By Leo Stevenson
Imagine one day you discovered a tree. This tree was covered in fruit; more than you could ever count. You picked a piece, ate it and found it was delicious. You kept going back to the tree for more fruit. Every time you ate a new piece, it was more scrumptious than the last. You couldn't believe your luck. After some time, you grew to expect that each new piece of fruit would dazzle your tastebuds in new and amazing ways.
So what happens on the day you pick a piece of fruit and it doesn't surpass the previous ones? What if it wasn't even as tasty as the last few pieces, but instead was somewhere ranked in the middle? Would you be disappointed? Of course, but only as a product of your own expectations and the ever improving quality of the fruit. Would it make the fruit any less delicious? Absolutely not.
With that clumsy metaphor out of the way, I think you now know what to expect from this review. Let me be clear: I really like Super Mario 3D World. That said, it suffers under the legacy of Super Mario and the weight of expectation. See, when Nintendo released Super Mario Galaxy and its incredible sequel -- Super Mario Galaxy 2 -- gamers and fans alike became giddy with the idea of what Mario's next adventure would entail.
The Mario Galaxy titles were almost perfect, incredibly designed games that pushed the Wii to its limits and (not for the first time in the franchise's history) redefined what a platform game was. When Wii U was announced, despite its lukewarm reception, the idea of the GamePad's implementation and Mario in HD had fans salivating. Nintendo teased the announcement of a new Mario at E3 2013 and when it revealed a console version/sequel to the popular 3DS Super Mario 3D Land fans, media and gamers alike let out a collective "Huh?!"
I was less than impressed, especially after I went hands on at E3. This was the game Nintendo was hoping would woo people back to Wii U with? I was convinced it wasn't going to work. I was convinced it was going to be a terrible game and after I while I secretly -- then not so secretly -- wished it would be a total disaster. After 15 haphazard and confusing minutes of 4-player Mario 3D World, I'd been left with a sour taste that could not be removed. To me it was simply a port of a 3DS game. A lazy attempt to use Mario's spotless name to generate Wii U sales, but worst of all a game that wasn't even fun.
Less than two minutes into the full release of Super Mario 3D World, I realised I should have had faith in Nintendo. It's become increasingly popular (not to mention easy) of late to bash Nintendo. I guess I got caught up in that. All Nintendo ever intends to do is create fun, vibrant games that put a smile on your face. With Super Mario 3D World they've once again totally achieved it. While it may not shine as brightly as either Mario Galaxy, it's a great addition to the franchise. And let's be honest, if a Mario game is only solid, it's still better than most other games on the market.
3D World is a logical extension of 3D Land and shares many similarities with its handheld sibling. Levels are small, self contained affairs that generally revolve around one mechanic or idea. These range from stepping on switches, climbing fences, swimming and even a Mario Kart homage. While none sound particularly interesting, Nintendo has injected more fun and squeezed more out of each idea than most other games have in their entirety.
Each level feels fresh and interesting meaning you never get bored with a repeated idea. If there's a flaw, it's that sometimes a great idea is only used once or twice and it's never seen again. It would have been nice to experience some things a few more times, but it's really a minor quibble. The game pushes you along at a smashing pace, like an excited 5 year old, eager to show you all of their shiny and new toys. Mario 3D World is proud of everything it has achieved and rightly so.
New power-ups help to reinforce the idea of fresh new ways to play with the Catsuit and Double Cherry being particular favourites. The game furnishes you liberally with the Catsuit (almost too much at times) in a manner that suggests the developers were quite proud and fond of it. Why shouldn't they be though when it's arguably the best power-up in years? Not to mention the most adorable. With the Catsuit, Mario and friends walk on all fours and leave little paw prints everywhere they go. They're also able to cling onto and climb up walls (handy for discovering the game's myriad secrets) slash enemies and even perform a Sonic style dash/dive attack.
The Double Cherry is Nintendo's boldest power-up in years. Picking one up creates a second Mario. Picking up another creates a third and so on, with five being the maximum. The Double Cherry only ever appears in levels designed to make use of it, but they are some of the most fun. It's overwhelming at first, but you soon learn to make uses of corner and ledges to line your horde of plumbers up and make the best use of them. The Double Cherry levels also feature some great moments based on getting the correct number of Marios into a certain area or ensuring a certain number survive a particularly challenging platforming section.
There are four playable characters in 3D World: Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad. They each have a different play-style, something that hasn't been present since Super Mario Bros. 2 on NES. Mario is the all rounder, Luigi jumps higher, but is slippery to control, Peach can float a short distance and Toad is fast, but can't jump as high. It will come down to personal preference who you play as. I stuck with Mario mostly, but Nintendo have given the option to switch characters at the beginning of each level which is handy. You'll need to play as each character at certain points if you're a completionist though as some collectibles are accessible only be a specific character.
While 3D World features four-player couch co-op, in my experience, it's best played solo. The same problems that have plagued the series since New Super Mario Bros. are present and accounted for here. Characters picking one another up, throwing them down holes, wandering off and forcing the screen to focus in the wrong location, it all happens. Maybe I have terrible friends and maybe you don't, so maybe you'll get something out of the multiplayer. For me though, it's strictly a solo affair. The fact that you can't play this game online though is a total travesty. It's 2013 Nintendo, get your act together.
For a game on Wii U, I spent nearly all of my time with it using the Pro controller. I actually got annoyed when it told me certain levels required the GamePad. The implementation of the touchscreen was nothing special and asking me to blow into the microphone was just annoying. Whenever I had to switch to the GamePad I groaned and begrudgingly complied because I wanted those sweet, sweet stars. This maybe be a more systemic problem with the Wii U because if Nintendo can't even come up with decent ways to use the GamePad, what hope does anyone else have?
At times the isometric view of the levels forced me to make an incorrect jump and plunge to my death. It felt cheap and not like a fault of my own, rather the forced perspective. The camera is maneuverable to a certain extent, but not enough that I ever felt truly in control. I understand the camera was positioned for maximum effect in each level, but when it comes at the expense of gameplay it's an issue. It wasn't frequent enough for major concern, but it was a semi-regular niggle.
All in all Super Mario 3D World strikes an excellent balance between 2D and 3D Mario games. It takes the ideas established in 3D Land and improves upon and expands them in fun, brilliant and surprising ways. Unfortunately, even with my impossibly low expectations it wasn't able to dazzle and amaze me as much as previous Marios have. While it's hard to determine whether this is because of Mario's legacy and the constantly innovative games he's appeared in, Super Mario 3D World is still a very, very good game. If you own a Wii U, this is the game you'll be playing this Christmas. If you don't? Maybe now's a good time to invest.