Now, I understand why game designers utilize these tried and true settings: They're what we've got in the planet Earth of ours. But it gets a little tiring knowing that every Mario game, every Metroid game, every Sonic game from here until eternity will have this stuff.
I haven't really formulated full thoughts on this but that shouldn't stop me from posting and see what other people say to get things started.
One of the things I liked about SM3DL was that it kinda went away from this a little bit. There were still desert and water stages, but they didn't cram them into the same world so the variety felt fresher.
I'd say if they can think of creative things outside of those familiar locations, then all the better. But I guess Nintendo feels that some comfort with knowing what to expect beforehand (knowing you'll slip on ice, and what's required when swimming, etc) makes the game more inviting to players, I dunno. It does feel like platformer themes and stages haven't really changed much since SMB2 and SMB3.
That's one of the things that bugged me with both NSMB games.
World 1: Grass! World 2: Desert! World 3: Water! And so on...
I think some games manage to make them feel "new" like say... Metroid Prime. It used the same staple environments but they didn't feel like cliches.
Still, I like when a game just forsakes them and does something different. Like say Super Mario Galaxy and the toy world. It's not the first time a toy world has been done in a video game, but it's nowhere near as overdone as fire / water / etc. worlds.
One franchise that had some really unique environments was Earthworm Jim.
No, those things are pretty fundamental and unique from each other. If devs want to include crazy alternatives like Super Mario Land, that's fine, but Sunshine's solution was not superior.
Still, I'm all for weird settings: Egypt, Outer Space, Dripping Acid World, yada yada. Mega Man has mixed it up a bit over the years.
One thing I do wish is that games would be more courageous about not being so... terrestrial. Metroid Prime was especially guilty of this, in my eyes. I'd like to play through more truly alien environments. But not necessarily Alien environments, if you know what I mean.
I don't mind the environment itself if they're doing something cool with it. I mean, we all loved the snow level in Mario 64 when everything was new, right? "Oh my god, penguins racing with me, sliding on their bellies!? Snowmen everywhere? This is so cool!". And then in SMG: "Oh my god, Mario is figure-skating around!? Is that the cutest, most awesome thing I've ever seen or what?". Etc.
I'll never get tired of a type of environment if they keep doing new stuff with it.
But yeah, snowmen are a little less special with each game you see them in.
I'm all for more variety or off-the-wall environment ideas, though. Psychonauts' second half certainly had the right idea, what with a board game themed level, etc.
I personally just think elemental stages are too easy. I totally agree with Guillaume on Psychonauts (In fact, I agree with anything good anyone will ever have to say about Psychonauts!) -- the Milkman stage alone sold me on that game for all eternity. In fact, looking back at Double Fine's entire catalog, their levels are always fun and unique!
That, to me, felt just like a shout out to Mario 3, not necessarily "well, this is the only way we know how to do it!" I appreciated it, and I got excited. The only thing missing where the Dancing Luigi Trees (I was like 10, and the shadow made them look like L's).
Well one thing I love about a couple dungeons in Skyward Sword is that they DON'T have elemental themes. The ones without elemental themes are actually my favorite. The first level does have water in it, but it's not a "water" level. Even the water level in the game doesn't feel as much of a water level like the Water Temple or Lakebed Temple. The 5th dungeon as well - no elemental theme.
A Link to the Past had very few elemental levels...
Eastern Palace: Generic Desert Palacel: Desert Tower of Hera: Generic
Palace of Darkness: Generic Swamp Palace: Water Skull Dungeon: Generic (woods? kind of?) Thieves' Town: Generic Ice Palace: Ice Misery Mire: Generic (even if the area before it is swampy) Turtle Rock: Generic....maybe fire? Kind of? Ganon's Tower: Generic
I mean, most of the levels in LttP were basically just labyrinths with different colored bricks on the walls. I thought Nintendo kicked off SS with a fantastic dungeon with no unifying theme...it was just kind of a generic temple that was lost to time. Some water here and there, spiders hanging, etc. Can't we have variety without the games blatantly saying "THIS IS THE FIRE LEVEL. THIS IS THE WATER LEVEL" ?
Yeah I guess I don't mean to say that I think Zelda should return to super generic levels that are only discernible by their color, but I like having elements of fire or water without the whole level screaming out what kind of dungeon it is. Of course we'll have them here and there but I think they can afford to have a better balance. Any level with a lot of water will be flagged as the "water" level, but I don't think we have to basically have "the blue level, the red level, the green level" etc in terms of blatant thematic unity. For instance, in SS there's a water level, but it's not this completely blue level just because it's a water level. And then there's a bit of variety in that level to hammer home the idea that it's not completely a water level. I thought it was a cool take on the traditional "water" level. And then they go and have two very obvious "fire" levels, which I thought was a bit of overkill.
I think if they're going to have a "water" level or a "grass" level, I'd just like to see elements in those dungeons that don't make it all about one thing.
I think in the long run it hurts the Zelda series if they keep doing this, because it makes the levels feel a bit less organic, and makes it feel more like you're playing "the fire level, the ice level, etc." Twilight Princess suffered from this early on, but I think later in the game they did a great job of having themes in levels without them feeling too heavy handed. You had an ice level, but the context of the level was so unique, that you didn't think of it as much of an "ice" level...it was someone's house, haha.
I don't mind them. So long as the game is fun to play, I'm cool with whatever "themes" developers decided to throw at me.
Having said that, I always look forward to the "snow" or "winter" stages in games. If there isn't one of those in a game (I'm looking at you, Donkey Kong Country Returns) I'll admit that I get a little disappointed.