One might ask “Why bother reviewing Super Mario 3D World?” Everyone in the gaming press pretty much loved it upon its release. It’s one of the best games on the Wii U, and one of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary time for the console. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who haven’t played it, and perhaps I can add something new to the discussion despite being late to the party on this one.
What you’ll love: The new power ups. The 4 player mode. MiiVerse stamp collecting.
What you’ll hate: Probably nothing. Though you might have wanted more sandbox levels.
Get on the floor: Bowser is apparently way into Disco.
Super Mario 3D World is easy to write off as the big brother of Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. Many did just that to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, as well as New Super Mario Bros. Wii U when those games came out. Despite the fact that they were both, and are very good games in the long line of Super Mario Bros. games. But to paint SM3DW with that same brush would actually be pretty far off of the mark.
Super Mario 3D World is actually more of a send up of every kind of Mario platformer rather than a strict 2.5D or 3D sandbox game. There are moments where you will have a sandbox or side scrolling experience. But most of the game’s levels are structured somewhere between the A to B design of Super Mario Galaxy, and the exploratory design of Super Mario 64. The game seems to cast the widest net this way, hoping to get not only long time fans of Mario, but lapsed fans, and new players as well.
All of the levels are fun, and in many cases addictive. As in every game since the Nintendo 64 era there are stars to collect in every stage. Every stage has a certain number of stars that need to be found in order to be able to play it, and most stages have three stars hidden within them. Some of which are a huge challenge to find, as they are well hidden. You’ll also need to use the gamepad’s touchscreen in a few levels, using it to open doors, pull out platforms, and more.
The game also uses its environments really well. Sometimes you will have to find a star in the background, and figure out a way to get back there to collect it. Other times there may be one that lies somewhere so far into the foreground you cannot see it. Some may ask you to risk your life to get them, and you’ll agonize over the logistics of how to do so without dying. Or sometimes there may be a time limit associated with it. The game tells you: “Hey, nab all of these green coins in 8 seconds.” To which you reply: “But there are Podoboos, Piranha Plants, and Goombas there.” The game then says to you: “Oh, sorry, I’m afraid you ran out of time. You’ll have to replay this level again if you want that Star.”
But you will replay that level. As well as all of the other ones. Because you will become a star fiend trying to get through to the end. Furthering the need to find secrets are the MiiVerse stamps in almost every level. These stamps don’t do much for you in terms of winning the game. However during your time with the game you can connect with other players for strategies, asking where a secret item is, or even just venting about your 43rd loss on Grumblump Inferno. When you do, you can use the stamps to illustrate your message to the other players.
Also coming over from MiiVerse is Ghost Data. This feature shows Mii’s from other Wii U’s during your time in a stage, playing that stage, as you are playing (Say that five times fast!). This sometimes shows you how to find a star, or secret area because you can see what other players were doing when they played the stage you are currently in. The downside is sometimes on a difficult section you may find yourself paying more attention to the Mii than the stage hazards costing you precious lives.
Stages are laid out in worlds. Much like Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and the New Super Mario Bros. series there is a map screen you can explore. When you’ve gotten enough stars you can enter stages. At the end of every world is a castle stage with a boss. Defeat the boss, and you get to go to the next world. Rinse. Repeat. There are not only your standard stages in the worlds, but also Mystery House stages. These stages can give you anywhere from five to ten stars, and put you in a timed gauntlet of puzzles on par with those found in Valve’s Portal. There are also Captain Toad levels where you have to traverse a fully 3D stage without the ability to jump while figuring out how to get the stars within it. Usually these have at least five stars to collect.
If all of that wasn’t enough, elements from previous map screens return. Super Mario Bros. 3 had Toad houses, where Toad would give you free power ups. They’re back. Super Mario Bros. 2 had a slot machine for 1-Ups at the end of every level. They appear on the map screen here. SMB3’s encounter spots are here too. So you may have to tangle with 3 Hammer Bros. one world, or Charging Chucks on another. New to the map screen are Sprixie houses, where a Sprixie will give you a free stamp.
Most of your favorite power ups from Super Mario Bros 3 return. Of course you’ll see the iconic Mushrooms, and Fire Flowers. But you’ll see The Tanooki Suit, Hammer Suit, Kurbio’s Shoe ( as a skate mind you but it’s here). The new attraction of course is the Cat Suit. This suit allows Mario, and the others to climb walls for secrets, break certain obstacles, and leap great distances with a pounce. There are also cherries. These clone your character allowing you to solve certain puzzles. You’ll also see a lot of glass pipes holding items, stars, and even enemies. These not only give you the ability to go further in a level, or lead you to secret areas, but some act as well crafted puzzle sequences.
You’ll also notice I said “Mario, and the others” in the previous paragraph. That is because the game also brings back Super Mario Bros. 2’s biggest feature: Pick the right character for the level. Each character can, of course complete any level in the game. However, some levels will be easier with certain characters. Almost every level has an item only one of the four characters can get without using an item. Some go as far as putting a switch in with the character’s face on it. Essentially letting you know you HAVE to use that character to see what that switch will do.
This also leads into the multiplayer co-op feature. Super Mario 3D World can be played with four players for couch co-op. While it’s unfortunate there is no online co-op, the feature does lend itself well to party gaming. It has a very nice balance in terms of the risk of lone wolfing levels, or trying to really work as a team to get the job done. Each of you will get a different character: Mario, Luigi, Toad, or Princess Peach (Toadstool if you’re an old-timer like myself). Mario performs as you’d expect. Luigi tends to skid farther so he feels slippery at times. But he jumps significantly higher than the rest of the characters. Toad tends to run the fastest, but doesn’t jump very high at all. Peach can float for a short time, making her a nice option on stages with a lot of pits. You can also play as Rosalina, (The mysterious character from Super Mario Galaxy, and it’s sequel) by getting enough stars to unlock a stage in a secret world.
If you, or one of your partners find yourselves too agitated by a certain part of a stage there are also the golden Assist Blocks. These allow players to essentially coast through, flying over the entire level. Beware though, if you use this feature even one time, it forever taints your save file with the inability to have glittering stars as reminder that you used it.
If by the end of the game you have enough stars you can open up secret worlds. Of course there is Star World, but there are even more beyond that. If nothing else this game gives you more content than a lot of other games do for your $60. Visually, the game is very impressive too. Nintendo’s artists always do an amazing job with character models, textures, and art in general but this game is gorgeous. It may not be to the level of a bleeding edge PC game. But even those obsessed with photorealistic graphics will admit that it still does look really good. It’s bright, it’s colorful, it’s a lot of fun to look at.
It’s even fun to listen to. Of course Charles Martinet is back, and great as always. But musically this game is also a joy. Every song accents what is happening on the screen near perfectly. While the story in the game is your typical Mario fare, the music still goes a long way to making you care about what is going on even if it isn’t very deep. One stage features a very catchy New Wave song that plays while parts of the stage appear, and reappear in time with the song. One world map screen has music right out of a Roller Skating Disco movie. Other stages have grand orchestral themes. Other spots feature some Jazz. All of it going a long way to help tell a tale about the four main Mario characters stopping Bowser from keeping fairies called Sprixies captive in jars. Why does he want them held captive in jars? Because he wants to use their power to take over the world. Again. For what has to be at least the thirteenth time.
It all comes together in a really great package that like all of the Mario games before it is indeed a must buy for any Wii U owner. It’s one of the most fun games to come out near the end of last year, and if you missed it, pick it up while you still can. Even if you don’t typically play platformers it’s a fun ride worth taking.
Final Score: 9 out of 10