Mario may get a lot of flak for being a Nintendo mascot that is too ubiquitous, but one has to admit that the majority of those games carry a seal of quality that few other franchises can match. With that legacy, comes a benchmark which is being raised ever higher as the years go on. And Super Mario 3D World may have just leaped past it with ease to become the best Mario game ever made.
Bowser is once again up to old tricks in the mushroom kingdom, bottling up fairies like a sadistic wind waker and challenging players to come at him bro, a challenge which Mario and his pals dutifully accept. Sounds like a typical Mario game then, right? Not quite. Once you clear the first world which consists of run of the mill Mario ideas and tropes, the game opens up to something far more magical.
What makes the game feel that much better than your usual Mario game is that each and every single level on offer throws something new at a player, yet manages to feel like a bite-sized portion of fun. From your standard stages of goombas attempting to whack you through to Bowser’s various castles, the variety on offer is amazing.
You’ve got familiar enemies adopting new tactics, new power-ups and a new challenge ahead of you thanks to the 3D touch of this Mario game which somehow still retains the mechanics of the 2D games but with an isometric twist.
Quite simply put, this is a Mario game that has the very best level design ever seen in a Mario game, that refines the formula that Super Mario 3D Land attempted to bring to the 3DS. Couple that with the freedom to play as either Mario, Luigi, Toad or an un-kidnapped Princess Peach, and the game really takes off.
Each character has their own subtle manner of movement, with Mario having the best average moveset out of the four amigos. But it’s still a nice choice to have that level of player freedom open from the start, and yes, I am the prettiest Princess Peach.
Each stage also has bonus objectives in the form of finding three hidden stars and some stamp-collecting, further extending the longevity of this title. The stars may not be entirely mandatory, but players who are keen enough to collect them all will unlock a few surprises on their journey, while the various stamps can be used to make Miiverse messages that little bit more eccentric.
Another major new addition to the game is the cat suit. A feline piece of fur that Mario and co can don, this simple garment adds so much more to the game. When equipped, players can pounce, scratch, air-dive and perform wall climbs which open the game and its more well-hidden treasures up immensely.
It’s one of the best new additions to the Mario franchise, and a speedy piece of fun to experience with the various characters meowing their way through levels and climbing that end-stage pole to earn maximum points. Combined with Peach and her hovering ability, the cat suit is a tour-de-force that makes Mario feel like a technical fighting game.
And it just feels purr-fect. (Editor’s Note: Darryn was beaten for this pun. Severely)
There’s more than just the cat suit in 3D World though. The tanooki suit makes a welcome return, as do old favourites such as the fire flower, mega mushroom and boomerang suit. There’s also a couple of new boxes that Mario can pick up, such as the cannon box that can clear rooms and the clone-tastic double-cherry power-up.
It’s a simple idea really. Pick up the double-cherry and you’ll find yourself with an insta-clone that mirrors your every move. More cherries means more clones and each doppelganger shares the same power-up that Mario currently has equipped which results in some mind-bending action.
It’s a challenge to control many clones at the same time, but when mastered, several puzzles in the game that happen to be tailored towards multiple Marios make for some excellent use of the Wii U hardware.
Now imagine several Marios each equipped with fire flower power-ups and throwing fireballs in every possible direction, and you’ll have an idea as to how mental this new addition is to the franchise without it feeling over-powered or broken, but just right. That’s a sign of quality.
What also makes the game so endearing is that it’s filled with secrets that populate the stages and the world map itself. Add in bonus stages that have players doing a little bit of gambling, helping Captain Toad discover more stars on a stage that has you flipping the camera in every single direction and more, and you’ve got a game that should be far larger than the 1.7 gig download makes it out to be.
Super Mario 3D World also make fantastic use of the Wii U GamePad. You’ve got your usual big screen and off-screen options to play the game, but you’ve also got an input device that gives you more control over your environment. Enemies can be tapped out, power-ups can be uncovered by touching the screen and even exhaling onto the screen will impact the world around you.
Coupled with controls that feel tight and responsive, and you’ve got a game that feels easy to handle and just challenging enough to master. With the added plus of 3D World also being able to support the Wii U pro controller and the original WiiMote as well.
Visually, the game is a treat. Mario and his friends look as sharp as ever, with the action maintaining a smooth frame rate, never faltering even when the action becomes rather hectic. Every visual on the game just pops beautifully, and it takes full advantage of the underrated Wii U hardware that is under the hood. It’s also the little details that help make the game so special, while the retro charm that has helped keep Mario popular for so long remain as attractive as ever.
Taking out some extra controllers for multiplayer mayhem is well worth it as well. Unlike the claustrophobic maps from 2012’s Super Mario Bros U, the 3D World maps lend themselves better to some chaotic competition. With every character having a slightly different range of jumping, running and ability stats, expect some fierce fun.
One criticism that has to be made though, is that 3D World is a bit tight-fisted with boss fights. What few bosses there are, are fun to take on but otherwise there’ll be a few recycled characters making a surprise appearance to challenge players that slows down the fast pace of this game.
When a more original character does make an appearance though, it’s something memorable, with the fancy-pants cobra Hisstocrat being one of my favourite new additions.
This is one of the best Mario games ever made and a step forward for the franchise. It’s gorgeous, fun and beautifully designed. Super Mario 3D World just set a new benchmark for the franchise on a console that only just turned one year old.
Super Mario 3D World was reviewed by Darryn Bonthuys on a Nintendo Wii U