Super Mario 3D World may seem a tad simplistic from the beginning when compared to the epic Super Mario Galaxy 2. It’s a feeling which is no doubt caused by the game being a successor to handheld title 3D Land rather than any of the console Super Mario games or a new offshoot for the series.
But the initial simplicity is perhaps one of the game’s greatest strengths, as it allows players to jump in with the new co-operative gameplay and not feel too confused for the first few hours, before it ramps up the innovation and new features as the game progresses with a smooth difficulty curve, leading the game towards a hardcore, proper Super Mario title as you reach the end of the last world.
There’s tons to do, but the main focus as ever is on the plethora of stages throughout the worlds. Each one of these is distinct, never letting repetition settle in and never having the same segment twice. It’s fantastic level design, which incorporates new mechanics as much as it takes from the classic Super Mario formula, and even more recent games such as Galaxy 2 or even the New Super Mario Bros. series, though it’s still very different to those both.
It’s not the almost-third person, complete the objective to collect the stars in each world adventure of the Galaxy series, and it’s not two-dimensional like a Mario Bros. title. Instead, the camera is often positioned much higher or isometrically, allowing enough screen room for up to four co-operative players, with the game featuring Luigi, Toad and Peach alongside Mario.
Peach being present rather than kidnapped means that the threat and plot structure is a bit different this time around, but there’s very little to go on here – you’ll still be fighting Bowser and his allies, and there isn’t much of a focus on an actual narrative. That’s fine though, if less engaging – the focus is purely on the gameplay, which is as top-notch and refined as Super Mario games always are.
It’s fun. That’s how you’d describe 3D World. Just pure fun, at its best, and still enjoyable at its – for lack of a better term – worst. As mentioned before, each level brings a lot of variety, and as well as different visual styles and platforms, this is achieved through the various power-ups which you can collect throughout the game. These are reminiscent of classic Mario, and along with the health-restoring Mushroom and projectile-expelling Fire Flowers, there are some brand new powers.
One which has been tied to the game’s marketing immensely is the new Cat Suit, which allows Mario and company to clamber up walls, revealing new opportunities and places to find green stars and coins – your two main focuses in the game – as well as adding new attacks, meaning you don’t have to stomp on enemies heads, but can instead face them directly. It’s well implemented, and really adds to some of the platforming, though it’s far from the best power-up available.
That title goes to the genius Double Cherry, which splits each player into two, leaving control of both characters on one stick, with jump and attack buttons activating both of their skills. It requires a good deal of concentration to make sure that a well-placed platform doesn’t (or does in some cases) split up your characters, only taken further by the fact that you can collect more of these to increase the number of duplicates on screen, even across multiple players – finding enough Double Cherries means mayhem during co-op games, and it certainly multiplies the fun as you collect more.
It’s mechanics like this, sublimely implemented into the game, that makes Super Mario 3D World a joy to play from start to finish. There’s plenty of innovation with subsequent unlocks, though perhaps nothing as good as the Double Cherry. You’re always waiting to see what the next level will bring, and then smiling as a newly introduced feature clicks into place. Some of these ideas may only stay for one or two levels, but many become core parts of the gameplay, with even multiple found within individual later levels.
3D World constantly ramps all of this up, and by the end some of the levels are fantastic with how they use the combination of ideas, and the final boss battle in particular is an absolutely incredible culmination of mechanics, put together perfectly to deliver one of the best end-game experiences of recent years.
And then you’re able to play all of this co-operatively, which works rather well, even if the camera can be a bit off at times. It borrows from New Super Mario Bros. with bubbling if you die, though it’s great to finally see a proper local multiplayer Super Mario game with 3D environments. It’s sure to be a blast for families, and having four players able to join in the action – and collect any of the power-ups – is clearly the focus. It can be quite unforgiving should you choose to play alone, but the stress is alleviated by an extremely precise control scheme.
There’s plenty to do and collect across the world map, which you can now roam around freely, making for a lot of secrets and bonus levels in corners which you may have not been able to reach before. It’s smartly designed, though perhaps not fully realised and nothing as impressive as the open worlds of Super Mario 64 or Sunshine. Still, this opens the way for many mini-stages, the best of which involve guiding Treasure Hunting Toad around a puzzle level without the jump ability, or quick-fire ten second mini rooms where you have to collect increasingly difficult to reach green stars.
The game looks stunning too – it’s a real example of the Wii U’s next generation power, despite some slowdown when too many enemies are destroyed at once. There are brilliant lighting effects, clean anti-aliasing, a fantastic particle system, and vibrant colours, which all come together to look exactly how you’d want a high definition Super Mario to. Unfortunately, some of the level design from 3D Land should have stayed put, as without the 3D effect it’s very hard to judge certain distances, though these are the only points where the design falters.
Still, it all plays into the charm of the game, and it’s polished to perfection, with tons of different styles thrown into the mix. There’s fire, desert, water, clouds, haunted mansions – lots of variety throughout, which the excellent musical score always reflects perfectly. It takes the epic music of the Galaxy series and merges it with the gleeful tone of Super Mario 64.
It’s just a shame that the game is limited by its own design. While it offers plenty of new, it doesn’t move the series forward in the same way that Super Mario 64 or Galaxy did, and it would’ve been quite amazing to see what they would have achieved without the co-operative play and handheld roots. Even Galaxy 3, or better yet a new avenue, would have truly been magnificent, and perhaps the change that 3D platformers need.
Super Mario 3D World is the game that the Wii U needs. It’s a perfect co-operative experience, which is even at times like Mario 64 in its design. For families, the difficulty curve is perfect, and the amount of new features on show is just enough to keep everyone happy without the game ever becoming repetitive. This leads you from start to finish on an adventure which constantly ramps up the excitement until the very end.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite the game that the Super Mario series could use, and something fresher or another Galaxy sequel would have offered much more innovation, advancing the genre forward as a whole rather than just introducing a co-operative play and some absolutely brilliant new mechanics such as the Double Cherry.
Still, it’s a visual treat with extremely polished gameplay, unmatched in the 3D platforming field. For any platforming fan, or anyone who enjoys just playing a game for pure fun, then this is a definite winner.