Release Date: November 22, 2013Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoPlatformer: Wii U (Reviewed)Genre: 3D Platformer
There are three things that I know have become certain in life: death, taxes, and Nintendo putting out another amazing Mario game. Super Mario 3D World takes the basic premise of 3DS-exclusive Super Mario 3D Land and vastly improves it in every way imaginable. The shining result plays out like a bite-sized and fast-paced Super Mario Galaxy with foundations firmly rooted in the New Super Mario Bros. series. Each brisk 3D platforming level has you gallivanting in search of three hidden green stars from the Galaxy series, and the new inclusion of a bonus stamp that will really force you to think outside the box if you want to collect them all. And while the story in the game is almost nonexistent for the most part (you’re still essentially going from castle to castle, only now you’re trying to rescue these little fairies that Bowser has imprisoned in Mason jars), but there’s honestly no real need for a story when you’ve got hours upon hours of just clear-cut platforming goodness staring at you like the opening of a Warp Pipe.
As you probably already know, the biggest new addition to Super Mario 3D World gameplay-wise is the quirky Cat Suit power-up, which admittedly, I thought was a little strange to see so much marketing material focuses on Mario and friends scampering around on the grown and meowing their heads off. But then you pick up the shiny gold bell that grants you the Cat Suit for the very first time, and it all instantly makes sense. The main draw of the Cat Suit is that it gives Mario the ability to claw his way up any wall in the vicinity, giving some levels a refreshing sense of verticality to the overall design as you move in ways that Mario has never dreamed of before. Subsequent green stars will also be cleverly hidden in tiny openings high up on these walls, and reaching the top of those end-level Flag Poles has never been easier now that you can simply run right up the pole. The iconic Warp Pipes also have a much larger role here as well, and Nintendo has even made them clear now, so you can pinpoint Mario’s path and influence his direction.
You’ll also have your choice between four different playable characters this time around, each with their own unique playing styles and advantages: Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad. For instance, Luigi seems to have a higher kick to his jumps, while Peach can defy gravity and float through the air with her magic pink dress. It’s definitely fun to play as these four different characters (and essential for the co-op), and you’ll even need to switch back and forth between them if you want to completely round out your stamp collection. You can also feel the bigger differences in handling and weight as you move the characters around the re-envisioned world maps, which put a magnificent 3D spin on the traditional New Super Mario Bros. setup that give you the free reign to run and jump around the different levels on the map and uncover other hidden secrets and surprises.
Super Mario 3D World consists of dozens upon dozens of the most inventive level designs that you’ll ever see in a main entry Mario game, and the amount of variety and fun to be had between them is simply astounding. No environment or concept is too far-fetched for Mario’s first 3D outing on the Wii U, and when everything is said and done, you’ll have traversed a sunken ghost ship, sped your way down a sprawling savanna at sunset, marveled at the wonders of a shimmering trapeze city at night, got in some nice R&R down by the beachside, scaled the mossy walls of an ancient temple setting, satisfied your sweet tooth in a level made entirely of pastries and cakes, and ridden a giant water dragon like a loveable log flume down a waterfall course. But all of that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the sheer amount of level variety you’ll find throughout Super Mario 3D World, and one of the biggest joys in the game for me was never knowing what new form of wackiness I would be dropped into next.
Each level is built around a different gameplay mechanic that is seamlessly introduced to you within moments of starting a level, before pushing the idea to a satisfying conclusion by the time you reach that end-level Flag Pole in the distance. Some of these mechanics are incredibly simple, like a new type of enemy that needs to be dealt with in a particular way, while others are much more imaginative, like using a Cherry power-up to duplicate Mario until you have three or four identical Mario moving in unison on the screen. The touchscreen on the Wii U GamePad also makes an appearance on the oddball level or two, in which you’ll need to tap on certain areas of the screen or blow on the microphone to make corresponding platforms move or rise, although the overall presence of the unique hardware did come off as feeling a bit underutilized as it could have been. However, I certainly don’t mind: you need tangible buttons to play a platformer after all, and it makes sense given that you and your three buddies can play Super Mario 3D World using pretty much every Wii U-supported controller type imaginable.
Incidentally, some of my favorite levels in the game were actually the little bonus side-levels that introduce some incredibly addictive new concepts. The first of these puts you in the role of Captain Toad, as you make your way through an incredibly complex single-screen obstacle course, manipulating the camera to reveal hidden pathways, and collecting handfuls of green stars along the way. The other really cool addition is a Mario gauntlet of sorts called the Mystery House, which puts Mario through a series of wonderfully varied mini-challenge rooms that have you snagging green stars under the pressure of a 10-second time limit. The boss fights are also vastly improved from the main entry Mario games of old, when a predictable battle with one of the devious Koopa kids in an interchangeable environment was good enough for Nintendo. While you’ll still have a few of these nostalgic boss encounters for good measures, you’ll also be in store for a ton of nice surprises, like staring down Bowser as he flees down the highway on the back of a motorcycle.
But now take every glowing thing about Super Mario 3D World, add in the seamless integration of 4-player competitive co-op, and you’ve got the makings for what is easily the best game available on the Wii U right now, if not one of the best games in the entire Mario 3D series. The 4-player co-op capabilities of the game are absolutely genius, and playing a Mario game with three of your friends has never been more exciting than it is now. A lot of this works hand-in-hand with the level variety, as it’s also fun to venture into strange new worlds with your friends by your side, and then subsequently push them off a ledge so you can snag that giant stack of coins for yourself. While the game as a whole certainly isn’t the most difficult 3D Mario game I’ve ever played (unless you count some of the post-game content which can really push the limits of your patience), you’ll actually find yourself losing hundreds of more lives when playing in co-op: but that’s only a part of its fun and its charm. Luckily, racking up additional lives in Super Mario 3D World is almost as easy and frequent as picking up coins.
In the end, Super Mario 3D World winds up being everything you could ever want in a Mario game on Wii U, whether you’re a fan of the New Super Mario Bros. style of games, or the more open-ended affairs like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. Nintendo has become an expert at looking at their own series, and as a result, Super Mario 3D takes all of the best components from every substantial Mario game before it, and matches them with vigorous new ideas and concepts that could easily keep Mario fresh and exciting for the long foreseeable future. And while the core game is a shimmering masterpiece, the introduction of 4-player co-op is a total game changer for how we’ll think about 3D Mario games going forward. If you own a Wii U right now, then Super Mario 3D World is a required purchase for your game collection; and if you’re still on the fence about getting Nintendo’s latest home console, then it’s never been a better time to go and pick one up.
Story – 9/10Gameplay – 10/10Graphics – 10/10Sound – 10/10Multiplayer – 10/10Replayability – 10/10