Super Mario 3D World for Wii U
Pros: Incredible level design, fun from start to finish, great multiplayer
Cons: Too short, some camera problems
The follow up to the popular Wii console, the Wii U, is struggling to gain relevancy in today’s market. Nintendo focused more on the hardcore gaming audience with this system, but this simply isn’t an area wherein they can compete anymore with Sony and Microsoft. As an early adopter I fell in love with the Wii U immediately. Soon after release it faced a software drought and it still hasn’t recovered from the stigma of ‘having no games’ in the eyes of many. Nintendo’s big holiday title for the system last year was Super Mario 3D World, but this looked like an effort to simplify the series much in the way they have with the New Super Mario Bros. games. I’ve always loved Mario and I made sure to pick this up right when it released. I went in with tempered expectations, but 3D World ended up becoming one of my favorite games released in 2013.
Nintendo has taken a slightly different approach from their usual ‘rescue the princess’ storyline. This time around Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad follow Bowser through a warp pipe to a new world wherein they must rescue seven different fairies from his clutches. Yeah, it’s not that different, but bear with me here. 3D World plays in a very similar fashion to 3D Land which was released a few years back on the 3DS. The game is a three dimensional platformer wherein your goal is to make it to the end flag of several different stages set across eight different worlds. In series tradition your main method by which to dispatch enemies is by jumping on their heads, but this game contains a host of different power-ups that give Mario and crew helpful abilities.
Speaking of power-ups this game features more than your typical Mario title. You’ve got the standard super mushroom that allows your character to take an extra hit, as well as the fire flower that lets you throw fireballs, and of course the obligatory super star which grants you temporary invincibility. The tanooki suit, which was first introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3 also returns giving you the ability to hover slowly to the ground as well as hit enemies/items with your tail. The boomerang flower is also present here, and the mega mushroom, though rare, makes a few appearances as well. The new power-ups are where this game truly excels. Mario and crew can now transform into cats which allows them to climb walls and swipe using their claws. My favorite of the bunch however is the double cherry which creates a copy of your character and you control the group of copies in tow. The developers came up with some truly creative uses for this new ability and I absolutely loved playing through these sections.
The level designs here are some of the best and most creative across the entire series. The early levels are extremely easy, but this is to familiarize players with the new mechanics and power-ups. Stages are focused around unique ideas and obstacles, but none of these overstay their welcome. The power-ups offer you different ways to explore each level and half the fun is trying new things with the abilities at your disposal. The cat suit in particular allows you to reach areas you would not otherwise be able to access due to the ability to climb, and I found myself replaying stages because I felt like I missed out on something important. Exploration is huge, and the 3D World rewards it more than most other platformers do. The latter half of the game steps up the difficulty a fair degree, but it’s never frustrating. The obstacles and enemies are intelligently placed, and despite getting stuck on a few I never got tired of retrying.
While you can breeze through the game in single player with no problems this game gives you the opportunity to play co-operatively with your friends. Four players can participate at the same time, and things become hectic almost immediately. The camera differs from most 3D Mario titles in that it doesn’t follow right behind Mario, and that was an obvious effort to make the game more suitable for multiplayer because everyone shares the same screen. There’s only one pool for lives which encourages everyone to work together, but multiplayer has competitive elements as well. At the end of every stage each player is ranked on their performance, and the winner gets to wear a crown in the next stage. It’s a friendly competition in nature, but makes multiplayer more entertaining.
What’s really cool is that each of the characters handle differently from one another. Mario is well rounded with no strengths or weaknesses, Luigi jumps higher but handles like he’s running on ice, Peach is slow but can hover in the air ala Super Mario Bros. 2, and Toad is the fastest but has the weakest jump. While playing alone you aren’t tethered to just playing as Mario and can actually choose any of the four. This was one of my favorite features, but it shines brightest in multiplayer. You can change your playable character freely in between stages, and friends can jump in and out of play seamlessly which is extremely convenient.
As I mentioned earlier your basic goal in each stage is to make it to the flagpole at the end, but Nintendo added a collection aspect to the game as well. Three green stars are hidden in each stage which encourages exploration as well as replay value. Sometimes you’ll have to chase down rabbits (a nice nod to Super Mario 64), use the abilities of a specific power-up, or will find them in cleverly hidden areas. There’s even a mini-game of sorts called the Captain Toad stages wherein one player must guide a jump-less Toad across a labyrinth-like stage collecting these stars. I wasn’t the biggest fan of this part of the game, but every now and then it proves to be a nice change of pace. The green stars are actually required to progress in the game which is typical, and they demand that you take time to explore every nook and cranny.
The first thing that worried me when this game was announced was its graphics. Super Mario 3D World certainly wasn’t what I was expecting as far as the franchises’ first move to high definition, but Nintendo turned it around and made a really nice looking game. The resolution is impressive with sharp edges and outlines, and the characters/enemies are highly detailed. The environments are generally enclosed, but some of the expansive areas are absolutely breathtaking with great field of depth. The most impressive thing about this game visually however is its lighting. Few games have been so believable in this regard with fantastic shadows and realistic hues. The framerate is also incredible with each character animated extremely smoothly, and I didn’t notice a single hiccup even when playing with three other people. This game looks great.
I was immediately disappointed that the soundtrack here wasn’t fully orchestrated like in Super Mario Galaxy. Thankfully the music is still enjoyable and stays true to the franchise. There’s almost a pop-jazz quality to it, and most tracks are extremely catchy and enjoyable. I especially enjoyed themes are for the forest and ice stages as well as the boo house music. The sound effects are also very well done, but the ‘meow’ voice sample for each character is a little corny in my opinion. Controls are also extremely well done, and Nintendo made this game compatible with almost every controller available for the system. You can use the Gamepad (which allows for off-screen play), the pro controller, wii remote, nunchuck attachment, and even the long forgotten classic controller. Each input works well, but it can be awkward to play with just the Wii remote because of its small directional pad. Another problem I had is that, with the angled camera, it can be hard to judge jumps. It’s not a huge deal, but definitely caused me to die more times than I would have otherwise.
Super Mario 3D World is the best platforming game released in a very long time. It’s truly impressive how well obstacles and general level design come together into something that will really make you think. The main game is a little too short, but multiplayer as well as hidden stars make it a real treat to return to long after you’ve completed the main story. The only real problem from which this game suffers is its length, but the replay value is through the roof. You won’t find too many Mario titles better than this one, and it alone almost justifies picking up the Wii U console.