During the past few years, Nintendo have been releasing a new Mario game every single year. Sure, we love the plumber, but the last few we have seen – while great, have been very similar to eachother. When I first seen promotion for Super Mario 3D World, I was excited, but the gameplay seemed to be about the same aside from the cat gimmickry. Four players? Check. “Retro” 2D elements? Check. It was like seeing Nintendo hit repeat all over again. While still cautious, I had to give the man with the mustache another try as even a so-so Mario experience still beats many other titles on the market. After playing and completing the game, I get it. I get it all now, and every brick in the path to this particular game makes sense. Super Mario 3D World is amazing, and here is why.
This lovely tale takes place in the familiar landscape of the Mushroom Kingdom, but it isn’t about saving the Princess. A small fairy-like entity by the name of Sprixie makes her debut this time around, and before she can even show her magic to Mario and company, Bowser jars her up and takes off. Yeah, I know – it is not too much of a contrast from the standard hijinx, but it is enough to feel a bit of freshness in a territory traveled far too many times.
The Super Mario Bros. 2 crew decide to make chase and save Sprixie and her gang of fluttering friends, with all new powers and locales on the road to Bowser’s many castles. The story isn’t exactly Citizen Kane, but its Mario we’re dealing with here, and taking in the warmness of the cute and endearing cutscenes is all one needs to get the most out of the experience.
Solid gameplay. That is what Super Mario 3D World is all about. Over the past 25 plus years, we have seen Mario push the envelope time and time again for multiple genres. This time is no different, but the limits are instead pushed in terms of quality, rather than on new concepts alone. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of fresh ideas at work within Nintendo’s second Wii U title for the plumber, and they all work well. Rather than push just one as the focus however (much like we seen in Super Mario Sunshine), this game utilizes the best ingredients from all previous entries in the franchise to make what could arguably be the best installment to date.
That is a bold statement, but let me break down all of the gimmickry at work in order to explain that little opinion. Mario and his pals now have new abilities, which you will be seeing a lot of as you make your way through the large and varied worlds within. The first to speak of is the catsuit, which is the primary power-up for this adventure. While giving our heroes the obvious ability to sound and look like felines, this power also allows the player to climb walls, jump higher, and perform a fierce scratch attack to enemies. Sure, we have seen some interesting techniques in the past, but the catsuit feels more layered due to all of its many uses, and comes off as far more varied and enjoyable than the older (and also included) Tanooki and Fire Flower power-ups as a result. That isn’t to say that the other power-ups don’t fit, as they do. Nintendo seemed to want to stamp that paw print as an insignia of 3D World’s future legacy though, and with Goombas and bosses alike also getting catty this time around, one can quickly tell the goal was achieved.
Another new power-up may be my favorite thus far. After snagging a cherry, Mario then receives a clone to follow him to the flagpole. If your clone dies, you can still continue on, but that in itself is punishment due to how wonderful this little ability turns out to be if you can keep your army growing. As more cherries are obtained, new clones are summoned, and the player must use all focus to control the squad. Luckily, it is rather easy to navigate with six or more clones at once, and lining them up correctly can result in producing massive damage to a foes. The duplication technique is also utilized with environmental puzzles to obtain stars and to weigh down platforms in order to open new areas, so much like the catsuit – it is far from a one-trick pony. There are other abilities from the past games included as well such as the Propeller Block, Boomerang, and so on, and thankfully each get their own little moments to shine when it comes to progression. Ever wanted to become a Goomba? Super Mario 3D World even has that down, with an ability that allows the player to trick the famed foe in a game of stealth. Yes, this title may indeed have the most techniques ever seen in a Mario game, and the level design provides an open canvas for players to run wild with them.
Speaking of level design, if you have had the chance to play Super Mario 3D Land, you should have an idea of what to expect. When I say the word “idea”, I am using a term that honestly defines 3D Land compared to the much larger world here, as even though a lot of mechanics have carried over, they now feel more complete and fluid in true console form. Much like the handheld predecessor, I guess you could say that 3D World is a “2.5D platformer”, as there are a good amount of sidescrolling stages, but to call it that alone is cheating the game out of its main attributes. At the turn of a camera angle, the entire stage can open up and become something that feels related to titles such as Super Mario 64 and Sunshine due to the scope, but with a great deal of extra polish applied. The transition is so seamless that switching perspectives becomes second nature, and the exploration aspects shine when hunting for those much-needed stars. Controlling Mario and the gang still feels familiar and highly accessible to all comers in these vast locales, as the standard “ice, fire, desert, water” themes are in tact to provide the usual change of fauna without making the player feel like they are playing any other franchise. That said, the execution of these environments are handled differently, with inventive and simply brilliant methods of progression that invigorate the experience with each new location entered.
Each level is found on your basic overworld which can now be freely explored, with the next stage opening up after a castle is beat. Collect the stars, save the Sprixie, move on to the next area. The general objective is simple, but the many secrets and bonus collectibles give this title a ton of replay value, opening up a ton of passages and secrets that can offer assistance or simply provide a nice change of pace from the norm. The Gamepad plays a large role in this, as at times, the player will need to tap switches to open up walls or blow away a hazard with the built in microphone. This Gamepad gimmickry doesn’t feel obtrusive, only adding to the usual solid control scheme and allowing an audience to fully utilize every aspect of their platform.
Another great use of the Gamepad is the Captain Toad stages. These areas just have a stiff little toad who is weighted down, and the player must explore the cube-like arena by using the motion control, built in on the Gamepad. As Toad moves, you as the player must shift the device in different directions in order to view new perspectives of the world. Is it groundbreaking? No, not at all – as we have seen it before. This however is a new idea for the Wii U however, and a concept that was executed to perfect, allowing a nice change of pace with some star-collecting puzzle mechanics attached.
We all know after quite a few 2D Mario titles that Nintendo can easily fit more than four on a screen, but in a 3D Mario title, the risk was greater. Thankfully, Peach, Toad, Mario, and Luigi all feel welcome while on the screen at the same time, and the camera performs like a champion amongst all of the chaos. Yes, this is the mode where you can screw over your closest of allies and still get a ton of laughs and entertainment, and even though online is missing from this wonderful addition, no Mario game has ever made co-op feel more right than 3D World. There is honestly an unlimited amount of playtime to be had within this installment, as with all of the stars, secrets, and paths in the game, one could go on for a lifetime trying to beat times and collect everything. Mario knows how to capture an audience by doing the smallest of things, and this is yet another title that takes those little moments and layers them until they stack up to the moon with charm and joy.
Nintendo have done one other title in this historic franchise in HD, and even though it looked great, it still seems weak compared to everything within Super Mario 3D World. Nintendo have used the Wii U’s power to pump this title full of color and lively animation. Sure, it isn’t a realistic Mario, but it never needs to be. The environments are gorgeous, with details running a muck in the bright and chipper locales. Mario and his squad also look great, but don’t seem too different aside from the times they are running around in their catsuit. More enemies than every before can be on the screen at once, and all of the animation never drags its feet for a second. Making matters sweeter is the backdrops that bring everything together wonderfully, and make this feel like the largest plain we have ever seen in the series thus far. The ghost houses, the ice stages, the little details when it comes to jumping…there are just so many elements running together this time around, and not since Mario hit the Gamecube have I ever felt so in awe with the full package painted out on the screen before me.
This soundtrack is an absolute masterpiece. I have moments when I play games and I get excited just by hearing a nice tune. Duck Tales and its moon theme, Kirby’s Gormet Race, and several other songs don’t need lyrics to put a smile on one’s face due to their excellent composition. Super Mario 3D World has that with its music, but in every single level. The soundtrack is magnificent and varied, with a range of jazzy beats to Christmas-themed jingles that deserve a ton of praise. Some of these tunes were borrowed from 3D Land, but they have been upgraded and remixed to flow with the gameplay – and since the beginning, that has been one attribute of Mario titles that no other namesake has been able to duplicate in the same manner. The voice acting is minimal but cute, with little meows added in as the bell is obtained and that catsuit takes effect. The excellence of sound can even be found with Boo houses, which actually feel a tad unnerving as Mario’s light footsteps are heard among the creaks and cynical laughter that roam in the background of an already spooky beat. Mario may have the most famous theme of all time, but this title’s own originality surpass the nostalgia and give us the treat of another set of beautiful scores that are utterly timeless.
Take a long look at that picture above these words. Done? That picture is a timeline of how far Mario has come as a mascot for Nintendo, up to the last console release of Galaxy 2. The very character who has shaped the company into what it is today, kicked gaming off into the mainstream, and saved platforms time and time again when they might have been struggling. I posted that picture as that is the best way to describe Super Mario 3D World. This title takes the best elements from the finest platformers of all time, adds a great deal of new ideas, and blends it all up to make the perfect experience. I have personally played every single mainline Mario game to date, and none have hit a chord as high as 3D World for myself. The multiplayer could have been the main selling point. The nostalgia will be the main selling point. None of that matters though, as this title is a balled-up fist from Nintendo aimed straight for its competitors who forgot just who paved the way for gaming as we know it. Super Mario 3D World is a triumph from the company that has been the heart of the industry for nearly 30 years, and a sign that Nintendo have finally entered the Wii U into the next generation.
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