In the latest podcast, DrFink mentions being worried about 3D Land's reportedly short levels before the game came out. And I think it's an understandable worry, that I shared. We probably all subconsciously equate "short" with "less", whatever it is that's being discussed.
But that's always been an unwarranted knee-jerk reaction when it comes to pretty much any form of entertainment, no? Shorter books aren't necessarily "giving you less" than longer books. And as anyone who's listened to Oasis back in the day would agree: sometimes shorter would be better.
I think the same holds true for Mario games.
Shorter levels can alleviate tedium and frustration: I love Kirby Mass Attack dearly, I really do. And the game gets really challenging, especially if you try to get gold stars by not getting hit once. But the levels are very, very loooong, and whatís more, they do not have checkpoints. That means that if you try to perfect a level and keep failing, you may have to play for several minutes just to get back to the point where you failed. And if you fail again, you do it over again. Now ďminutesĒ may not sound like a lot, but letís say you always mess up 5 minutes into a level. ALWAYS mess up. If you wind up having to start over a dozen times, which has happened to me, then thatís over an hour down the drain. Worse: itís over an hour of playing a segment that you donít find especially difficult, capped with one second of inattention/lack of skill/still havenít figured out what youíre supposed to do. Youíve long ago stopped finding the early part of the level engaging. You might even start making mistakes at points you used to find easy. Itís a very annoying downward spiral.
Things get even worse when thereís a collectathon aspect involved. Jett Rocket is another game with long levels, and tons of doodads to collect everywhere. But lose a life (and hey, in a platformer, not only it can happen, but it probably SHOULD), and you have to collect everything over again. In some cases, you may want to mitigate the problem by actually doing the hard platforming sections first, so as not to lose as much progress if you fail, but a) Iím not sure itís very good design to have players get around these problems that way and b) itís not always possible, as sometimes moving into a new section of a level means you canít go back.
Shorter levels can be challenging too. The only difference really is that starting over is much less frustrating. No one would accuse BIT.TRIP RUNNER of being too easy, for instance. And its levels are quite short. Yet it took me over 20 hours to finish off its 36 levels, because death can occur just a few seconds into a level. But because you get back to playing almost instantaneously, and because you can make back the progress in a few seconds, the prospect of starting over is much less daunting. As a result, the game can get really addictive: you wonít want to stop playing until youíve succeeded. And which level is the most reviled in that game? Hands down level 1-11, which happens to be the longest in the game...
I have more arguments, but I've gone on for long enough already. I'll post more after you guys have had a say. And I had originally intended this to be a short poll, haha.
I prefer something in-between, but I don't have a problem with long levels so long as the developer has made it "fair." By fair, I mean that there is a reasonable checkpoint system in place so I'm not re-doing nearly ten minutes of exploring because of a random spike trap (cough* SONIC * cough).
I don't have a problem with short levels either, as long as there are lots of them and the levels are memorable. Part of what has made SMB3 more dear to me than most other games is that while the levels are pretty short, I remember nearly each and every one of them clearly (there are a few I've forgotten). Not to say the levels in both SMW games aren't memorable - they are!
Definitely worth the discussion. Most devs need to have this very discussion before they begin their level designs... which I feel quite a few of them don't.
@anon_mastermind That'd be sweet, although considering the BIT.TRIP games barely got a publisher for a compilation, I doubt Super Meat Boy alone would find a publisher. I hope it at least ends up on another platform somewhere, because I own every platform except for the one it released on.