Super Mario 3D World has been out for nearly two months now and has been met with nearly universal acclaim. Many have hailed it as a saving grace for the franchise, which has recently grown stale by releasing derivative entries of the New Super Mario Bros. sub-series. With the Wii U not meeting Nintendo’s sales expectations and players demanding killer apps, the timing of Super Mario 3D World’s release was necessary to restore confidence in the fanbase.
But was it all hype? The game has been out long enough for players to determine whether the game is a one-trick pony or an instant classic. So does the game live up to the expectations set by the Super Mario Galaxy games or does it fall flat on its face?
Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Release Date: November 22, 2013
Super Mario 3D World is quick to show you that it’s not messing around. The opening cutscene is brief and to the point: Bowser’s up to no good, as always, but this time he’s kidnapped fairy-like Sprixies instead of Princess Peach. Immediately following the clip, the player (or players, as the case may be) is dropped into the overworld to start the game.
The overworld works a little differently this time around. Instead of being a stationary stage select screen, you are actually able to freely wander about the map. Occasionally you may find a secret warp pipe or an 1-up hidden behind some scenery. Although there isn’t much to do on the overworld, there is at least something to do other than pick a level and move on. It’s a small touch, but much appreciated. From here you enter the first level and the magic really begins.
“Smooth” is the only word I can think of to describe that first level. The camera at first sweeps over the landscape, showing the enemies, obstacles, and angular geometry, then it pulls back to center on the player character. You run forward, up the hill and past the trees, taking in the swingy brass of the orchestral soundtrack. Then you reach a sheer cliff, and you can see golden sunlight rippling off the water far below.
I was in tears within moments.
Everything about 3D World is absolutely gorgeous. While it’s clear that the art team recently discovered the bloom visual effect and threw it onto just about everything, it manages to work. Textures are rich and full, so every object occupying the levels is a visual feast. Everything seems to glow—or in rainy stages, glisten. The brightness gives off an incredibly positive vibe. Combined with the soundtrack’s soft, melodic compositions, it’s hard to not feel happy during a play session.
Of course, excellent visuals and sound design mean nothing without strong gameplay to back it up. Fortunately, the controls are just as smooth as the rest of the package. Taking cues from Super Mario Bros. 2, you initially have access to Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad, each with different stats. Mario is balanced, Luigi can jump high, Peach is slow but can float, and Toad runs fast but jumps low. Choosing a character mostly comes down to personal play-style (personally I prefer Toad), but levels are actually designed to the point where certain characters are optimized for specific challenges. In one level you have to bounce off cannonballs to reach a high platform. When I ran through the level with Peach I had trouble carrying an item up the cliff without taking damage, but going through again with Luigi, I had no trouble at all. To get the most out of each character in your first playthrough, I suggest using the randomization button every time you enter a level just to experience all the depth and versatility of the level design.
Each level is also commendable for the amount of fresh concepts used. There are rolling hills, trapezes, water slides, platforms that alternate when you jump, self-contained towers, climbing walls, shadow perspectives, Captain Toad geometry puzzles, action setpieces, and more. Ideas rarely repeat, and even when they do, they’re generally twisted in clever ways that makes you rethink the way you play. Several lighting and weather effects also make levels unique—day, night, sunset, rain, it’s all beautiful.
Bosses are clever in this iteration, and often approachable in multiple ways. Boom Boom and Pom Pom return from 3D Land with noticeable changes in their attack patterns. This is a welcome change seeing as they were pathetically easy in 3D Land. The other bosses are more in line with what you’d expect out of a typical 3D Mario game. They’re intricately designed, and some of them may actually give you a run for your money if you don’t go into them with the right power-up equipped.
Power-ups are naturally a key part of the franchise, and the additions in this game are easily some of my favorites. The cat suit, much like the Tanooki suit in 3D Land, is the real game-breaker. While wearing it you have faster mobility, the ability to briefly climb walls, a frontal swipe attack, and the ability to climb up the end-level flagpoles. There are other new items, like a cannon hat which fires cannonballs, a Goomba hat which prevents enemies from attacking you, a flashlight hat that kills Boos, an ice skate which can cross spikes, and cherries that clone you when you walk into them. Most of the time, wearing a cat suit and keeping a fire suit on standby is your best bet, but it’s fun to try out the others.
Like all Mario games, the physics are surprisingly deep. Children and casual players may never break the surface of just what is possible with the engine. However, using the right combination of suits and technical prowess, it is possible to skip entire sections of levels or reach difficult locations with relative ease. There are thousands if not millions of ways to approach each level with any of the multiple characters. For this reason, the replay value is immense. Besides, if you want those precious five shiny stars on your profile, you’ll need to beat every level with every character!
Fortunately, the difficulty sits in a nice middle ground to make getting those five shiny stars possible. If you use Peach, who I consider to be the “beginner” character, you should have no trouble completing the game. If somehow that is too difficult, there’s always the invincibility leaf power-up. It’s optional, and using it removes the sparkles from your profile, so you have incentive not to use it. However, if you’re up to the challenge, you can always try a more daring character like Toad. Since he’s less optimized for levels, playing as him encourages you to master the control scheme.
Miiverse implementation also complements the replay value. Other players around the world post tips, tricks, and their best completion times which are visible within your own game. This adds an element of both collaboration and competition. And given all the collectibles and routes, this is absolutely a competitive speedrunner’s fantasy game. On the other hand, the Miiverse can also be used to share stamps you’ve collected and any family appropriate messages you want to send.
I didn’t get to spend much time with the multiplayer, but what I played was fantastic. With three dimensions, the action isn’t as hectic (or cutthroat) as it is in the New Super Mario Bros. games. Quite the contrary, it actually encourages cooperation much more. For instance, there are plates that require multiple people to stand on them. In single-player this is achieved using cloning cherries, but in multiplayer you can work together with your friends to activate them. If you want to be a jerk, though, that’s always an option too. Just pick up your buddy and throw him right over the edge. Mwahaha.
As with any game, I had a few gripes along the way. For one, the invincibility leaf block shows up after only five deaths, which is way earlier than necessary. It’s always a little blow to my ego to see it appear. There was also one area where two objects with different textures confused my depth perception and cost me a life. And lastly, picking up a Mega Mushroom negates whatever power-up you had equipped before you collected it—as soon as you shrink back to normal size you lose whatever suit you were wearing before. Again, these are just small issues, and none of them actually detracted from my enjoyment of the game.
By now it’s almost a cliché to lump loads of praise onto Super Mario 3D World but after spending only five minutes with the game I already knew I was going to give it the highest rating I could. Dozens of hours later, that opinion still stands. Platforming does not get better than this. Gaming does not get better than this. This is a game I will be playing tomorrow, five years from now, and even when it will ultimately be considered retro. Everything about this game is worthwhile. And if this testimony did nothing to sway you, then maybe this will: Bullet Bills with cat ears.