Looking into the past, Mario has had his fair share of flight powerups. Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced the Racoon Suit and Tanooki Suit, which allowed Mario to soar into the air and float down easily. Super Mario World went a step further, allowing the player to not only soar up in the air, but stay in the air by nosediving and swooping back up into the sky. Both items allowed Mario to attack nearby enemies.
In Super Mario World, the cape was practically Mario's version of the Screw Attack. The added mobility and offensive power made you feel unstoppable!
In Super Mario 64, Mario gained the Wing Cap, which let him soar around levels in a whole new way. In Super Mario Galaxy, the Red Star allowed Mario to fly as well, even if its usage was very minimal. New Super Mario Bros. Wii introduced the Propeller Suit, which allowed Mario to gain some verticality, but not necessarily the freedom provided by other flight powerups. Super Mario 3D Land brought us the return of the Tanooki Suit, but its flight ability was nowhere to be seen. Mario could hover, yes, but couldn't take off like an airplane like in Super Mario Bros. 3.
The Tanooki Suit returned in Mario 3D Land, but unlike its NES counterpart, did not allow Mario to take to the skies.
So, as we've seen over the past few years, Mario's ability to take to the skies has been lessened and lessened. Possibly for good reason. In retrospect, some of Mario's flight mechanics seem broken by today's standards (letting players essentially skip many levels in Super Mario World). New Super Mario Bros. Wii obviously wouldn't be the same with a more robust flying mechanic, especially with its 4 player dynamic. If the Tanooki Suit performed in Super Mario 3D Land the same way it performed in Super Mario Bros. 3, much of the game would be a joke.
Nintendo has definitely decided to move away from letting Mario fly around as he did in Mario 64 and Super Mario World...but could Nintendo ever bring back a more robust flying powerup to a Mario game? Without making the game seem like a broken mess? I think they can! And I think the cape is the perfect way to do it. I think it's an item that is versatile enough that Nintendo could work it into many different scenarios.
How can they do this? Let's look at a couple of other recent games to see how Nintendo could turn Mario's cape into a memorable 3D Mario experience.
1.) A cape that can be used for way more than flight. Mario's cape wasn't simply fun because it allowed him to fly, but because it also let him attack enemies, hover, and affect things in the environment like stray shells and powerups. Perhaps there's even more potential for the cape beyond those mechanics? Let's look at Wind Waker to see where this could go.
In Wind Waker, Link could use the Deku Leaf in a couple of different ways. First and foremost, he could wave it like a fan to blow gusts of wind at enemies, switches, and other objects. Second, he could use the Deku Leaf as a parachute, hovering over long distances. Perhaps there could be a way for Nintendo to incorporate some of these ideas into a Mario game? Maybe a tap of the B button could allow Mario to spin...but holding the B button charges up Mario's spin, letting loose a gust of air. There could be levels geared around this mechanic, allowing Mario to move platforms, attack enemies, and various other things.
In one possible scenario, Mario jumps on top of a lily pad in a water level. He could use the cape to blow himself across a river, allowing him to access a platform that he couldn't reach simply by jumping out of the water. It wouldn't be unlike moments in Wind Waker, where Link used his Deku Leaf to move a platform across a chasm.
In another possible scenario, Mario needs to land on some platforms in a lower area of a level. Falling from that height would damage him, but thankfully, he can use a nearby Cape powerup to help him on his way. Nintendo did this in Super Mario 3D Land, but they did this primarily with the propeller block. In a future game, they could do this simply with Mario's cape. With a versatile Cape powerup, Nintendo could have Mario go through a falling segment, and then seamlessly transition into a flight or platforming oriented segment.
2.) Levels designed around flight If I could name one obvious flaw with Super Mario World, it's that the cape makes the game far too easy. Like I said before, many levels can essentially be skipped with the cape, especially early levels in the game. Nintendo could combat this by designing levels specifically around the cape.
In Batman: Arkham City, Batman's cape can be used to nosedive and then ascend...not unlike Mario's cape in Super Mario World. There are many challenges in Arkham City that test your ability to use Batman's cape successfully. In a future Mario game, they could have levels that are designed around this ability. Perhaps Mario's ability to nosedive can only be used when Mario is falling from a tall height. That way, the player couldn't use this ability to bypass easier levels in the game. Imagine a tall waterfall like in Noki Bay. Mario Jumps off the edge of the waterfall and transitions into a diving animation. By pulling down on the control stick, Mario would pull up like a plane, and can then glide to far away areas.
Maybe some levels could allow Mario to fly indefinitely, like an on-rails flight section. One level could feature a powerup that grants Mario the ability to stay in the air. Think Star Fox but with Mario and his cape (or possibly Mario and Yoshi with Yoshi wings!). Mario is certainly no stranger to on-rails flight.
3.) Thinking outside the box Up until now, my ideas for Mario's cape have been fairly conventional...but why not go all out with it? Maybe Mario could take the cape off and use it as a magic carpet in one level? In one level, he could roll it up to use like a baseball bat. In another, he could use it like a grappling hook to swing from pole to pole. In another level, he could wrap it around himself to roll down a hill. Maybe they could somehow take some nods from Paper Mario, and get really creative with how Mario uses his cape. After all, it's a flat piece of cloth, so they could practically do anything they want with it.
4.) Late game fun and experimentation In past games, we've seen that Mario's ability to fly has a way of unbalancing the game or making it too easy...but it's certainly fun to fly around levels. Perhaps late in the game, you finally earn the ability to freely fly around levels you've already been to. It could be helpful in retrieving hard to get Star Coins and other secrets. Maybe as you progress through the game, beanstalks appear at the beginning of certain levels, allowing you to start a level high in the air. You could then nosedive and soar your way to secret areas, or beat a level very quickly in a time trial.
These were just some ideas that came to mind, but I'm sure there's a lot that can be done with Mario's cape in a 3D game. Maybe some of the ideas I thought of sound broken or not fun (we wouldn't want to see the return of the "blow" mechanic from DKCR, for instance), but I think it would be really cool if Nintendo could finally nail flight in a 3D Mario game. The way they've done flight in Mario 64 and Galaxy feels a little too isolated from other parts of the game. I think that if the cape was used for a lot of different things, then flight mechanics may not seem so out of left field. Flying would simply be one of many things that the cape could do in the game.
What are your thoughts? Can Nintendo let Mario fly again without making the game too easy or broken? Is the idea too ambitious for a 3D Mario game?
Really nice ideas. Maybe they could include a better "flying" item in "New Super Mario World"? (laughs) It would be very nice to just goof around with the cape after beating the crap out of the game. If the item were to be used with specific mechanics in specific levels, it would probably only be accessible as a temporary tool like the propeller block in New Super Mario Bros Wii and Super Mario 3D Land.