Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo / Publisher: Nintendo / Played on: Wii U / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone [Mild Cartoon Violence]
The Mario series is at this weird point where it’s assumed each one will be awesome, so I can’t grab your attention by saying that. In fact, it’d be more noteworthy if Super Mario 3D World were complete garbage. It isn’t… far from it in fact, but it’s unique enough from standard 2D or 3D Mario that it’s noteworthy for another reason; it’s different.
By combining elements from a wide array of Mario games with ridiculous multiplayer gameplay, Super Mario 3D World offers a unique experience whether you’re alone or with friends. After years of amazing but predictable Mario experiences, 3D World is worth your time if you’re waiting for something new.
If you’re planning on plugging through 3D World alone (and if you want to get anything done, you should), it really does play like a sequel to Super Mario 3D Land. The levels have a mixture of open areas that let you explore and more linear sections that test your platforming skills. You even see some perspective tricks similar to 3D Land, and they work well even though the game’s not in stereoscopic 3D.
The level design in 3D World is top-notch, though I was personally disappointed with the game’s difficulty. Both Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros weren’t afraid to get tough, but you can breeze through 3D World in a handful of hours. Stages will rarely push you to your limits and most optional secrets are pretty easy to find. Naturally there’s a star world filled with more challenging levels, but even those lack the bite of recent Mario games like Galaxy 2.
If you want a challenge, just add a few players. Dropping two or three more players into a level causes the shit to really hit the fan. It’s absolute chaos: players jump on enemies, throw fireballs, duck into pipes, and smash bricks all at the same time. Multiplayer here hits the same sweet spot as New Super Mario Bros—you’ll enjoy playing with and discovering secrets with your friends, but also want to murder them almost all the time.
3D World also nudges your competitive side with score rankings at the end of every level that grants the first-place player a shining crown. If the sight of that gold galls you terribly, you can knock them down and grab the crown yourself. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until four grown men are shouting at each other over a digital crown.
Jealous teammates aren’t your only obstacle when playing multiplayer though. The camera, well intentioned as it is, can occasionally be a problem. It does an admirable job keeping the mayhem on-screen but invariably one player will get excited and run ahead of everyone else. The game responds by placing those left behind in a bubble similar to New Super Mario Bros. That’s way better than just dying, but it’s still jarring to be forcibly redirected in that way.
Mario 3D World’s controls are quirky as well. Since you can play by only using a Wii Remote (which notably lacks an analogue stick), your character only moves in 8 directions even when using a controller with a stick. The level design generally accounts for this; paths and jumps are done in 45 degree increments. The game never makes unfair requests from you given the controls; it just takes adjustment to understand how the new style works in three dimensions.
The cat suit can help with control quirks, not to mention being completely adorable. When equipped with the new feline duds, Mario et al can climb up most walls as well as do a dive attack in the air. This not only allows you to reach hidden areas, but also turns near-miss jumps into safe landings. I particularly enjoyed the dive attack—you’re just as likely to dive right off the stage as discover an awesome shortcut, so it requires some mastery to use well.
The only mechanical problem I have with Super Mario 3D World is that it still doesn’t support online play. Multiplayer is such an important and substantive part of the game that it’s a shame it can’t be shared with friends that may not live near you. That’s certainly the case with me—I have several friends that I’d love to play with in other states but I simply can’t. Nintendo typically lags behind in terms of technical capability, and it’s becoming less and less excusable as the years go by.
It’s hard to stay mad at this game, though. With visuals, sound effects, and music, Nintendo has created the happiest game I’ve ever seen. The score is outstanding; traditional Mario swing music returns with a larger-than-life orchestra, delivering jazzy melodies on the level of Katamari Damacy. Sound effects are equally well crafted by mixing 8-bit influences with a richness that feels like someone’s rubbing my ears with silk. Color and animation are top of the class here too. Characters and enemies squish and bounce with Pixar-level expressiveness. Super Mario 3D World’s presentation is some of the best in all of video games, and I don’t say that lightly.
All told, Super Mario 3D World is a difficult game to pigeonhole. It borrows elements from multiple Mario games and ends up creating something new in the combination. It’s not as profound as Super Mario 64 but it’s still an interesting expansion of the Mario experience. 3D World is full of smart ideas and everything works.
Ultimately, you can say the same thing about it as you could every Mario since the first; it’s the best platformer you’ll play this year.