and I can see how equally competent players could like this either by making the game more challenging or allowing for competitive griefing. This could be retained by making standard or free-play an option for multiplayer. There is also the since of urgency if you are at the half-way checkpoint to make it through the level before running out of lives. Lives give coins and green mushrooms meaning. (ways to get more lives)
The disadvantages of lives: The loss of a collectible: no more green mushrooms or they would have to do something different. Green mushrooms are often placed in precarious situations making your risk death for another life. Coins would also be effected: collecting 100 coins wouldn't really matter anymore. Really though the only disadvantage that matters is that they break multiplayer... multiplayer isn't multiplayer anymore if you can't play together because one player is dead and you're out of lives. If you're playing with a kid (it is a Mario game after all) you have to listen to them ask "where am I?" "get me back!" "where did I go?" "daddy fix it!" If you're playing with older kids/adults, while less vocal it is the SAME problem, someone is waiting around holding a controller that does nothing while the others have fun without them.
Anyway, it's interesting to take a look at game mechanics that have out lived their usefulness and try to figure out why they weren't cut in development. My best guess is multiplayer is somewhat tagged on to a lot of games and I'm considering writing a post just on this topic.
Like I said at the start Super Mario 3D World is still a good game, having lives just makes multiplayer frustrating. I'm looking forward to Super Mario Oddasy coming out here in a few days! I've avoided as much as I can about the game since I know I will be playing it at some point, but I really hope they eliminate lives at least in multiplayer and REALLY hope they bring back Yoshi!
Note about this blog post: It was written right before Mario Oddasy was released, Miiverse was taken down so I lost the ability to take screen shots. Oddasy also has probably the worst multiplayer ever. I hope Super Mario 3D World is released on the Nintendo Switch without lives in multiplayer so more people can experience this lost gem!