How Our Shrinking Attention Spans Have Changed 3D Mario Games

Last year I had the pleasure of playing through Super Mario Odyssey, where I quickly found myself  hooked on a gorgeous 3D platformer with inspiring level design and a classic Nintendo aesthetic. I realized had been missing out on these things for years as, believe it or not, it was my first 3D Mario game. Yet despite the fact that I had a blast playing it, Super Mario Odyssey wasn’t all that difficult and I finished it in less than ten hours.

Fast forward to this year, where Super Mario 3D All-Stars has given me the opportunity to experience the title that started it all back in 1996: Super Mario 64. My biggest takeaway? This game makes Super Mario Odyssey look about as challenging as an animal noise matching toy I might have played with as a toddler.

Some of the stars in Super Mario 64 take some incredible creativity and skill to obtain. Players need to discover specific vanishing spots to stand on in order to teleport to other locations, and invisible portals are located in random portions of the wall that you’d quite literally need to jump into every vertical surface to uncover.

The three buttons located throughout the game proved to be a significant obstacle as well. Players need to discover these buttons in order to complete specific tasks in other levels, and they’re not exactly hiding in plain sight. I tried as hard as I could to finish Super Mario 64 without any outside help from the internet, but my patience could only take me so far.

While I certainly don’t like to admit the fact that I didn’t have the mental fortitude to finish a game that was made for kids in 1996, I was fascinated by how much more difficult Super Mario 64 was than Odyssey. I brought this up with a friend of mine who played the game back in the day, and he responded, “We didn’t have phones or the internet back then, so we had the time to find all that stuff.”

This reminded me of the younger version of myself that would spend eight hour days on his Nintendo 64 playing Pokémon Stadium 2, or the kid that had the patience to complete every achievement in Halo 3 on his Xbox 360. I realized that I had approached Super Mario 64 as a twenty-five-year-old who merely wanted to experience a gaming classic, not someone who was ready to uncover every nook and cranny or face an actual time consuming challenge.

Despite the fact that the gamer in me has changed though, the Mario games themselves have changed too. Super Mario Odyssey does have plenty of secrets that reward creativity in the same way that Super Mario 64 does, but it’s a much more linear experience that doesn’t require you to depend on those cleverly hidden secrets to complete the game. So is Nintendo just making it easier on us now?

The answer to that is probably yes. Even with today’s ultra challenging games like Demon’s Souls and Cuphead, video games as a whole have seemingly gotten easier. You see more checkpoints, and even Demon’s Souls has implemented in-game hints to guide frustrated gamers. After all, if we can just look up a guide on the internet, why not just put the guide in the game itself?

This hasn’t necessarily made games worse, just more accessible. Most titles have a fairly straightforward path you can take towards the end credits with side content and hidden secrets scattered around that path for those of use who want a deeper experience. This works perfectly for gamers like myself who want to casually play through the latest 3D Mario game, but would also love to spend hundreds of hours exploring every corner of Cyberpunk 2077.

All in all, playing Super Mario 64 and navigating its challenges really allowed me to take a step back and look at how gaming has changed as a whole. Back when it was just the gamer and their console with no social media distractions and limited adult responsibility, the patience to navigate every nook and cranny of a video game was much easier to come by. But does that mean games have lost their substance? Not a chance.

NEXT: There Will Never Be Another System Like The Wii

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Hi! My name is Michael Walters and I’m a writer for TheGamer.com. I’m originally from Cleveland, OH, and I’m sadly still a die hard Cleveland sports fan, but I currently live in Los Angeles. I also work as an Associate Producer for Omnia Media (ArcadeCloud, ArcadeCloud News, The Countdown), and I’m obsessed with movies and tv shows as much as I am video games. Some of my all-time favorite games include Resident Evil 4, BioShock Infinite, Halo 3, Pokémon Crystal, and GTA San Andreas. Right now I’m playing a ton of Control, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, AC Valhalla, The Witcher 3 (again), and per usual, Pokémon GO. I’m also looking forward to spending all of my free time playing Cyberpunk 2077 when it’s released. Follow me on Instagram or Twitter @_mikeywalt.

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