It’s no secret that Nintendo has a largely stellar track record when it comes to first-party games, especially those starring their juggernaut characters. Even so, I say the following with absolutely no hyperbole: Super Mario 3D World is the best Mario game ever. It is the purest expression of Nintendo’s iconic plumber ever committed to disc, cartridge, or arcade machine. It is the perfect evolution of the gameplay style that Nintendo first pioneered with Super Mario 64, and honed in the superb Mario Galaxy series. It is a beautiful marriage of old-school game design and modern sensibilities. It’s also the most fun I’ve had playing a game this year.
If you’ve played Mario before, you know what’s in store. The game is absolutely gorgeous, running in 1080p at 60 fps with no screen tearing or slowdown whatsoever. The plot is minimal – Bowser, as always, is being an asshole, thus Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad must give chase across six worlds to stop him. The game map is laid out in a manner that recalls SNES classic Super Mario World, with separate continents comprised of a set of stages, each housing untold secrets. For the first time, the player can roam freely on the map screen, allowing the developers to hide power-ups, warp pipes, and secret stages behind every bush and tree. The player frequently has the choice to tackle levels in the order they want.
And that’s a good thing too – 3D World gets difficult in a hurry. That’s not to say the game is unfair; never did I lose a life that I felt wasn’t my own fault. The game gives players a specific set of skills, provides the room to thoroughly learn them, and then ramps up the difficulty to make them prove they know it. Nintendo’s greatest strength is knowing how to do this through emergent game design, rather than tutorials or holding the player’s hand. The levels are challenging and varied – each is centered around a different gimmick or theme, and it seems as though there were so many ideas that none were used twice. And while each stage may seem a little short, there are plenty of collectables that ensure completionists will be enticed to make return visits.
Mario controls largely as he always had in 3D spaces, equipped with backflips, spin jumps, and long jumps. He can also change forms via power-ups. The big new one this time around is Cat Mario, which turns the portly plumber into a feline that can climb walls and scratch at enemies. It’s pure fun and elevates the level design in surprising ways. Joining the Cat power up are familiar friends like the Tanooki suit and Fire Flower, along with other new pickups like my personal favorite, a cherry that creates an exact duplicate of Mario, forcing you to control two (or three, or four…or five!) copies at the same time. It’s chaotic fun.
Speaking of chaos, 3D World continues the trend set by the New Super Mario Brothers series by allowing up to three additional players to drop in/out at a moment’s notice. Your friends can take on the roles of Luigi, Peach, and Toad, each of who controls largely the same as Mario but with individual gameplay wrinkles (Luigi is floatier, Peach can actually float, and Toad has the fastest running speed). Players can help and impede each other through the levels, working together to collect stars or tackling each other to steal the (aesthetic) crown awarded to the best player at the end of each level. The lack of online play may seem like a detraction at first, but Nintendo games have always been meant for couch co-op, with all the arguing and laughing that entails. You just can’t get that kind of experience online. If you’re playing by yourself, you can choose any of the four characters whenever you want. I frequently chose Luigi for his helpful jumping prowess – after all, it is the Year of Luigi.
Last Christmas was the first time since SNES that a new Nintendo system came out and I had no interest in getting it. The Wii U had a slow start; with a small stable of quality games and a relatively high price point, it was difficult to recommend at first. But as with the 3DS, the console started to pick up steam around a year in, and Super Mario 3D World is the biggest and best endorsement for the Wii U yet. In a holiday season where new consoles cost upwards of $400 and will be next-to-impossible to find, maybe now is the time to pick up Nintendo’s “little console that could.” Pick up a copy of 3D World as well, and then invite your friends over for a holiday night of fun and nostalgia.
Things I Loved
- Challenging, satisfying gameplay
- Great co-op – if you have friends
- Looks gorgeous in HD
Things I Hated
- Where the hell is Yoshi?