I’ll be honest, when Super Mario 3D World was first revealed, I wasn’t impressed. Nintendo’s first mainline console Mario title since the Galaxy series turned out to be what looked like Super Mario 3D Land plus multiplayer and it just didn’t excite me. But as Nintendo showed more of the game, I started to see its potential. And now that I’ve played the game, I realize how much of a mistake it was to doubt Nintendo. The Big N delivered an absolute masterpiece.
There’s a familiar story to Super Mario 3D World, with Bowser kidnapping something (this time fairies, not Princess Peach). Instead of Mario going at the rescue effort alone, he’s backed up by Luigi, Princess Peach and Blue Toad (Yellow Toad clearly got the shaft here). Players can choose any of the four characters to complete a level with. They all control the same but have slight differences: Mario controls the way we’ve all come to expect, Luigi’s fluttery jump gives his jumps more length, Peach can float briefly to extend her airtime and Toad can run faster than the others. Luigi and Peach are the go-to characters if a level is giving you fits, while Mario and Toad provide more of a challenge.
Beyond the character choice, you probably already know how this game plays if you’ve played a recent Mario title. You’ll run, jump, swim and ground pound through various levels in a multitude of different settings, from ice and lava to hills and clouds. It also includes some additional moves from past 3D Mario titles, such as the long jump, somersault jump and spin.
All of your running and jumping escapades will be done in glorious HD, bursting with color and running at a crisp 60 frames per second. The fun and joy is on full display and it even includes effects like raindrops landing on the screen during rainy levels, appropriately bright or spooky lightning and clever use of shadows in certain levels. No matter how many characters are on screen at once, the framerate never wavered on me. Nintendo may have been late to the HD party but they sure know how to use it now. A full orchestra plays the songs of the Super Mario 3D World soundtrack and it’s a pleasure for the eardrums. The songs are addictive and you’ll be humming (maybe even singing) along with the tunes even after your gameplay session has ended. The soundtrack includes many new songs as well as some older songs (such as the Super Mario Galaxy theme) given a new spin. It's about an even split between new and old tunes, but even the older ones feel different thanks to the new orchestral arrangements.
Powerups are a staple of the series and many make their return from past titles (Fire Flower, Boomerang, Mega Mushroom, etc.). The stars of the powerup groups are two new powers that you may have seen in pre-release trailers. The bell grants you a full body cat suit which gives you the ability to run, jump and attack lithely like a cat on all four legs. It grants a standing claw swipe ability and also an aerial claw dive to strike foes from above. The latter move is incredibly satisfying – nothing feels better than raining kitty death from the air – but you have to be careful with it, lest you send yourself into the lurch. It also grants you the ability to climb up walls for a few seconds, which becomes important to reach certain platforms that contain secret green stars or stamps to collect.
The other new powerup is a double cherry power that creates a copy of your character. These appear on certain levels and often in packs, so you can continuously split yourself up and become an army of five in one. These copies move exactly the same as each other and also attack together, so you could have five Fire Marios unleashing a wave of fireballs at poor, defenseless enemies. Levels built around the Double powerup include secrets available only if you keep all of your clones alive, which becomes a tough challenge as enemies and pits wait to gobble them up. Other powerups of note include the Goomba head, which lets you wear a Goomba costume to trick enemies into complacency and various block heads, such as the flashlight and propeller head, which allow a scope of light and brief flight, respectively.
Gameplay includes both single player and local multiplayer. First, let’s talk about Super Mario 3D World as a single player experience. Switching between characters effectively allows you to make difficulty tweaks to the game, as Mario and Toad’s lack of floaty jumping make some jumps trickier than Luigi and Peach’s increased hang-time. Toad’s increased speed can help in a few specialized situations but otherwise he’s identical to Mario, who has classic gameplay characteristics. All levels can be beaten with any character, though a few levels have features that can only be activated by a certain character. Thus it will be necessary to switch to that character if your goal is to 100% the game. Fret not about Nintendo focusing the game too much on co-op; levels are designed to be played with one player and are still great even for adventurers who choose to fly solo.
Multiplayer is the crux of Super Mario 3D World and it works better than the co-op seen in the New Super Mario Bros. series for one main reason: size. Because 3D World changes between 2D and 3D levels, there is usually plenty of room for four players to roam about. This means each player can go for a coin, star or other secret with ease, not accidentally getting into each other’s way. The experience is more controlled and less chaotic which means more fun and less swearing at the person who just jumped off your head and sent you into an abyss. This also means players will be less likely to get frustrated and resort to trolling their fellow players by throwing them off of levels (though the option still exists, for you jerks out there). Beginners who get stuck in a level or just want to take a break can use the bubble feature to bypass sections while other players take care of the tough challenges, or they can drop in and out of gameplay at any time. Several different control schemes can be used by players, including the GamePad, Wii U Pro Controller, Wii Remote, and Wii Remote + Nunchuk. There is no online play, which is unfortunate, though it’s a common deficiency in Nintendo titles that many have grown to begrudgingly accept. Co-op in Super Mario 3D World is an evolution from the New Super Mario Bros. games and after experiencing what 3D World has to offer, I can’t see myself going back to the troublesome chaos of those earlier titles.
Though it’s not multiplayer, Super Mario 3D World contains an online element via Miiverse. Players can post about the level that they just completed and then other players will see their messages scroll across the screen immediately after they complete that level. Miiverse messages also appear on screen in the world map over the heads of various Mii characters walking around. Ghost Miis can be unlocked during the game, which lets you race against other players who have completed the level.
Eight worlds make up the main campaign for Super Mario 3D World, each replete with about 10 levels and a mini-boss battle or two. Completing all of these worlds should take about 8-12 hours depending on your platforming skill. Experienced gamers may find that the game feels too easy for the first four worlds, with the true challenges beginning in the latter half of the campaign. But if you find that to be too short, don’t worry: there are multiple bonus worlds after the credits roll with many challenging levels to test your skill and keep the fun times rolling.
Super Mario 3D World is yet another instant classic from Nintendo. They have crafted another wonderful platforming title that rivals the best Mario games ever released and they’ve also made Mario co-op better than ever before. If you’ve been waiting for that one game that will make you want to purchase a Wii U, then get your money ready, for that game has arrived.
This review is based on a retail copy of Super Mario 3D World for the WiiU