Super Mario 3D World Review
The cat's pajamas
It’s been said that the success of the Mario games are due to the fact that their levels and worlds are like a great, interconnected machine, but crucially, with one final part needed to complete them: Mario himself, the last cog that brings everything together and gives the game life. Many developers overlook this perfectly kinetic synergy when trying to emulate Nintendo, and fail because of it. Super Mario 3D World, then – following the lead of the New Super Mario Bros series before it – asks what would happen if four cogs were added to the game’s machine instead of one. Would everything work better, faster, more efficiently, or would the machine creak and groan and ultimately break?
It’s a tricky answer to give, as many New Super Mario Bros fans can attest. Four player Mario seems to be an idea of genius; finally we can all get in on the action and play together a la Mario Kart, and yes it is fun and frantic, but it can also take away from the experience of exploring the game for yourself, to take your time and unlock its secrets.
Of course 3D World can be played alone, and I think that – at least on your first playthrough – that’s the best way to do it, or with just one co-op companion who actually wants to help. But if this is true, does it belittle the overall direction of the game? That 3D World was designed first and foremost as a pick up and play multiplayer Mario? Depending on what you want from a 3D Mario game that could be an important question.
But enough about the pros and cons of multiplayer for a minute. If you’re simply wondering whether or not to get Super Mario 3D World at all, the answer is a simple yes. It’s a fantastic, bombastically imaginative game that is fundamentally fun – whichever way you play it – and is arguably the best game on the Wii U. But it’s not without its faults and I’ll get to those in due time.
The first thing that strikes you in 3D World is how utterly amazing the game looks. Everything is so bright and crisp; it’s fizzy, over the top eye-melting candy. It makes you think of what we missed out on during the Wii years from Nintendo – imagine if the best games from that system had been in HD too.
And less than a minute after that luscious title screen has appeared for the first time, you’re in control, which is something that many games can’t boast, overloading you with opening cinematics. That’s not to say there isn’t a story here – there’s a silly, superficial narrative as there is in most Mario games – but this time there’s something that doesn’t quite sit right about it.
On the one hand, Nintendo have listened to fans complaining about a lack of playable female characters and have included Peach – replacing generic Toad #2 – but in doing so have missed one of the fundamental reasons people have asked for this: to have strong female characters they can identify with. It’s all well and good to give us Peach to play as, but replacing her in the story with helpless female characters kidnapped by Bowser kind of defeats the point. Some would argue that this is nitpicking, but I think it’s important and shows Nintendo to be out of touch with some of their audience. Many have said there’s no need for a story in Mario anyway, and I’m inclined to agree, but if Nintendo do persist in having one, why can’t Bowser just be taking over the world? Or in this case, the new Sprixie Kingdom?
And the Sprixie Kingdom itself – i.e. the world map – is a strange place indeed, hauntingly similar to other kingdoms we’ve explored before, for better or worse. There’s the introductory grass themed world, then desert, then ice etc. In some ways this is disappointing, simply because there’s no need for it. Each of the standalone levels in 3D World are short bursts of pure fun and imagination, not tied to any one theme or idea, and perhaps sometimes seeming almost too eclectic, so why do we need the same, tired themed worlds, and in largely the same order as well? It undermines the creativity on offer throughout the game when you get to a new area and sigh, ‘not this again.’
But as stated before, the individual levels on display – where the actual gameplay takes place – are always good, often brilliant, and sometimes inspired. Take the early ‘Switch Scramble Circus’ for example, a level where you have to step on a number of metal plates before the gates blocking your path are unlocked, but if you step on any of the plates twice it undoes your progress meaning that you have to navigate the puzzles thoughtfully in order to have them all pressed at the same time. And then there’s World 2’s ‘Shadow Play Alley’ where certain items and characters are hidden in front of the viewable screen, only visible by the shadows they cast. Another early example of a great idea used sparingly and then abandoned in favor of the next exciting thing is a rapid cruise down a winding river on the back of Plessie – effectively a water-dwelling, great big orange Yoshi – set to the nostalgic tune of Mario 64’s slide levels. Each and every bite-sized chunk of gameplay has something new to offer and this is where the true genius of Mario really shines.
And 3D World in particular really is a Mario game that balances precariously on the tightrope of nostalgia and innovation. Perhaps more so than any other Mario game, this is a celebration of the series as a whole. It takes its cues from all over, including the aforementioned co-op multiplayer of New Super Mario Bros, the character roster of Super Mario Bros 2, Charging Chucks from Super Mario World, bosses and stage design from Super Mario 3D Land – not specific levels, of course, but the short, linearity that blends the style of 2D and 3D Mario games – and then power ups from practically every Mario title in existence.