So I'm sitting here, lamenting how visually uninspired the New Super Mario Bros. games are, and trying to imagine what I would do if given the opportunity to direct the next title in the franchise. What new hook would be so so expressive and attention-grabbing that it would rekindle our imaginations and bring back the spirit of mystery and discovery to the Mario series?
In a Twitter exchange, I stumbled across the solution by complete accident. Remember the cover of the very first issue of Nintendo Power? It was a Super Mario Bros. 2 diorama made entirely out of clay. Mario's color scheme may have been accidentally inverted, but the scene was nevertheless striking.
Imagine an entire game that looked just like that cover...
It's the next logical step. I mean, where does Mario go from here? He's traveled to a dream land, a dinosaur land, the depths of the ocean, and the far reaches of space. One minute, the hills look like a kindergartener's crayon scribbles, and the next minute, the trees are made of cardboard and Mario can turn into a paper airplane. A world of clay sounds like the perfect new frontier!
Should Nintendo be looking to a magazine cover from over 20 years ago for inspiration? Why the hell not? Ever see the above Japanese commercial for Kirby's Adventure, featuring a stop-motion Kirby made of string? Two decades later, Kirby's Epic Yarn happened. See? There's a precedent for sourcing old promotional materials!
This is the perfect chance for Nintendo to corner the clay niche. It's not like there have been many other games that tackled the medium. You've got Claymates and the ClayFighter series from Interplay, neither of which exactly set the world on fire.
Then there's The Neverhood.
The Neverhood is a point-and-click adventure in which everything from the characters to the environments is molded out of clay. Movements and environments were filmed and then digitized, giving the game an incredible visual style that has only been matched by its platforming sequel, Skullmonkeys. That more people weren't aware of these titles when they originally came out is unfortunate, but perhaps a little star power is exactly what's needed to draw attention to the style.
The process of using physical models to produce The Neverhood and other clay-based games may have worked for their specific cases, but I understand how expensive and time-consuming it could be to adhere to the same method for a grand Mario platformer on the scale of Super Mario Galaxy. Claymation is simply not feasible for this purpose. However, even if the Wii U is only as powerful as the Xbox 360 or PS3, it ought to be beefy enough to render a plasticine universe via CG.
Hey, it worked for Flushed Away!
Aardman Animations is famous for its stop-motion films like Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run, but Flushed Away instead used CGI to approximate the clay visuals of the studio's previous endeavors. The results aren't half bad! Just add a few imperfections, like fingerprint smudges and slightly uneven surfaces that would typically be flat, and you can have a game that looks nigh indistinguishable from a claymation movie!
Just imagine an adorable Mario clay figurine with round, black eyes that look as though they were just pressed on his face. Imagine rolling hills dotted by puffy, towering mushrooms with conspicuous seams separating the head from the stem as though one was stacked atop the other. Imagine a hulking Bowser with a shell full of soft, pointed spikes that fall off whenever he takes a hit, because such tiny accents have difficulty adhering to surfaces without something rigid like a toothpick holding them in place.
Doesn't that sound like the most wonderful place ever? Don't you wanna go there? I do!
What exactly would Clay Mario do, though? That's a stupid question! What wouldn't Clay Mario do!? That's the best part! Any child who has ever goofed around with Play-Doh knows that there is no limit to the material's possibilities.
What happens when you stomp on a Goomba? It'll be flattened into a brown Goomba pancake. Do you just walk away? Nope! Roll up that Goomba clay! You may need it later! Maybe you have to collect enough clay from defeated enemies to build a bridge, or you can shape the clay into objects like balls or bricks. Maybe you can create power-up costumes by collecting clay of different colors.
Maybe Mario picks up stencils during his adventure. The stencils come in a variety of shapes and serve many purposes. You might happen across a patch of special yellow clay imbued with magic. If you have an circle stencil, you can punch out circles and they'll turn into coins! If you have a star stencil, you can punch out a Starman for instant invincibility!
There's not just one type of modeling clay in the real world, so obviously each land in Mario's clay universe would feature clay with unique attributes. Maybe you'll bump into some Silly Putty baddies who bounce around like rubber. When you defeat them, you can form bouncy balls of your own or lay the putty down atop a map, peel it off, and have the map transferred to the putty so you can carry it around with you!
Fire zones would be bad news for Mario since he runs the risk of melting into a puddle. The bad guys in these areas would feel just fine, since they are made of clay that hardens in heat. When you stomp on these enemies, instead of flatting out, they'll shatter into hundreds of pieces!
What about water zones? Clay and water isn't supposed to mix, right? Doy! Ever heard of Aqua Sand, that miraculous substance that can be molded underwater but turns into powder the second it's removed? Imagine looking at river and seeing a Cheep Cheep swimming just below the surface. As it jumps out of the water, it turns into a stream of powder that arcs through the air. When it hits the water again, it immediately reforms.
Maybe during your travels, you'll find a bottle of some weird sand mixture hidden in a castle. Later on, you come across a lake and decide to pour the sand into the water. Once you do, the sand reforms into a mermaid, who thanks you by giving you a special gift! Maybe she'll give you the power the change your own attributes so that you too can dive into the drink!
This is but a humble suggestion of mine. I think... scratch that... I know a Mario game based around clay would be absolutely brilliant. If Nintendo wants to run with this idea, I won't complain one bit.
Next, Nintendo needs to develop a Star Fox based on the puppets Miyamoto made for the original game's promotional materials!