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Super Mario 3D World Review: A Third Dimension of Fun
As one of the most celebrated platformer series around, Mario’s storied success from the 2D plane to the 3D one has been full of triumph. As such, his latest jump to the Wii U couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the still young console. As much a testament to his remarkable past as Nintendo’s creative capacities, Super Mario 3D World has Mario and company soaring onto the Wii’s successor with the same splendor as any 3D platformer could require of them with only the smallest of shortcomings.
At a glance, 3D World operates as a standard, by-the-book platformer in every way save for several major changes to the age-old formula. Set once again in the familiar Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser’s up to his typical mischief and taken the “Sprixie” fairies captive, imprisoning them throughout the game’s worlds. It’s up to Mario, Luigi, and Toad to save them, but for the first time in too many years, Princess Peach is there to join them. It’s these four characters that bring a refreshing variety of gameplay options to the table and where 3D World truly shines.
Akin to their inherent archetypes, Mario and friends all perform splendidly, using a wide array of abilities that help liven up your play-style. Luigi retains his classically higher jump and Toad’s tinier legs ironically carry him the fastest across the field. Princess Peach, meanwhile, can float for extended periods with her dress and Mario fits the bill as the game’s all-around character, neither being the quickest nor the most agile, but being something in between. Finally, Super Mario Galaxy’s Rosalina makes her appearance in fine form, acting as a cross between Peach and Luigi with a special spin-attack. Combined with the diversity of the given levels, each makes your experience feel like a different game for every level you play, and whether I was hovering Yoshi-style over a flaming pit as Peach or sweating it out after narrowly landing atop a high platform as Luigi, it made the difference knowing my characters mattered to the world design.
Like any Mario title, there are a collection of power-ups at your disposal. The tanooki and hammer-bro suits make their glorious return from Super Mario 3D Land among the fire flowers, stars, and mushrooms as well as the Mega Mushroom for the first time in a 3D Mario game. Others like the cherry power-up literally multiply the fun, cloning two to six of your characters onscreen at a time. The star item of the game is undoubtedly the cat suit, allowing you to climb up walls directly with an enhanced attack jump. All are just as practical and enjoyable to use and for younger/less experience players, 3D Land’s invincible white raccoon suit is back to hold your hand through the course of a level if need be. Sometimes it does feel like most items assist you to a fault, but they remain optional for the experienced.
Apart from your characters are the levels themselves, all of which take center stage as the Wii U’s greatest boon to Mario’s stunning presentation. Using all the system’s HD capabilities, Mario and his partners graphically shine in a myriad of colors and textures unseen in the series thus far. Beach levels shimmer in the sunlight, giving way to glittering water and sandy shorelines as often as lava worlds provide a fiery backdrop within their burning pits. The game’s latter part boasts an eye-catching neon level that’s simply mesmerizing but even then the game’s graphical improvements don’t induce an eye-gouging level of brightness.
For 3D World, no level is ever as simple as it seems and demonstrates the core of what Nintendo delivers in both replay value and thoughtful level design. Each stage is accessible via the same world-map like that of Super Mario Bros. 3’s on the NES and a few free-falling sequences from Galaxy amidst a host of terrifically unique environments. From a circus tent level to fiendishly clever Boo houses to the top of a 2.5 semi side-scrolling ninja dojo, 3D World keeps itself fast-paced and engaging from moment to moment with a comforting sense of progression that merits revisiting even the tiniest of level’s corners. There are a wealth of collectibles in their typical forms of green stars and “stamps” and both are key to progressing world to world as well as unlocking the game’s secret stages that add a few appreciated nostalgic touches. Neither item is ever easy to find and players will be hard-pressed not to finish a level without scratching their heads looking for the last star hidden behind a waterfall or hidden door.
The use of the Wii U’s own hardware is impressive. Emphasizing its company motto, there are a wide selection of ways to play 3D World via the system’s Wii-motes, pro-controller, classic controller, or Wii U gamepad. The latter uses the best of the touchscreen’s functions like tapping an onscreen platform to flip it in-game and the mic for literally blowing away onscreen enemies. All of these controllers are fully functional for local multiplayer but it’s a shame that an online multiplayer wasn’t taken into consideration for 3D World’s potential for recruitment beyond the couch. It’s also unfortunate that the run button matches that of the grab button and players might very well get caught picking up a fellow player or item unwanted in the moment as an inconvenience.
Perhaps the only disappointments that can be said of 3D World are its boss battles in comparison to their basic enemy types that remain stagnant to the franchise’s formula. Though involving no Koopalings this time around, retro bosses like Boom Boom and Bowser are still present to perform their all too basic battles of jump three times on their head or simply swatting at bombs to defeat them. Others like a three-headed, plate balancing snake and a Koopa court jester generally spice things up, but the final boss is the only one making up for its predecessors in a gimmicky yet satisfyingly chaotic display befitting the game’s wackier sensibilities.
It’s hard to complain about what Super Mario 3D World’s minor flaws in the face of everything it does right. With smart level design and great gameplay variety, Wii U owners should be proud to call 3D World one of their own for the system’s slowly growing game library. If its balancing act between novelty and ingenuity isn’t enough to make for a near-perfect platformer, than it’s difficult to know what is.