Super Mario 3D World
November 21, 2013 (JP)
November 22, 2013 (NA)
November 29, 2013 (EU)
November 30, 2013 (AU)
3D World is not the 3D Mario for Wii U that we were looking for.
There. I said it. It’s not another Mario 64 or Galaxy, entries that pushed the series forward into the new generation. Instead, it continues the 2D-3D hybrid gameplay introduced in the 3DS game Super Mario 3D Land. If you read my review of that game, you know that I found it to be a decent, yet bland and uninspired Mario outing. When 3D World was unveiled at E3 2013, nothing I saw convinced me that this would be any different. Thankfully, Nintendo went deep into their stock of creative Kool-Aid, and the end result is much better than its predecessor.
The first thing you’ll notice is that you can play as one of four characters: Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad. Each has their own advantages – Mario is the all-around balanced character, Luigi has a high jump but slips and slides around as he runs, Peach is slow but has the ability to briefly float, and Toad can run much faster than the others. In a first for a 3D Mario game, four players can join together to play through the game cooperatively. The vast majority of my time with the game was spent alone, but based on my limited impressions the multiplayer works much better than the ham-fisted multiplayer in the New Super Mario Bros. series. Even if you play solo though, the ability to change characters is a welcome addition, as one character may be better suited to a particular level than another.
The level design, too, is much more creative and inspired than 3D Land‘s generic obstacle courses. Not only is there a world map to explore (though the levels themselves often don’t stick to the particular world’s theme), but levels are a bit less linear and allow for more freedom than those in the 3DS outing. Clear pipes, a new addition to the series, allow you to change direction mid-pipe and find hidden secrets. Hidden in each level are three green stars many of which can only be found by exploring every nook and cranny of a level. In addition, stamps are hidden throughout the worlds, which you can collect and then use in Miiverse posts – a clever, if basic, achievement-like system. Considering you’re still under the constant pressure of a timer, though, you’ll likely wind up needing to play through each level multiple times to find everything.
And the levels are worthy of your exploration time as well. Not only are they wider than in past games in order to compensate for multiple players, but they also have an impressive verticality to them thanks to the signature power-up of this game: the cat suit. When I first saw this horrifically cute transformation during the game’s reveal trailer, I literally groaned. But after playing the game, I can say that the cat suit is quite possibly the most enjoyable and useful Mario power-up in a long time. Not only can you claw and pounce on enemies, but, far more useful than that, you can literally climb up pretty much any surface – including the end of the level flagpole. It’s a really fun ability that factors into the level design in a large way and alters the way you think about exploring levels – tall surfaces that wouldn’t have even merited a passing thought in past Mario games will often have something hidden at the top that will make them worth a detour to explore.
It’s also very rare to find Nintendo reusing the same ideas twice in 3D World. They’ll have a really zany, creative idea, use it for a level, then you’ll never see another one like it in the game. One level may take place entirely in shadows, while the next has you racing down a Mario Kart track, while yet another will have you donning a flashlight to disintegrate Boos in a haunted mansion. A particularly memorable adrenaline rush was an escape from a mine being overrun by rampaging Fuzzies. The game’s other new power-up, the Double Cherry, which splits your character into multiples for every one that you pick up, appears very sparingly but is always used in a creative way – for instance, some elevators will only work if you have a certain number of clones. The game’s Captain Toad levels, which make ingenious use of changing perspectives, are a ton of fun, and I’d pay for a game made up exclusively of them.
The basic gameplay is the same as in 3D Land, right down to having to hold down a run button. While it’s unfortunate that you still need to do that on a controller with full analog stick support, Nintendo has compensated by allowing a sort of turbo-boost after running for a second or two. It’s also unfortunate that Mario isn’t as acrobatic (lacking many of his moves from the 3D entries in the series) and is confined to running in eight directions – another holdover from the 3DS game – even though the Wii U GamePad should allow for 360-degree movement. It’s likely that some of those control choices were made in light of the fact that players can choose to use only the Wii Remote as an option, which notably lacks an analog stick…but there’s really no reason to do so unless you’re playing multiplayer and have a lack of other compatible controllers.
As with 3D Land, the game starts out pretty easy and straightforward. Things ramp up in difficulty more quickly than they did in the 3DS game, however, and I find myself shouting expletives at the television at several points through the second half of just the main game. And, of course, the many postgame levels available are fiendishly difficult and will try even platforming experts. You’ll die, and you’ll die often. Checkpoints are few and far between – no more than one per level, so if you die right before a checkpoint or a flagpole you’ll have to do it all over again, losing any stars or stamps you collected in the process. The game unfortunately sticks to the archaic lives system (seriously, Nintendo, just drop it already) but there are several exploits that allow you to get a ton of lives really early in the game, if you so choose. But it never feels like the game’s fault when you die – you’ll always concede that it was your own error, even with the absolute precision the game demands of you at some points.
To say that boss battles were a major sticking point in 3D Land is an understatement. They were complete and utter garbage. The bosses in 3D World fare better – even though Boom-Boom and Pom-Pom return, the game throws a few other bosses at you to mix things up. Neither of them reach the heights of those in the Galaxy series though, and they’re fairly simple once you find out what you need to do three times. The Bowser confrontations in this game aren’t as good as their 3D Land platforming challenges, being replaced by somewhat tedious battles. The final battle of the game, though, is a jaw-dropping spectacle that will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. It’s probably the most impressive final confrontation the series has ever seen.
New Super Mario Bros. U may have been the first HD Mario game, but 3D World is the first to truly feel like the series has made that jump. Rain effects in some levels are dazzling, and the whole game has bright, crisp graphics with a huge color palette. While it may not be as artistically impressive as Galaxy, the game oozes charm and makes us excited to see what Nintendo can do when they push the spectrum in the hopefully inevitable true 3D Mario for Wii U. The music in the game is impressively orchestrated, though again, not reaching the heights of the Galaxy soundtrack. Sounds are typical Mario fare, and even those of us that have to resist the urge to drive a stake into our eardrums when we hear Mario’s annoying voice will need to stifle a “d’aww” the first time we hear a meow from Cat Mario.
The game doesn’t provide much of a justification for the GamePad though, using it solely for off-TV play. Miiverse integration, however, is much more impressive. A short while into the game, Miis will populate the game world, usually sharing artwork, level tips, or just random musings. After completing each level, you’ll see other users’ thoughts about or artwork based on the level. It’s always interesting to find out whether you kept dying because the level was legitimately hard, or just because you sucked, but it’s somehow comforting to complete a difficult level and see that other people had a similarly difficult time.
Super Mario 3D World justifies owning a Wii U, and its unfortunate that the system is still floundering even after receiving such a great mass-market title. It’s quite possibly the most charming and creative game of the year, and Nintendo has rectified almost every complaint I had about 3D Land. It’s unfortunate that we have to wait a while longer for a 3D Mario title that pushes the envelope like 64 or Galaxy did, but 3D World perfects the 2D-3D hybrid style of platforming, and it’s refreshing to see such bright, colorful, and creative game design among the masses of rote annualized shooters and adventure games released this past fall. 3D World is the best title available on any next- er, current-gen platform, and a true must-have title for any Wii U owner.
Impressively creative level design that encourages exploration
The cat suit is quite possibly the best power-up in the series.
Huge variety in levels.
Beautiful HD graphics and an impressively orchestrated soundtrack.
Great Miiverse features.
Nintendo still has some archaic design choices (lives, lack of checkpoints, etc.).
Controls aren't as fluid as true 3D Mario games.
Production values not quite as high as the Galaxy games.
Doesn't utilize the GamePad particularly well.