Ever wondered why Nintendo games - Mario ones in particular - are able to hook you in so effectively? Well wonder no more, as the excellent YouTube channel Game Maker's Toolkit is here to explain exactly why these sublime experiences are so compelling.
In the case of Super Mario 3D World, Game Maker's Toolkit - which is run by UK games journalist Mark Brown - asserts that it's the four step stage design which grabs you from the start and gives each level such a satisfying arch.
Gameplay concepts are first introduced in a safe environment - so at the start of a level you can experiment with them without the risk of losing a life. Next, you're given the same mechanic but in a dangerous situation. Thirdly, the concept is given a unique twist which makes you look at it from a different perspective - in Super Mario's case, that might be mastering a mechanic while trying to avoid another threat. Finally, there's a conclusion - that usually involves hitting the top of the flagpole at the level's end, but using the skills you've learned during the stage.
First, you have to learn how to use that gameplay mechanic, and then the stage will offer you a slightly more complicated scenario in which you have to use it. And then the next step is something crazy happens that makes you think about it in a way you weren't expecting. And then you get to demonstrate, finally, what sort of mastery you've gained over it.
It's very similar to a narrative structure that you find in four-panel comics. Something that's talked a lot about in Japanese manga, for example, is a phrase, kishōtenketsu, where you introduce a concept, and then in the next panel you develop the idea a little bit more; in the third panel there's something of a change-up, and then in the fourth panel you have your conclusion.
It's a fairly obvious when you think about it, and Nintendo certainly isn't the only developer to use this system - but few companies are able to make it work so effectively in the context of a single level.