When you think about it, we’ve never had a 3D Mario game that truly took a stab at bringing the Mushroom Kingdom into the open-structured 3D environment. Super Mario 64 took place at Peach’s Castle, sure, but it was very limited; you could only go so far as to the edge of the castle grounds, and the levels you played through were disconnected worlds with seemingly no place in the Mushroom Kingdom itself. Since then we’ve seen Mario fly to Delfino Island, journey across the universe, and travel across the planet. Galaxy and Odyssey even let you return to the Mushroom Kingdom, but it always confines you to the iconic Peach’s Castle area; the furthest we’ve ventured from it was Toad Town just outside the castle grounds in the Galaxy titles.
The 2D and 2.5D games, on the other hand, virtually always have us travel through some variant of the Mushroom Kingdom, and even when it isn’t the Mushroom Kingdom, it may as well be(looking at you, Sprixie Kingdom). The New Super Mario Bros. games, for example, have established a formula that has you going through eight worlds consisting of grass, desert, water, ice, jungle, cloud, mountain, and lava theming. After four installments that use these same environments, people are understandably burnt out and opinions on the New Super Mario Bros. series have become much more negative. The level designs quickly became repetitive. They lack the sort of creativity you see in the mainline 3D Mario titles.
Taking this into account, I’m left wondering: why not pull the ol’ switcheroo?
Why not give us a 3D Mario that takes place entirely within the Mushroom Kingdom? I’d like to see the Mushroom Kingdom be given an established identity beyond Peach’s Castle; why not give us names for all the regions beyond “World _” and distinctive areas and landmarks that can be called back to in future titles like Peach’s Castle? Maybe even go so far as to give some levels from 64 a defined place in the Mushroom Kingdom! Why not have Cool, Cool, Mountain sit in the center of the snow region? Or how about Shifting Sand Land being expanded upon as the desert region? Maybe even include Yoshi’s Island or Dinosaur Land! Retroactively giving classic levels a place in the world of Mario would be all sorts of awesome. People have been yearning for an open-world 3D Mario for quite some time, and an open-world romp through a fleshed-out Mushroom Kingdom is one of the only ways I could think of to top Odyssey.
As for the 2D titles, people are sick of seeing that same bland, minimalist New Super Mario Bros. art style with those same exact levels we’ve seen over and over in two dimensions. A drastic shift in setting and art style would really help make things fresh. I think it says a lot that the only level I can remember from NSMBU(and the level everyone who tries to defend the game’s level design brings up) is the one that looked like something out of a Vincent Van Goh painting. Nintendo should take 2D Mario outside the Mushroom Kingdom. Go the Odyssey direction and give us a bunch of crazy worlds that we haven’t seen in a 2D Mario. Or heck, have a twist on the highly requested return to Isle Delfino and have it as the location for the next 2D Mario game. That would be infinitely more ambitious and appreciated than a fifth New Super Mario Bros. title.
I really think switching the settings of 2D and 3D Mario would result in the former finally breaking free of its rehash rut and the latter a chance to deliver on a more fleshed out, open Mushroom Kingdom. Fingers crossed that Nintendo decides to go one or both of these routes.