3D Mario games are special games. I would go so far as to describe them as events; games that come along once or twice in a gaming generation to completely shake up the platforming genre and generally tell everyone else: “this is how it’s done”. This is why there was such disappointment at the relatively tame announcement of Super Mario 3D World at E3 2013. What we saw then wasn’t impressive; it didn’t look fresh; it didn’t look like the revolution the Galaxy games were. These impressions were some of my own, and I am extremely glad to say they are misplaced.
Perhaps it’s, as they say, “all in the name”. Super Mario 3D World? Didn’t we just get that game? Oh, no, that was 3D LAND. The amount of times I’ve heard people get Land and World mixed up is quite frustrating. The thing is, though, the names are actually applicable, and reference Nintendo’s past quite nicely. Super Mario Land was a Game Boy game that feels different from other Mario games; it has a unique quirkiness, with a focus on Wario and – shock horror – a subtitle: “6 Golden Coins”. With its unique design and portable, bite-sized nature, it lines up with Super Mario 3D Land rather well.
Meanwhile, Super Mario World was a SNES game that many regard as the best 2D Mario. It brought in Yoshi, a new way of traveling, new power-ups that change the way you play (Cat Suit, anyone?) and contained creative, joyous and extremely enjoyable level design. Once again, this lines up. Super Mario 3D World adds 3D – both in the name, and in the gameplay – just like Super Mario 3D Land did. But while the new Wii U title connects to Mario’s past, it doesn’t mean it brings nothing new to the table. Quite the opposite, in fact!
As with most Mario games, this one starts with Bowser. This isn’t your typical Mario tale of Peach-kidnapping, though! Bowser kidnaps the Sprixies, a race of fairy-like creatures. Peach ends up accidentally following Bowser, however, and Mario (along with Luigi and Toad) ends up going along with her. From there, you enter familiar territory – a World Map.
But wait a second. This line on the Map isn’t restricting me! I can run around this space! Indeed, the World Map allows more freedom than the 2D Mario games of days gone by. This allows you to feel more involved in this World; yet, it doesn’t quite go all the way. You can collect coins and discover a few little secrets, sure, but don’t be fooled; this isn’t Super Mario 64’s Castle or Super Mario Sunshine’s Delfino Plaza.
You may wonder why I go into such detail over such a small thing. My reasoning is that this one small feature defines the overall theme of this game. A liberating, innovative, and plain fun idea is being shown off; but it isn’t developed all the way. By the time you’ve discovered the idea, Nintendo EAD Tokyo is already priming the game to chuck you into the next one. The game is almost linear in this way; it just rarely feels like it, due to the abundance of creativity.
I stress that this quick-fire nature is not a bad thing. It’s just a different style of Mario. While the Galaxy games took an idea and ran with it in multiple approaches, 3D World just bleeds it dry and moves on. It almost feels as if EAD Tokyo embraced their inner child while developing the game – why keep using the idea when you have a new, exciting one to get to? In some cases, this can be limiting – exploiting every depth of an idea, without making it stale, is what made the Galaxy games superb – but most of the time, it works. One moment you’re using the Boomerang Flower in a top-down shooter-style level, the next you’re steering Plessie, a Yoshi-like dinosaur (yes, I have no idea what it is) down a waterfall.
Then you’re navigating blocks that change in time to the music. Then you’re racing through a Mario Kart-style level. Then you’re trying to keep multiple copies of your character alive, thanks to the Double Cherry Power-Up duplicating them. Then you’re playing as Captain Toad, who can’t jump (the highlight of the game, seriously). I’m sure you’re getting what I’m trying to say. There is so much clever, fresh gameplay design here – oh, and there’s Cat Suits. Can’t forget them!
Every Mario game has its signature power-up. Super Mario 3D Land had the Super Leaf, which gave your character a Tanooki Suit; 3D World has the Super Bell, which gives your character a Cat Suit. The similarities in fact go past my use of words here, but I wouldn’t spoil that, would I now! When you’re in control of a character with the Cat Suit, 3D World becomes a different animal – literally! Mario games are rarely played aggressively; they are often games of evasion and skill, with occasional Goomba-stomping interspersed in the action. With a Cat Suit, you become a ninja. You can take out enemies with ease, whether it’s through your standard scratch attack or by pouncing from afar. This pounce move can result in awesome moments, as when you use it you are locked into a glide of sorts; you can traverse whole maps with one button press! Also, you can lock yourself into flying down a pit. That doesn’t feel so skilful.
Those types of moments may not feel skilful, but they’re certainly not frustrating. 3D World is not an easy game. It starts relatively forgiving in the early Worlds, as you’d expect, but as you start getting deep into the game lives become increasingly precious. While I won’t say too much for the sake of spoilers, the later Worlds can become especially cruel! Unlike many 3D Mario games, you don’t have a Health Meter; to solidify the link to 2D Mario games like Super Mario World, your health is defined by your power-up. You know what this means. Powered-Up Mario, to Super Mario, to Mario. It doesn’t make a huge difference, but it is yet another nod to Mario’s past to note.
Talking about losing lives, the new Multiplayer feature contributes greatly to that. For the first time, up to 4 people can huddle round a TV screen and play a 3D Mario game! New Super Mario Bros. did it years ago, but having it in 3D World is quite a big deal. Once again, let’s compare to the Galaxy games, where the multiplayer – if you call it that – is someone pointing at the screen to do basic actions like collecting star bits and freezing enemies (which the main player can do anyway). In 3D World it’s the full experience, and is best summed up with one word: insanity.
3D World with one player is a fantastic and enjoyable game. 3D World with more than one player is a fight-starting, hilarious and utterly unique type of fun. 3D World’s multiplayer can be played in two styles – competitive and cooperative. With a separate score for every player, cooperative is quickly leaned towards, and additions like the Crown – given to the highest-scoring player for the last level – shows that. If you finish the level with the Crown you get 5,000 points, which makes a big difference; but more importantly, your character wears a Crown. Whoever has the Crown feels like the best player. Naturally, this makes them a target for the other players, who want the Crown for themselves! Seemingly tiny additions like this Crown make a big difference.
Whatever the quality of player, they can have a good time in this game. I found that new players learned the game very quickly, in fact (even if they jump off a few cliffs first). In some moments, you do in fact work together to collect a Green Star or other item. Nothing emphasizes the necessity to do this more than the Flipswitch levels, where ANYONE jumping flips the panels. Needless to say, you need to time everyone’s jumps to actually get through these levels!
You even feel the influence of other players in solo play, however. The Wii U GamePad isn’t used enough to make it a truly integral part of the experience, but it does get some use. You can use your finger on the second screen to uncover hidden blocks and coins, and some levels even use the microphone and touch screen – thought these actions can feel gimmicky and unnecessary. The best use is the Miiverse integration; at pretty much any point, you can make a Miiverse post. These can then pop up in other people’s games, whether it is after a level, or in their overworld. They encourage the feeling of connectivity, and are a worthwhile use of Miiverse. Reading player’s responses to the level is quite addictive!
As well as all that, EAD Tokyo added Stamps to the game. Stamps, which have been seen in one form or another in Nintendo games like Wii Sports Resort and Nintendo Land (typically in a similar role to Microsoft’s Achievements), are found in-game (typically one per level). Along with the Green Stars and Flagpoles, they make up the most of the games collectibles. The difference with Stamps is that they each give you an image to use in your Miiverse posts. If you can’t draw well – or just don’t want to invest the time drawing – you can use these to quickly create interesting images on Miiverse. I’ve seen them used in clever ways (and crude ways!), and they are yet another innovative addition to 3D World.
Something I haven’t talked about yet is actually quite a big deal. This is the first HD 3D Mario! In a time of new systems showing off their capabilities, Super Mario 3D World represents the Wii U exceptionally well. Considering their relative lack of experience with HD development, EAD Tokyo have done a remarkable job, bringing Mario to life in a way not seen before. Textures look polished and natural, Green Stars shimmer like emeralds in the light, and the character models have an added breath of life. What stands out the most is the variety of visual quality, though; snow Levels have a soft glow, lava Levels have a contrasting harshness to them, and Boo Levels are shrouded in eery shadows. You’ll encounter a range of stunning locations that fit with the games theme of jumping between ideas almost by the second.
Super Mario 3D World runs at a super-smooth 60fps, and while it only runs natively at 720p, this is more than enough to look great. In terms of presentation, the companion to this is the audio, which is some of the best I’ve heard in a Mario game. The theme of the soundtrack seems to be a jazz-style take on Mario, with funky tunes that you could listen to for hours. Every level is brought alive by the amazing combination of visuals and audio, and the jazz twist to the music once again reminds me of what I keep thinking; EAD Tokyo had fun with this game.
Super Mario 3D World is the game to buy a Wii U for. The non-stop supply of ideas makes this game marvelous, but equally it does stop it from achieving the heights of the Galaxy games, which explored their ideas a little more extensively. Aside from that, the combination of joyous gameplay, insane multiplayer, stunning visuals and unforgettable audio makes this one of the very best 3D Mario games. A special game, indeed – and one that is worthy of the name “World”.