Just when the Wii U needed a hero, Mario has returned in Super Mario 3D World, the plumber’s latest console outing. Don’t confuse it with last year’s 2D sidescroller New Super Mario Bros. U, though. In Super Mario 3D World, Mario platforms in all directions throughout intricately designed 3D environments. While it may not be quite as radical and revelatory as its Super Mario Galaxy predecessors, Super Mario 3D World is still the best proof yet of how nothing can touch this series when it’s at the top of its game.
The Best of Both Mario Worlds
When Mario’s old nemesis Bowser abducts the seven Sprixie princesses, Mario, Luigi, Toad, and the refreshingly not kidnapped Princess Peach hop from the Mushroom Kingdom to the Sprixie Kingdom using the mysterious, new clear pipes. As its slightly misleading title suggests, Super Mario 3D World’s closest relative is 2011′s Super Mario 3D Land. But whereas the 3D in Super Mario 3D Land’s name referred to the stereoscopic 3D visuals provided by the Nintendo 3DS, Super Mario 3D World’s visuals are flat but gorgeous HD landscapes powered by the Wii U. Colors dazzle, characters animate with personality, and textures like grass and fur look tangible. Even the map screens, full of motion and background secrets, come alive.
The hardware upgrade gives more than just a visual boost though. Super Mario 3D World features huge, uncompromised playgrounds to run and jump through with flag poles so far in the distance players need in-game binoculars to see them. They dwarf Super Mario 3D Land’s boxy, somewhat claustrophobic levels as well as Super Mario Galaxy’s tiny planetoids. Like its portable sibling, Super Mario 3D World’s ever-shifting level design casually blurs the line between 2D and 3D platforming, but the contrast between the open 3D sections and tight 2D challenges keeps the game fresh. Adding to the gameplay variety are the occasional Captain Toad levels where players must navigate a puzzle box without jumping. Cerebral and slower-placed, they offer a nice break from the more action-packed main game.
The larger levels are great settings for the game’s four-player co-op/competitive mode, a first for a 3D Mario game. Between the stat-tracking (finally making scores relevant in a Mario game) and ability to steal crowns from the winning players, it’s fun to see how quickly the game turns friends into enemies. However, the added freedom of movement makes this multiplayer more fun than the overly frantic past multiplayer Mario titles. Picking a character with a helpful unique ability, like Luigi’s higher jump and Peach’s floating skirt, also adds a little strategy.
Embarrassment of Riches
Super Mario 3D World’s levels are inventive, brimming with secrets, and constantly keep players on their toes. But, the game’s most creative moments come from its plethora of imaginative power-ups. Returning favorite like fire flowers and Tanooki suits are joined by new abilities that fundamentally change the way a Mario game is played. The player-multiplying double cherry specifically feels like it could sustain a whole game’s worthy of new ideas all by itself. Kuribo’s Shoe becomes Kuribo’s Ice Skate while Yoshi is replaced with Plessie, a giant Plesiosaur to ride. Goomba disguises turn old Japanese dojos into stealth missions, light boxes bust ghosts Luigi’s Mansion-style, boost pads complement the new multi-tiered dash ability, and the prominent cat suit adds verticality never before seen in a Mario game thanks to its adorable wall-climbing perks. There are so many great items that the game has an almost cavalier attitude towards them, throwing one out after its first few uses just so there’s time to get to the next one. That way, players are left wanting more rather than thinking a particular skill has overstayed its welcome.
However, even with all of these new powers and approaches to level design, Super Mario 3D World mostly feels like a love letter to Mario’s past. While there’s an element to nostalgia to most everything Nintendo puts out these days, Super Mario 3D World’s references run deep. Mario Kart, Super Mario Sunshine, and even one-shot villain Wart from Super Mario Bros. 2 all get subtle shout-outs. Beyond that, there also appear to be allusions to other classic Nintendo franchises like The Legend of Zelda’s top-down dungeons and Donkey Kong Country’s blasting barrels. Heck, even Nights into Dreams fans can pretend that the game’s frequent dark and spooky neon carnival levels are acknowledgements that game exists. However, Super Mario Galaxy fans bummed out by the game’s more earth-bound nature will be the ones most pleasantly surprised by some late-game secrets.
Mario is Back
There are a few missteps here and there. Having to collect dozens of hidden green stars to progress hurts the pacing near the end and artificially lengthens an experience that’s already plenty long and content-rich. The timer and lives system are weirdly unnecessary old-school holdovers that just limit enjoyable exploration, and later boss fights pale in comparison to Bowser ghost riding a pimpmobile in the game’s opening battle. Meanwhile, the smattering of Wii U-specific features like blowing fans to move platforms, controlling the camera by tilting the controller, or touching the screen to reveal hidden pathways provide little extra fun. Off-screen play, better graphics, and sharing cute stamps online via Miiverse are the console’s best contributions.
However, Super Mario 3D World’s biggest but most nebulous flaw is how safe it feels overall. Like something truly out of this world, Super Mario Galaxy felt like the result of an insanely talented young team pushing themselves to the limits of their creative ambition. Even that game’s story went off in bizarre directions that briefly made a Mario game almost touching and existential. Super Mario 3D World on the other hand looks like that same team used their gained experience to make a game that’s more confident and self-assured but perhaps less risky, even when it comes to something like the good but less catchy orchestrated soundtrack.
Still, Super Mario 3D World stands as one of the finest, most well-realized Mario games yet making it an obvious Editor’s Choice. For a franchise that so frequently and effortlessly embodies the best of what a video game can be, that’s saying something.
|Platform||Nintendo Wii U|
|ESRB Rating||E for Everybody|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc