If you haven’t bought a Wii U yet, go out and get one right now. And get a copy of Super Mario 3D World to go with it. This is the game that Nintendo’s struggling console has been waiting for.
The fat little plumber hasn’t had an easy ride over the last few years. Whilst Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel were both absolutely stellar titles, for the most part the rotund Italian has found himself sidelined by a company more interested in selling balance boards, party games and cheap cash-in sports titles than developing quality, genre-defining games for the core audience. Last year, Super Mario 3D Land arrived on the 3DS and it must have done something right, because here we have a new home-console title that takes that already-excellent game and builds on it in every conceivable way without deviating too far from the original template.
Some players had concerns, however, when 3D World was first announced. The twin pairing of Galaxy games on the Wii took the platform genre to such dizzy heights that many believed the only future for the Mario series lay in building on those foundations. Seeing a title which looked, on first glance, to be little more than an up-scaled version of a handheld game disappointed people and left Nintendo with the unenviable task of proving to players that they still had their eye on the ball.
They’ve done a great job of answering those apprehensions. Make no mistake, Super Mario 3D World is easily one of the best games released for any system this year. It’s so good that you’ll wonder why Nintendo were mad enough to release the Wii U without having it in their launch line-up.
It’s in the little things where the quality shines through – the little clouds of dust kicked up as Mario and friends scamper through environments; the claw-marks left behind on walls as you fall down them when you’re wearing the new cat suit. Even when it comes to the tiniest of details, the game has been polished to a shine.
Mario’s world has been rendered in a way that will be familiar to anyone who’s played one of the previous game in the series; the geometry is pleasingly chunky and a colorful palette ensures that every level has its own distinct feel. The lighting though is where the game truly stands out: the glow cast by a fireball as you throw it for example, or the way a sunset bathes an entire level in a burnt-orange glow. It’s the most beautiful Mario game in the series to date and perhaps the most good-looking game in the system’s library so far. The result is a game that is not only frequently gorgeous to look at and a showcase for anyone doubting the graphical grunt of the Wii U, but also a joy to play from start to finish.
Of course, this being a Mario game, the story is centered around princesses being kidnapped and placed in castles. Only this time, in something of a departure from series tradition, it’s not Princess Peach that has been abducted by eternal series baddie Bowser but 7 princesses of the Sprixie Kingdom. All of them will need rescuing as you journey through the game, but now you’re able to decide who you choose to rescue them with – and you can bring some friends along for the ride.
Super Mario 3D World is the first major title in the mainline series built around multiplayer. Up to 4 people can play simultaneously, taking the roles of Mario, Luigi, Peach or Toad. Each have their own abilities reminiscent of often-overlooked title Super Mario Bros 2 in the 80s (which was merely a western re-skin of Japanese title Doki Doki Panic) – Luigi can jump higher than his brother, Peach can hover slightly before falling back down after jumping and Toad runs fast as hell but isn’t too hot when it comes to leaping around. Additionally there is a super-secret 5th playable character to unlock, who we won’t mention here for fear of spoiling the surprise (suffice it to say that series fans will be delighted). None of this, however, prevents the game from being just as much fun for people flying solo. Super Mario 3D World remains just as enjoyable whether you’re playing with yourself or bring friends along for the ride. Additional players can use the Wii Classic controller or the wiimote and nunchuk, and all work just as well as playing with the default gamepad.
On to the changes though – and there are changes; plenty of them in fact. They come mainly in the form of new power-ups: as you can see clearly emblazoned on almost every promotional screenshot for the game, Mario and friends now have the ability to transform into a cat. If you’re not a lover of furry felines then this game isn’t for you, as the game sticks the cat suit in your face at almost every turn. The suit comes with an array of advantages though – it allows you to scamper up walls, scratch enemies instead of leaping on them, and is generally extremely useful. The climbing ability in particular is put to good use thanks to level design with a new-found sense of verticality, something that has been missing from the series in recent years (and 3D Land in particular). And if you finish a level in the cat suit, you can scamper up to the top of the pole and your character will give out an adorable “meow”.
There’s also the cherry. This inconspicuous-looking power-up clones your character: one Mario becomes two, and picking up further cherries will add another clone until you can have a small army of characters running around, all mirroring your movements precisely. Some levels even require this, with pressure pads that require more than one person to activate – a fact which makes the power-up an essential tool for solo players.
The game also sees Nintendo moving away from platforming and into puzzling, with a variety of single-player levels where you need to help Captain Toad
collect 5 stars before reaching the exit under a strict time limit. Captain Toad can’t jump and the camera can only be rotated at fixed 90 degree angles, so enemies need to be avoided and you’ll find yourself rotating the camera in order to discover the way forward. These levels are peppered throughout the game and act as refreshing palette cleanser if you find yourself getting bored of all the platforming action. They’re not too challenging, but they provide a welcome change of pace and the chance to engage your grey matter.
Special mention needs to be given to the music. While there’s nothing here that can quite compare to some of the compositions in the Galaxy games on the Wii (possibly the highlight of the franchise), it’s another grand effort that will have you humming its tunes long after you’ve finished. There’s no Galaxy Overture or Gusty Garden Galaxy Theme, but it puts many other games to shame with a selection of catchy tunes that provide the tasty cherry on top of a delicious gaming cake.
If you’re concerned that 3D World is merely 3D Land on a home system, put those fears to rest. Nintendo’s trademark playfulness is in full effect in this game. Ideas are introduced from beginning to end. As a result, each level has a personality all its own; in one level you might ride on the back of giant Yoshi, timing your jumps to keep him moving. In another, you’ll create a small army of clones and spit out fiery death to all who stand in your way – assuming you can get them all through the network of pipes that litter the course. The result is a game that makes Land on the 3DS feel more akin to a prototype, a mere taster of what was to come. If that was the starter, here we have the main course. God only knows what we can expect for dessert, but based on the evidence here it should be nothing less than glorious.
Super Mario 3D World deserves to be in the library of any self-respecting serious gamer. Endlessly inventive, beautiful to look at and bursting at the seams with content, Nintendo has finally provided something that the Wii U has been lacking since its release – a truly essential purchase that should be picked up alongside the console. It’s a shame that it didn’t come sooner, because if it had then perhaps the system wouldn’t be struggling as much as it currently is.
Make no mistake: Super Mario 3D World is far more than simply a refined version of what’s gone before. It’s a perfect package of gaming bliss and quite possibly the best game released on any platform this year.
Version Tested: Wii U (exclusive)