After several decades, you'd think the Mario franchise would be growing stale. Having started as a few colored pixels in 1981's Donkey Kong, Mario now leaps through fully-realized 3D worlds presented in HD. Yet somehow Nintendo has managed to squeeze the same timeless charm that entranced children of the 80s into today's much more technically-advanced games. Join Gizmag, as we review the plumber's latest adventure on the Wii U, Super Mario 3D World.
First impressions aren't always accurate. Having played a few levels of Super Mario 3D World at E3 back in June, I wasn't exactly blown away. It felt a lot like Nintendo's 3DS title Super Mario 3D Land, only with new levels and on a home console. For a struggling system like the Wii U, I wondered why Nintendo hadn't gone all-in with something epic, along the lines of Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario 64. Surely this phoned-in game couldn't be the savior that the Wii U needed.
Boy, was I wrong. I have no idea whether Super Mario 3D World will be enough to boost Wii U sales, but in terms of quality, I think it's right on par with the two stellar Mario Galaxy games. Mario 3D World is an outstanding game for children and adults alike, and it reminds us how good Nintendo can be when it's at its most delightful best.
It all comes back to the game's fantastic level design and charming little details. You have the typical smattering of lush green worlds with floating platforms, ice-filled lands where you slip and slide, and ghost houses filled with illusions and ghosts that freeze when you look at them. Bowser is still the villain, and you'll run into the customary cast of Goombas, Koopas, and Bullet Bills. But despite all of these nostalgic throwbacks, everything still manages to feel fresh.
The biggest new addition is Mario's cat suit, one of the plumber's coolest power-ups in years. With it, you can climb to places you couldn't otherwise reach, paw enemies into oblivion, and even emit a celebratory "Meow!" when you conquer a level. It sounds ridiculous, and, well, I guess it is. But Nintendo has always embraced the absurd, delivering extremely well-crafted games that somehow manage to not take themselves too seriously.
Another clever power-up is the Double Cherry, which creates a duplicate Mario. Collect several of these, and you'll find yourself trying to control a gaggle of four or five identical characters. They all respond to your controls, but can easily get separated if you can't squeeze them all onto a platform or make a particularly tricky jump. When a multiple dies, you simply continue as whichever Mario is remaining. It only adds to the zaniness, and is a great example of Nintendo honoring its franchise's roots, while still adding new nuances.
The other big addition is local co-op multiplayer. You and up to three friends can choose among Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad. Like in 1987's Super Mario Bros. 2, each has a slightly different skill set. Luigi jumps higher, Peach floats, and Toad is a little faster. Mario is the most balanced in every respect. You're all on the screen at the same time, sometimes helping each other, sometimes driving each other mad, and always competing to see who can score the most points in any given level.
Nintendo has carved out its own niche as the family-friendly gaming platform, and Mario 3D World's co-op fits that mold. Just be prepared to throw a few f-bombs at your loved ones, as they squash your head right as you're taking off to traverse a bottomless chasm. Levels are fast-paced enough that throwing two to four players on the screen at the same time inevitably leads to wacky mayhem. Extremely fun wacky mayhem.
There are other nice additions, like levels where you only see Mario's shadow, jumping in a Mario-sized skate and skidding around an ice rink, and flying through transparent pipes. There's a Goomba disguise that prevents other baddies from attacking you, and the Mega Mushroom (Giant Mario) power-up from New Super Mario Bros. even makes a few appearances.
As always, the platforming grows in difficulty as you progress, and some levels can be downright maddening. Like its 3DS counterpart, you also have to collect tokens (here in the form of green stars) to unlock key levels, so sometimes just getting to the end of each level won't be enough. Those green stars are often hidden off in unseen nooks and crannies, which you'll need a catsuit or a keen eye to find.
But we don't want to spoil too much, because one of the best things about Super Mario 3D World is the childlike sense of discovery you experience as you play each level. Nintendo threw in so many quirky, thoughtful little details that try – quite successfully – to delight the player. That the game's backbone features some of the most well-designed platforming we've ever seen only cements this game's status as one of the best of the year.
Super Mario 3D World is highly recommended to anyone who owns a Wii U. If there is a single game worth buying the console for, this is it. It retails for US$60, and is available now in physical disc and as a Nintendo eShop download.