by Josh Vollmer
Super Mario 3D World, developed and published by Nintendo for the WiiU console, is the latest platformer in the extensive and storied Mario Brothers franchise. 3D World, the sixth 3D incarnation of the series (seventh if you count Super Mario 64 DS), liberally borrows different mechanics from past Mario titles and combines them into a game that not only feels immediately familiar and fresh in equal parts, but is arguably the best Mario game in recent memory. It is without a doubt the best Mario game available for the WiiU right now.
That’s not to say that the other WiiU Mario title available, New Super Mario Brothers U, is a bad game. The iconic plumbers have enjoyed a prominent role in the recent 2D platforming renaissance thanks to the games bearing the ‘New’ Super Mario Brothers moniker, and NSMBU is a great example of the excellence that has fueled that revitalization. But it has been some time since the Italian duo have taken part in a full 3D adventure on our television screens, well since 2010’s Super Mario Galaxy 2 to be exact, and it is exciting to see how Team Mario have taken what they’ve learned in sprucing up the titular moustachioed hero’s ‘New’ 2D adventures, and how they have applied that knowledge to a beautiful, high definition, three-dimensional Mario world.
Like the New Super Mario Brothers games, 3D World feels new, but has an undeniable old school feel as well. In fact, it’s probably more of a spiritual successor to Super Mario 64 or the Super Nintendo’s Super Mario World than it is a follow-up to the more recent 3D adventures on the Wii. Nintendo keeps things from feeling rehashed however, by introducing new mechanics and power-ups for every old trope they pull out. A POW block in a dark area will not only knock out nearby enemies, it will also light up the surrounding area for a moment. The ever-present Fire Flower still lets you throw fireballs, but now you can occasionally ricochet them around corners at unsuspecting enemies before they can spot you.
Altogether new power-ups keep things interesting as well. The new bell will transform you into Cat Suit Mario, giving you a scratch and a jumping dive attack, as well as the power to climb a fair distance up walls. The double cherries have a multiple-man effect, adding another Mario by your side. Grab a few in a row and you can have a Pikmin-like mob of red overall clad protagonists running around on screen.
Even level design has a strong old school/new school dichotomy in Super Mario 3D World. While a 3D game, the levels make use of several 2D sensibilities, lending a tight, focused feel to the gameplay. Stages are roughly linear and there’s not a lot of exploration to do, which is good because the stages are timed. The clock starts running from the moment you drop in, until you jump onto the flag pole at the end of the level (another old school Mario trope). Levels are navigated via an Overworld map (yet another old school Mario device), that players are free to explore for extra coins and secrets as well. And while many of the environs and enemies will look familiar, at the same time they’ve never looked as good. Seeing some of these characters and beautiful, brightly colored settings in full high definition is a real treat.
3D World features up to 4-player simultaneous co-op, similar to the New Super Mario Brothers series, allowing players to choose to play as Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach or Toad. There’s a little old school mixed in here as well since each character plays a little differently, similar to the way they played in the Nintendo Entertainment System title Super Mario Brothers 2. Mario is average all around. Luigi jumps a little higher and falls a little slower, but takes slightly longer to get up to full running speed. Princess Peach can float for a couple seconds while jumping, but isn’t as fast as the other players. Toad runs the fastest, but can’t jump quite as high and falls faster too. While multiplayer is strictly offline, depending on your online settings, your Overworld map can be populated with Mii ghosts bearing messages posted by other players, and you can even run stages alongside Mii ghosts representing other players. Keeping an eye on them can sometimes be the difference between finding a stamp (the game’s new collectable) or all the stars in a level, and coming away empty handed.
All in all, Super Mario 3D World may not be a title that takes full advantage of the WiiU’s online capabilities, or a title that fully exploits the WiiU’s signature Gamepad controller, but it is a fantastic game. It’s simultaneously familiar, fresh, fun, simple, engaging and challenging. It is a game that any Mario fan will want to play, replay and share with friends. In short, despite a few shortcomings, it is everything that a Mario Brothers game should be.