I don’t really get the recent hate for the New Super Mario Bros. series. Sure, there’s no doubt it’s the Italian-plumber equivalent of comfort food—but coming off 15 years between 2D entries before NSMB released on the DS in 2006, it’s most certainly a welcome take on the formula that fans can now look forward to every so often. (Plus, I actually like the dancing Koopa Troopas and singing flowers, so there!)
I certainly understand the consternation for longtime players, though. Mario’s always been about thorough innovation and defining the platforming genre—practically inventing it with Super Mario Bros. and later showing the industry the 3D blueprint with Super Mario 64. After Super Mario 3D Land showed the potential of a new 3D adventure on the 3DS in 2011, Super Mario 3D World takes the concept, irons out the wrinkles, and delivers one of the most enthralling Mario adventures over the past three decades.
First, though, I want to stick up for the Wii U, which is quickly showing that it’s not quite as underpowered as some observers might have you believe. This is easily the prettiest-looking Mario entry ever, and just like with Pikmin 3 earlier this year, it’s amazing how HD can enhance familiar characters and settings. I readily acknowledge that developers haven’t yet harnessed the true power of the PS4 and Xbox One hardware just yet, but Super Mario 3D World and Pikmin 3 are as impressive to me, visually, as anything I’ve seen on the new consoles so far (and, in many cases, they’re far more impressive). It’s now clear with hindsight that it was mostly the lack of high-definition capability holding Nintendo back in the Wii era—not simply the raw horsepower of the machine itself.
And here, the Wii U delivers exceptional platforming worlds that are as engaging to explore as they are to observe. For the first time in several years, I was constantly, consistently surprised by a Mario game—this experience isn’t divided into easy-to-define “fire levels,” “water levels,” and “desert levels.” You never know what kind of area might be coming next, and this element of surprise strips away the sameness and fatigue that’s invaded some Mario entries.
Super Mario 3D World also features the return of something I’ve wanted to see again for a long time: the chance to play as four separate protagonists à la Super Mario Bros. 2. (And before any purists howl, “That’s not canon!”—let me remind you that Shigeru Miyamoto played a larger role on that game than the “official” Japanese release of Mario 2.) The diversity between characters remains as strong as it did back in Subcon—Mario’s an all-around character, Luigi sports a high-jump ability, Princess Peach can float, and Toad has elite speed—and everyone makes the transition to 3D exceptionally well. While I didn’t have a problem completing levels with any character, there were definitely times when I’d notice a particular area would be great for Peach’s hovering or Luigi’s leaps and got even more out of the level as a result.
While the 3D depth perception does feel off sometimes and never feels quite as seamless as it did back in Mario 64, the game’s main attraction, the Super Bell, helps mitigate that issue by granting the Cat Suit—which fits this world incredibly well and augments the experience in a big way. Rather than having to navigate an element that’s never quite worked in 3D Mario entries quite as well as I’d like—flight—this new feline power allows Mario and friends to scale walls and claw foes. This power-up changes exploration so much, in fact, that I’d always want to immediately go back into a level, don the Cat Suit, and see what hidden areas might’ve been inaccessible while I wielded the Fire Flower.
Another new power-up, the Double Cherry, grants doppelgängers (as many as you can collect in a level, if you can manage to keep them all alive!). It’s not quite as ingrained into the 3D World experience as the Cat Suit, but you simply haven’t lived as a Mario player until you’ve witnessed five Luigis belting out fireballs in unison while simultaneously delivering his trademark grunts.
One element of New Super Mario Bros. I’ll admit to being lukewarm on is the multiplayer—it’s simply too hectic and combative for my liking. Sure, I’ll concede to whooping it up with the EGM Crew for a couple of hours as we filched power-ups and engaged in general tomfoolery during New Super Mario Bros U. around this time last year, but if you’re trying to complete the game with your significant other or little cousin, it’s simply not an optimal formula. Thankfully, Super Mario 3D World’s larger three-dimensional canvas means that it’s much easier for everyone to stay in the same area and work together, and the experience is based around cooperating, not antagonizing.
All of the levels are incredible to explore, and it’s a blast trying to uncover every last secret while managing to reach the goal in time—but therein lies my one major issue with the game. I understand that a ticking timer has always been a core element of the Mario experience, and players have always had to balance the desire to explore with the threat of taking too long to take in the sights. But it’s clear that with Super Mario 3D World, the series has outgrown the standard series time limit.
Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I feel pretty confident in saying that no player will take the same amount of time to make it through World 3-1 of Super Mario Bros. as they will with World 3-1 in Super Mario 3D World, so why give the two levels the same general time limit? There’s simply too much too investigate, too many angles to take with the extra depth offered, and it undermines the experience. I understand that the whole point of this game is transferring classic Mario action into a 3D environment—I’m not advocating for the ticker’s complete removal. But it’s imperative that, in the future, the developers come up with a time challenge that makes sense for each world. In too many instances, I hadn’t even dawdled while making my way past the various platforms and pits, and I ended up racing toward the goal and rushing through the last third of the level because the game didn’t grant a reasonable amount of time.
I would’ve minded the issue a lot more, though, if the levels weren’t so much fun to play through again and again and again. Much like The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, this game doesn’t drag with endless tutorials and doling out its content at a snail’s pace. It puts you right into the action from the start and gives you the freedom to take in the levels at your own pace—and it’s no accident these are two of my favorite Nintendo titles in recent memory. I hope that developers around the world observe these games and take note: “If Nintendo can trust players to make their own fun with their two most iconic franchises, maybe it’s not such a bad idea for us to unshackle players and give them some of that freedom, too?”
|Developer: Nintendo • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 11.22.2013|
For any Mario fans worried their favorite paesano plumber wasn’t about innovation anymore, Super Mario 3D World shows the franchise that created the platforming standard continues to set the bar. The new Super Bell and Double Cherry power-ups augment the Mario experience in a brilliant, meaningful way, and the Wii U’s HD capabilities deliver the prettiest-looking game in series history.
|The Good||The prettiest Mario ever, without a doubt; the Cat Suit fits the world and gives levels a huge amount of replayability; the multiple protagonists and their different powers keep the experience fresh.|
|The Bad||Depth perception can feel off at times; strict level time limits simply don’t jibe with the expansive 3D levels on display.|
|The Ugly||Absolutely nothing.|
|Super Mario 3D World is a Wii U exclusive.|