It’s all too easy for video game lovers of a certain age (aka legal adults) to dismiss new Mario games as disposable Nintendo comfort food undeserving of their attention. There are many reasons. The games are simple, childish, and based in gaming mechanics and pleasures that have been around for decades. Yet, seemingly every time Nintendo releases a new chapter in the mustache-sporting plumber’s ongoing adventures, there’s no denying that they find a new way to make the wheel seem exciting again even if the company wasn’t able to reinvent it. Super Mario 3D World is the Big N’s big holiday release and even if you can roughly guess what you’re getting before even opening the box, the title still offers absolutely absurd levels of fun and impressive designs. Sure, it might not represent the next evolution of platforming like the stunning Mario Galaxy titles provided, but it’s also a game that will plaster a giddy, joyous smile on even the most black-hearted Scrooge like gaming veteran. Nintendo might not been too keen on creating new franchises from scratch these days, but they sure know how to spruce up their winning formulas time and time again.
There is a slight change in the Mario formula this time out. Bowser is once again up to his nasty tricks and the Mushroom Kingdom’s finest plumbers need to stop him. However, this time Princess Peach is completely safe. Instead, a bunch of magical pixies have been kidnapped and well, as usual, that doesn’t really matter much. The key elements here are the levels and moment-to-moment pleasures Nintendo whipped up and there is plenty to get lost in. As the title suggests, the game pulls from the formula created for Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. Essentially, it’s the same eight world formula that Mario games have peddled since the NES. However, these levels offer 3D platforming straight out of Mario 64 and Mario Galaxy, providing all things to all Mario lovers. What’s most impressive is the variance and creativity of level design. No two levels feel alike, constantly altering the simple formulas for surprise and awe. New additions include levels in which you ride on the back of a dinosaur in speed-driven race or Haunted Mansions that play mind games with Mario conventions rather than complex and maddening mazes. The difficulty level starts low, but by the final and bonus stages, there will be plenty of reasons for players to toss their expensive gamepad controllers against the wall in frustration (in the best possible way, of course).
Obviously new suits and power ups play a role as well. The big one is the cat suit, which allows players to swat at enemies with claws and climb walls. When I first say the cat suit, I have to admit I had reservations about it, assuming Nintendo was taking a cute-first approach to court kiddies and stuffed animal merchandising. However, as always, the new power up provides a welcome new addition to the series and expands the nature of gameplay and level exploration. Also making a debut are cherry power ups that create a drone double of any character who picks one up. It’s possible to get up to five or six Marios controlled by a single player with these power ups and it’s undeniably surreal and entertaining to try to march an army of Marios through levels. For the first time since Mario 2, there are also four playable characters: Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Peach. Each has their own special power (ex: Peach’s float jump and Toad’s added speed) and can change the ease or difficulty of any given level. More importantly, the extra characters come into play in some brilliant co-op.
Just like the New Super Mario Bros. series, up to four players can play any level in Super Mario 3D World simultaneously and compete for top point-gathering honors. That sounds like a tacked on multiplayer add-on, but it’s actually brilliantly implemented. The game is a blast to play solo, but really shines when you sit down with some buddies and battle for Mario supremacy. The designers carefully worked on each level so that it works for 1-4 players and multiplayer never proves to be a hindrance like it was in some New Super Mario Bros. It actually makes the levels more chaotic and exciting. That’s great design folks and the design team of this sucker deserves massive praise. While the simplistic Mario house style is retained, the colors, textures, lighting design, and visual effects of this title are simply astounding. It’s easily the prettiest game on the Wii U and much like Pikimin 3, proves how simple visual upgrades can add to the immersion of a game immeasurably. Toss in a wonderful orchestral score that riffs on classic Mario themes and you’ve got an technical wonder on your hands that truly shows off what Nintendo’s new system can do.
Like a big bowl of icing-covered cotton candy, Super Mario 3D World is a giddy sugar rush of childhood bliss that’s just as addictive as it is instantly appealing. While Nintendo didn’t go out of their way to innovate this time, they did perfect the silky smooth platforming, joyous multiplayer, and Pixar-ish visual wonderment that has kept Mario a gaming and pop culture icon for generations. From the second you pop this puppy into your system to the moment you finally collect that last hidden green star, the game will provide players of all ages with undiluted gaming bliss. Nintendo may get flack for no longer pioneering in the gaming field, but a pitch perfect experience like Super Mario 3D World proves that they don’t have to.
When you can deliver a gaming experience this purely enjoyable that no competitor can match, there’s no need to stray far from the established formula. The only thing holding Super Mario 3D World back from a perfect score is the fact that it does feel like a slight step back in innovating platforming after the Mario Galaxy series that elevated the genre into an art form. However, I’ve got a feeling that Nintendo still has something special planned for their mascot on the Wii U. Super Mario 3D World is very much a sequel to Super Mario 3D Land, which means they’ve yet to deliver a Mario title unique to the new system. It’s coming. The Mario Galaxy games were simply too beloved not to dive back into that physics-altering school of game design. For now, Super Mario 3D World provides the first true Mario game of the next generation and is a must play for anyone who ever received joy from the little Italian stereotype’s past adventures (aka all gamers). It’s a wonderful piece of work and proof that Nintendo is only starting explore the possibilities for their new system. I can’t wait to see where they go from here.