When it comes to the extensive Mario series, there are decent titles, and there are titles that excel in nearly every way. The Wii U had only seen the former, but thankfully, both of these categories have now been represented. While New Super Mario Bros. U was an entertaining experience, Super Mario 3D World is the juggernaut that the Wii U truly deserves.
The announcement of Super Mario 3D World was met with considerable excitement and anticipation, but also merited a fair amount of concern; would the title merely represent an extension of Super Mario 3D Land, or would it establish its own identity with new material and features? Fortunately, aspects of the story, presentation and multiplayer all represent a unique package while the best of previous games pepper the experience.
Super Mario 3D World uses multiple controller configurations, and each works remarkably well. The GamePad controls are comfortable, with easy button and analog accessibility and no limitation resulting from controller size. Touching the screen and blowing into the microphone to unveil secrets on screen is entertaining and intuitive. The use of the Wii U Pro Controller provides a classic Mario gaming feel, while controlling our heroes with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck will offer up a proven 3D Mario method. Lacking an analog stick and multiple buttons, the Wii Remote controller method (without the Nunchuck) is certainly the weakest option, but the game is enjoyable regardless of what control scheme you use.
The gameplay features are almost identical to those of Super Mario 3D Land, and are just as effective here. There are some new mechanics however. For instance, you initially have control of four characters (later five), and they all possess advantages and disadvantages in regard to jumping and speed.
As with almost every new Mario game, new powerups add a unique twist to 3D World. The highly anticipated Cat Suit provides the ability to climb up walls and claw at foes. The Cat Suit instills a sense of curiosity in the player, as one of the most enjoyable bi-products of the powerup is climbing walls in the hope of finding hidden objects. When you happen upon a secret, the satisfaction is palpable.
To shake up the usual run and jump, certain levels provide the opportunity to control a dinosaur-like creature named Plessie. These levels focus on swimming and sliding through levels well astride Plessie’s back. This mechanic has been flawed in previous Mario titles, but thankfully the dinosaur controls well, and you shouldn’t find yourself enraged as a result of a cheap death.
Super Mario 3D World covers the entirety of the difficulty spectrum. Gamers seeking a challenge may become anxious early on as the gameplay provides a simple, casual experience. As you near Bowser’s Castle however, the difficulty makes a seamless transition from easy to hard. Not only does this satisfy veterans of the Super Mario franchise, but it also trains newcomers into becoming platforming pros.
The multiplayer features vast improvements over previous installments. While many components remain the same, 3D World has added a layer of fierce competition. At the end of each level, players accumulate points, and whoever has the most receives a crown. Make no mistake: while the multiplayer is ultimately co-op, your friends will be out to get you. The leader from the previous level dons the crown in the next level, and other players can try to knock off it off. In their attempts to claim the crown for themselves, envious players may use their Cat Suit to dive kick into the leader, ground pound the leader, or outright sacrifice the regal player for their own advantage.
The competitive element supplements the co-op splendidly, and you never know when your friends will turn against you. As with previous Mario multiplayer, the range of exploration will be limited and stragglers are forced into a bubble and whisked forward to rejoin the pack. The best remedy for this issue is effective communication, and is only a minor inconvenience in what is otherwise the best multiplayer in Mario to date.
While story has never been a focal point in the franchise (RPGs aside), the synopsis of Super Mario 3D World takes a slightly different turn. Instead of Princess Peach, Bowser has captured the Sprixies, a mysterious race of fairies. This story flip allows for the return of playable Peach, and the triumphant return of her hovering ability. The Sprixies however, are woefully lacking in terms of lore and overall interest, and do not serve as a memorable element of the game.
Super Mario 3D World is everything a Super Mario title should look like on the Wii U, and a number of levels are memorable for their vivid environments alone. The superb graphics complement the gameplay, bringing the world of Super Mario 3D World to life. The overworlds are stunningly colorful, the underground worlds appear appropriately bleak, and the boss levels portray a sense of urgency that should be expected. While the majority of levels stand out in terms of their environments, a couple levels immediately come to mind. The silhouette level, for instance, conveys a glorious shadowy environment that leaves you figuring out the locations of enemies and items. The level with an immense savanna environment also truly captures what it attempts to, with the player chasing rabbits in an environment that conjures up the image of a pack of lions chasing antelope on a hot African afternoon.
Nintendo also utilizes their typical strategy of mixing brand new tracks with remixes of classic tunes from previous games. The new music is just as catchy, and you may find yourself humming it over older tunes. Though the sound effects are primarily carryovers, they still ring true.
Unfortunately Nintendo only hit two out of three as one of the most prominent issues of the game lies in the voice acting. Although speaking characters remain minimal (as is typical in a Super Mario game), certain phrases come out as unintelligible and flat. Rosalina’s actress is particularly poor, and this does break an otherwise effective spell.
Focusing strictly on beating 3D World will take you 5-10 hours, but if your goal is to collect everything and experience the game to the fullest extent, you will get much more challenge and reward. As usual, Nintendo stacks the game with a flurry of extra levels and challenges once you’ve bested Bowser, satisfying gamers that are hungry for more.
Super Mario 3D World joins the Super Mario elite. The stellar gameplay, astounding environmental presentation, and memorable music fuel this entertaining package, and is a must-play for all Wii U owners. Earlier this week when I was passing by a school, I overheard children on the playground humming the overworld theme of 3D World, making meowing sounds, and clawing at the walls while jumping around. This encounter reminded me of my younger days, jumping around in a yellow cape and plucking weeds to throw at friends, much to the dismay of my camp counselors. It served as a reminder of the cultural impact of Super Mario. Super Mario 3D World is going to carry that impact and endure as one of the all-time classics of the franchise.
*Super Mario 3D World was reviewed using a retail copy purchased by OmniGamer.*