There’s something sublime about a 3D Mario game. Whether its the subconscious association with Super Mario 64 or the fact that almost every 3D Mario is really damned good (I put in the caveat for those Sunshine haters) you can’t deny that putting a Mario game into your system is a recipe for a nostalgic smile.
Super Mario 3D World does what 3D Mario games have been doing for the past while: taking an established formula and adding on just enough twists and tricks to make something really unique. While this particular series might have started on the 3DS, this Wii U sequel truly shines.
Super Mario 3D World starts as most Mario games start: with Bowser causing some trouble. This time, however, Princess Peach is not the target and he instead captures the Sprixies of the Sprixie Kingdom. It’s up to Mario, Luigi, Peach and a blue Toad to save this land from Bowser’s evil designs.
Since there are four characters on offer, you can tackle the levels with the avatar of your choosing, a la Super Mario Bros. 2. Mario is the most balanced of the four, Luigi jumps the highest but has the poorest traction, Peach can float a ways but is relatively slow and Toad runs the fastest but can’t jump all that well. Later on your also unlock Rosalina from Super Mario Galaxy who has a spin-attack that also serves as a double jump (although this is assigned to the action button so various Suits will negate this ability). For most players Peach might actually be the preferred character because her float gives you a serious edge in tricky platforming sections, and allows you to nab gold flags at the end of levels easily.
Since there are five characters to pick from, Super Mario 3D World can be played co-op, a first for a 3D Mario title. Up to four people can hop in, but for serious collectors and speed-runners (unless your co-op partners have the same goal in mind), the more people there are the more frustrating the gameplay gets. Small annoyances, like mapping the action button to not only enable you to run/use Suit powers but also making you pick up a co-op player leads to a lot of incidences where people, intentionally or accidentally, get chucked off ledges, causing you to lose valuable lives. The camera doesn’t even consistently follow one person, so if one player manages to get further ahead, everyone else gets “bubbled” and has to join them, but at other times it will hang around at the back of the pack. There’s also instances of butt-pounding other characters off of their jumping trajectory, killing them, or accidentally jumping up underneath someone making them spin up into the air. Co-op with two people is the perfect number; past that it gets pretty messy.
Those are small gripes compared to the masterful design in the rest of the game, however. The levels in 3D World are among the best in Mario history, although they tend to be too easy earlier on. A lot of the levels are built around the new Suits, particularly the Cat Suit. The bell-shaped pickup will put your character in a kitty costume, allowing you to use your claws to climb walls or attack foes. This opens up the levels in a whole new way, as there are often hidden collectibles (such as Green Stars and Stamps) stashed just out of view behind or on top of a wall that looks like it can’t be scaled at first glance. The Cat Suit also gives you the option to climb straight up flag poles, making those gold flags even easier to earn (long-time Mario pros are still able to long jump to get the flag, but this is a nice option for newcomers and those who don’t have years of experience with 3D Mario controls).
The amount of creativity on display in the levels of Super Mario 3D World is astounding. While some of the design aspects do repeat themselves, there’s always a twist thrown in. The timing-block levels, where platforms appear and disappear to the beat of the music, make a couple appearances, but one time you might have the Tanooki Suit to make things easier, while the next time you’ll be given a Cherry Suit, meaning you have to guide an army of clones around the level. The level based on Mario Kart is a personal favorite of mine. There are a couple that take queues from top-down shooters, where you use the Boomerang Suit to attack foes, and the level with the moving goal post is particularly inspired. I don’t want to give too much away because the joy of discovering what trick the game’s designers have up their sleeves for the next area is really something you need to experience without too much foreknowledge. I will say that some levels where the camera moves and you have to keep up aren’t that well done, especially when you’re moving much faster than the camera does, leaving you waiting at the periphery of the action for a few moments before the camera catches up.
This is also the best that Mario has ever looked. While the Wii U isn’t the graphics powerhouse that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are, Super Mario 3D World is a feast for the eyes. The visual aspects of the levels are just as creative and carefully wrought as the design itself. Whether it’s the rain-soaked ghost ship, the shadow-play levels or the beaches that straight up nail the feeling of being in the waves with the sun shining down, Super Mario 3D World always delivers. Videos on the Internet do not do this game justice, it really has to be seen. The music is also fantastic, a rousing, fully orchestrated score that perfectly compliments each area, with none of that terrible New Super Mario Bros. music to be found. I need an official soundtrack for this, stat.
Although this game might not save the Wii U, it’s one of the best entries into the 3D Mario catalog to date. Even after you’ve “beaten” the game there’s still a lot to see and do from going back and trying to 100% clear every level to progressing through the uber-hard post-game worlds. It’s unfortunate that the co-op, which was hyped up before release, isn’t as well implemented as it could have been. That said, if you happen to own a Wii U, pick this game up. If you don’t own a Wii U, you’d better make friends with someone who does, because this game shouldn’t be passed up.
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