At first glance, Super Mario 3D World may simply look like Super Mario 3D Land got a Wii U makeover and added multiplayer to the equation. The game’s first world is largely that, an expansion of the concepts Nintendo’s Tokyo studios came up with for their 3DS Mario effort. It uses similar mechanics and level structure to 3D Land, but brought up to a larger scale to fit its home console and allow three additional players to join in the fun. This time, in addition to Mario, players can also select Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad, who regain their abilities from Super Mario Bros. 2 back on the NES (Luigi jumps high, Peach floats, Toad runs fastest).
But it doesn’t take long for the guise of familiarity to melt away. What starts as a continuation of 3D Land’s design quickly begins reconstructing itself with idea after idea that are all their own.
The initial changes are the most obvious. The Cat Suit – which is so prominently featured on the box art and advertisements – gives Mario and company the ability to scamper up walls and strike enemies with a scratch attack. The Cat Suit joins the ranks of the greatest Mario power-ups for its sheer versatility. The variety of uses for the Cat Suit is a testament to the creativity at work at Nintendo’s Tokyo Studios.
Joining the Cat Suit is the “Double Cherry,” a power-up that creates clones of the character who grabs it. The Double Cherry is notable for being a power-up that not only stacks up with itself (the more cherries you grab, the more your clones multiply), but also stacks with other power-ups as well (small armies of fire Marios or cat Luigis come into play soon after the Cherrie’s introduction). It can get a little tricky to control multiple clones, but if anything, its a delightful chaos that ensues.
The new power-ups are joined by returning favorites (Fire Flower, Boomerang Suit, Mega Mario, etc.), but the new power-ups aren’t all that 3D World has going for it. It’s the level design that deserves the most praise. Although some will cry foul at the more linear structure carried over from 3D Land as opposed to the wide open worlds of Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, the majority of 3D World’s stages boast the same creative spark as the very best Mario games.
3D World’s levels are comprised of one-off ideas and rapid-fire concepts. Rarely will you be doing the same thing twice, and even when a concept does repeat itself, it finds a way to rearrange itself to make it feel fresh all over again. One moment you’ll be riding across a river on the back of a dinosaur, the next you’ll be jumping across platforms that materialize in accordance to the stage’s music, and then Mario will be wearing a canon on his head, fighting his way through an armada of Koopas and Bob-ombs. And this isn’t even taking into account the Captain Toad stages, in which you guide a Toad through a single-screen obstacle course without the ability to jump, or the Mystery Houses, which see Mario and friends face a barrage of quick, singular challenges.
The ideas just keep coming. Even when 3D World is playing up the nostalgia with nods to Mario’s past (and boy does this game enjoy doing just that), it finds ways to make these retro concepts feel like its own creations. It’s this kind of inventiveness that has helped the Mario series remain relevant since its inception, and it shines all over 3D World’s level design.
A notable exception comes in the form of the game’s boss fights. 3D World’s bosses are fun (the final battle with Bowser in particular is so full of energy it feels like something out of a Platinum title), but each of the game’s eight standard worlds contains only one or two boss fights – with many of the bosses being repeat encounters – and only a select few provide any real challenge. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so noticeable, if 3D World weren’t following-up Galaxy 2 on the home console front. After Galaxy 2’s insistence on introducing a new and engaging boss fight at just about every other turn, 3D World seems restrained by comparison.
The gameplay is as fun as ever, and now that we have a 3D Mario that’s up to four players, you can either play a more relaxed-yet-challenging single player campaign, or experience the sheer insanity of a multiplayer adventure.
On the visual front, Mario has never looked better. Sure, New Super Mario Bros. U gave Mario the jump to HD over a year beforehand, but its aesthetics and style kept very close to what we’ve seen in the past. For all intents and purposes, 3D World is Mario’s proper introduction to HD. From the sheen of a Bullet Bill to the rain striking against the camera in the game’s later stages, Super Mario 3D World oozes a fine attention to detail in its visuals. Sure, the world of 3D World may stick to simpler shapes in its platforms than the whimsical oddities of the Galaxy series (no worm bridges across space apples this time), but while the environments are simpler the style remains just as intricate. It’s gorgeous.
A stellar soundtrack adds to 3D World’s personality. Much like the Galaxy series, 3D World’s score is comprised of live band instruments and orchestras. If compared to the music of Galaxy, one could say 3D World’s score is more fun, but less beautiful. Equally catchy all the same.
3D World also finds some fun (albeit small) uses of the Wii U’s Gamepad. Certain levels will require touch screen actions in order to help Mario and friends out, while blowing into the Gamepad’s mic will reveal hidden objects and levitate certain platforms (in addition to making the player look like the best kind of idiot). It’s not exactly extensive usage of the Wii U’s capabilities, but they still bring some fun ideas to the table.
Super Mario 3D World brings out pretty much everything we’ve come to love about the Mario series through the years, all while weaving together its own style. It’s the most literal translation of Mario’s 2D roots into a 3D environment yet, and it contains bits and pieces of Mario’s history brought together and made anew. And for those seeking an extra challenge, 3D World contains three hidden Green Stars in every stage, as well as a hidden stamp that can later be used on Miiverse. Finding everything will ensure that the fun continues long after Bowser has been defeated. A large amount of post-game content also helps give the game lasting appeal.
Admittedly, for all its fun and creativity, 3D World never quite reaches the same heights as the Galaxy series, though it is the best entry in the Mario series since the galactic duo. But not being as good as Mario Galaxy is certainly no unforgivable sin, and despite just a few small hiccups in boss fights, Super Mario 3D World does an excellent job for itself. It’s some of the most fun to be had in gaming in years, and one of the best games on the Wii U.
Just be warned, if your friends start throwing you in harm’s way and cost you your cat suit, you may never want to speak to them again.