There’s an inside joke around the office that I’m known as the resident contrarian, and as slightly annoying as it might be there could be some truth to the ribbing. Despite the label I’m absolutely fine as a point of opposition, but this also means I can be pleasantly surprised when a game like Super Mario 3D World comes along and rectifies many skeptic preconceptions.
Dedicated readers may note that my opinions about the Wii U have been somewhat positive, but not wholly enthusiastic. But after playing through several times (a must if you want to see everything) I had to rethink my criticisms. Compared to our lukewarm reception of New Super Mario Bros. U this game is a little more robust than just being another sequel for the impending holiday season.
Nearly everything, from the gameplay, graphics, to the overall presentation is spot-on, with a nurtured balance of nostalgia and freshness guaranteed to get all but the most jaded gamers hooked.
As most of the faithful should already know what to expect from a Mario game the essential elements are introduced gradually or soon manifest themselves, with a good helping of throwback appeal tossed in for good measure (try to point out how many time you’ll see the old school Mario/Luigi sprite at random). We have are power-ups, obstacles, and a plethora of classic and recently introduced enemies alike to keep the experience vividly interesting but comfortably contained in this new universe. There are hints that the gentle concepts easily grasped in the introductory levels will just as easily come back to haunt you when you think you’ve mastered the basics, especially once you’ve completed the first go-around.
The foundation of how easily, or how frustrating each of these stages play out will depend on the individual hero chosen. You can select which character is best suited for the job, an idea picked clean from another Nintendo classic (Super Mario Bros. 2) where each brings something unique to the table: Mario is the all-rounder, Luigi can reach new heights but is pretty skittish on foot, Princess Peach can float but runs slower, and Toad can run marathons compared to the rest. No one character can’t complete a stage on their own – which is great since you’re not limited by choice, but the niche traits become more noticeable depending on the tasks at hand.
The proven mechanics incorporate the new additions with only a couple of readily obvious inclusions like the Super Bell, which provides Cat Suit powers – and amazing enough adds a whole new element of exploration and unintended feline power to the established repertoire of Fire Flowers and Tanooki Suits abound. The Double Cherry power-up is another dynamic entirely as it multiplies your character count with mirrored actions. Quite frankly, there’s nothing more challenging than trying to guide not one, but up to five doppelgängers of Luigi through various hazards to the goal unscathed. It’s definitely a proper evolution that even the often restrictive camera (one of the few nitpicks in the game) can’t muddy up.All of this can be experienced alone but exposing three more players (four player simultaneously) to the action is still tempting as ever.
It’s a simple ingredient that adds a lot of flavor to the mix. Nintendo has been following this formula to a tee and it’s an obviously proven recipe for unintended chaos and comedic dissent, and even at its worst it’s still an redeeming distraction where fellow gamer can drop in or out at almost any time. If you ever played New Super Mario Bros Wii or Kirby’s Return to Dreamland you can expect the same laugh-filled nights with your best buddies and non-gamers alike. It’s by no means necessary to fully enjoy the game but it should be experienced at least once.
It’s worth noting the game plays nice with just about every possible configuration available to the Wii U, including the super comfy Pro Controller. But whether you go it solo or with some friends you’ll want to experience everything the stock GamePad has to offer as bits that would have felt gimmicky elsewhere, like tilting perspectives and touch elements, seem perfectly natural here. You can even blow away some enemies with a gentle puff into the microphone.
When competing with other dominating hard-broiled franchises that values anger, grit, and realism, 3D World is a refreshing and inviting alternative to all that no-nonsense rigidity. Most of the time it’s downright joyous in how effortlessly the presentation throws in all the right touches while coming to life in its own unique way – even more so when viewed on a proper display. It’s not an understatement to say this is a fantastic looking game, but then again this is the imaginative craft we’ve come to expect from Nintendo.
The presentation extends to the soundtrack, which by itself is an excellent update of familiar jingles and tunes from Koji Kondo’s extensive back catalog. Almost to a tee, the music intermingles and modulates with actual instrumentation — reminiscent of a big band concert.
At its core – Super Mario 3D World isn’t a game that’s out to reinvent the action platform genre, but dutifully build upon an excellent foundation. With impressive visuals, lively audio, and some of more clever design and challenging gameplay elements this is Mario at his finest yet again. This is basically everything a solid game, and the plumber’s latest foray could be that tipping point for good, and potentially great things to come.