Super Mario 3D World is worth buying a Wii U for. Period. End of story. It’s a superlative platformer and might be the best Mario game to date.
What, you need more of an explanation? Well, sure. But you’d be wasting your time when it could be better spent playing the game.
Super Mario 3D World is the successor to Super Mario 3D Land, which happens to be one of the best games for the Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo’s Tokyo EAD studio has expanded on the solid platforming core with an unusual coalition of tropes and callbacks inspired by Mario’s 28-year history.
The throwaway plot doesn’t sway too far from the template. The difference is that instead of a princess, Bowser has kidnapped eight fairies as part of his nefarious plan to…well, we never know what he’s going to do with them. They might be used as power for Bowser’s fortress, a techno-colour theme park that looks more like something from Dr. Robotnik’s blueprints. It’s up to Mario and his friends to save the fairies and thrash Bowser again.
Joining Mario for the ride are Luigi, a Toad and Princess Peach (finally), reuniting the team from the oddball/not-really-a-Mario-game Super Mario Bros. 2. Their powers return as well – Luigi can jump higher, Toad runs faster and the Princess can float briefly thanks (I assume) to her poofy dress.
Mario is marketed as “easy to control,” and it seems truer than you’d think; his jumping and overall maneuverability feels tighter and more precise than his teammates, so if you’re tackling the hardest levels in the game solo, he’s probably your best bet.
3D World has been described by critics and fans as a sort of “greatest hits” montage of past Mario games, and it seems to welcome the description. 3D World packs in more than two decades worth of nostalgia into a near-perfect package. Every item that your fondest memories can recall returns in one form or another. Fire flowers, Tanooki suits – there’s even a version of Kuribo’s shoe that makes an appearance as a skate in a handful of ice-themed levels.
The levels themselves are all wonderful and unique. You’re introduced to new mechanics and ideas throughout the entire game. It bucks the trend of front-loading games with everything cool in the first third and relying on difficulty spikes to carry you through the end (although yes, 3D World does get very tough later on).
In addition to the usual scenic progression, in which bright sunny levels give way to more sinister backdrops, Super Mario 3D World throws you unexpected curveballs at regular intervals. Going from a level where you play as shadows to another on a giant golden train engine with Bowser’s face doesn’t make any sense in terms of logical progression, but by god it’s delightful.
Levels sport landscapes from the well-worn pantheon – grassy world, sandy world, icy world – but nods to the quirkier blips in the series’ history show up as well. It’s really the surprises that make this game click, so I won’t mention them by name – but you’ll say, ”Oh my god, that’s from that game and/or level! I loved that!” over and over again.
New additions don’t overcrowd the arena either, and actually stand out from the older power-ups. The Cat Suit is overpowered nonsense, allowing you to climb walls, scratch, slide attack, dive attack and climb up to the top of flag posts. You’re practically a fighting game character in a Mario world, creating impressive verticality in certain levels and opening up areas previously unavailable.
The Double Cherry creates duplicates of your character, and can duplicate indefinitely. The fun thing about your clones is that they don’t work together, although they do respond to your controller in unison – you could be jumping on an enemy with one, for example, while another a few feet behind bonks his head ineffectively into a wall. But eventually you’ll manage to corral them into a bunch and cause chaos amidst a horde of enemies.
The chaos is multiplied even further with up to four players in simultaneous co-op. Four friends yelling at each other to coordinate their movements, only to end up sabotaging each other in the middle of a difficult stage (deliberately or not), is probably the best multiplayer experience in years. The typical multiplayer-via-headset feels positively lonely compared to this, and EAD Tokyo have done a good deed to remind us.
For the past decade, developers and critics alike have been tackling the question of “what is a game,” constantly exploring new genres and forms of play and storytelling. They’ve been plumbing new ground, experimenting in myriad new ways. It’s resulted in some spectacular successes and failures alike.
With Super Mario 3D World – as with much of its holiday lineup – Nintendo doesn’t seem worried about such questions. Instead of mind-bending plot twists or puzzling moral choices, it surprises you with its vistas and throws new challenges at you in minutes-long chunks. It proves that you can still innovate with the medium’s oldest genre conventions by building on its fundamentals instead of trying to re-write them.