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Super Mario 3D World (Wii U) artwork

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U) review

"The developers at Nintendo were brave enough to make variety a mandate and they were skilled enough to ensure that every element contributes something exciting to the whole. The result is my personal pick for the greatest 3D platformer to date."

Super Mario Bros. 3 is my favorite video game yet to feature the famous fictional plumber named Mario, and by default that makes it one of my very favorite things ever. At this point, I’ve given up the notion that many games will ever come along to top it, no matter how much console hardware improves and the world changes. Super Mario 3D World has given it the ol’ college try, though, and with spectacular results.

The basic idea this time around is that the nefarious king of the Koopa tribe, Bowser, has abducted a number of cheery fairies. For reasons that only make sense to an overgrown turtle, he has scattered them around the world from which they come. They are guarded by vicious beasts and imprisoned in bottles near flagpoles at the top of imposing fortresses. Now, Mario and Luigi and Toad and Princess Toadstool--the same four heroes who once ventured into Subcon in the North American version of Super Mario Bros. 2--are on a quest to rescue the stolen pixies and save the day. They’ll run, jump, swim, climb and ride through a diverse series of platforming stages, risking death at every turn and searching for glowing green stars that grant them access to new zones.

Super Mario 3D World asset

If the above description leaves you imagining that there’s nothing new to see in this latest Mario outing, I’ve done you a disservice. The most compelling argument on Super Mario 3D World’s behalf is that it takes everything you know and love about Mario and friends, then makes it feel fresh and exciting all over again. I was never truly overcome with wonder to quite the extent that I once was by Super Mario Bros. 3, but this is as close as I’ve come.

The secret to that success can be summed up in perhaps as little as two words: “polished variety.” All too often, we’ll encounter a platformer that is essentially a one-trick pony. You work your way through numerous worlds and each one feels mostly similar to what came before it. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find games that constantly add new wrinkles in an attempt to keep the overall experience engaging, but the development team lacks either the time or the know-how to make many of the disparate pieces come together in a satisfying manner. The developers at Nintendo were brave enough to make variety a mandate, though, and they were skilled enough to ensure that every element contributes something exciting to the whole. The result is my personal pick for the greatest 3D platformer to date.

Super Mario 3D World asset

If I describe a bunch of levels, I run the risk of spoiling great surprises. Forgive me, then, if I speak only in more general terms. And in those general terms, I can say that no two successive levels I can recall ask you to do quite the same thing. There’s a goal flag at the end--usually--and there are a lot of platforms to leap along--usually--and each “gimmick” is easy to decipher without the need for any on-screen instructions--usually--and you’re not walked tediously through anything… ever.

The very first stage introduces one of the game’s most well-known new features: the cat suit. You need only find a bell, which allows your character to use a nasty attack where he (or she) rolls forward as if pouncing on a mouse. The suit also grants the ability to climb up most surfaces to reach high ground, either atop a mushroom or a muddy cliff or whatever. It’s even possible to climb up the flagpole at the end of the stage. Finally, your character can leap out in a vicious divebomb attack, though this last move should be used sparingly lest it send you hurtling into a bottomless ravine.

Later in the game, another power-up allows you to clone your character. Scarf down a cherry and suddenly there are two versions of your character running around, leaping, throwing fireballs or whatever else. Subsequent cherries can increase that number to five, if everything goes well. Keeping everyone herded together can be difficult at times and ill-advised in other cases, since puzzles require you to manipulate your growing group of clones in some interesting ways. Such moments are not especially common, though. They’re limited to a few levels, because the developers clearly have plenty of other ideas to explore elsewhere.

Super Mario 3D World asset

Multi-player action is another nice touch. Nintendo’s developers have been trying to get that particular element right for a long time, and this is as good as they’ve ever done at it. I might even have to give Super Mario 3D World the nod over Super Mario Bros. 3, just because the former keeps everyone gaming at once rather than forcing the parties involved to take turns. There’s still a competitive side to things, as well, because the player with the highest score at the end of the stage gets to wear a spiffy crown and that means bragging rights. You can also cooperate, though; if one person picks up two power-ups, one goes into reserve and can be doled out to others as needed. There’s also plenty of room in the spacious environments, so that you’re seldom forced to interact disastrously when you don’t want to, particularly if everyone is good at communicating and working as a team.

Controls are every bit as tight throughout the whole experience as you might hope, with most play methods supported beautifully. When I played with my friends, I played on the Pro controller while one of my friends used the gamepad and the other used a Wii Remote (with the Classic Controller attachment, as I recall). You can use almost any combination you like, and it’s easy to switch characters at the start of each stage. That works nicely, since each character possesses special attributes. I tend to favor Luigi, who can jump really high and far, but Princess Toadstool can float for a while and Toad is the fastest of the bunch (you may recall these perks from Super Mario Bros. 2, and I was happy to see them return for a second go-around). There are a few stages that are meant only for one player, using the gamepad, but those are the exception to the rule and easily skipped if you’re enjoying a group session. One type of stage finds you taking the role of a mushroom retainer, exploring areas to gather five stars before the timer expires. Another has the player blow into the microphone to move floating platforms attached to a fan.

Super Mario 3D World asset

This is as good a time as any to talk about those green stars I mentioned at length, because they’re really my only issue with the game at all. Nearly every stage features three such stars, typically hidden rather deviously. Periodically, you will need to have amassed a certain number of said stars in order to open gates to take on boss encounters or to make special stages available. The number needed quickly grows quite high, so that by the end of the game, you’ll likely have to go back through a bunch of stages on a scavenger hunt, just so you can proceed. For the most part, I played through the game and made moderate efforts to find any trinkets I could--including stamps for a neat little stamp book that you also fill with icons over the course of your journey--but by the end, I had to return to stages and scour them like an addicted fiend. I could have done without that, honestly. The game is good enough that I don’t like being forced to revel in its every moment.

Anyway, that’s actually a very minor flaw, and it had only minimal impact on my overall enjoyment with the enormously varied adventure that is Super Mario 3D World. If you’ve been looking for the Mario game that finally rekindles the old magic, you absolutely owe it to yourself to check out this new masterpiece. I have a feeling it will delight a whole new generation of platformer fans in almost exactly the same way Super Mario Bros. 3 once delighted me. I’m quite confident calling it the least extraneous Mario romp of the last two decades…

Rating: 10/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (November 28, 2013)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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ThoughtFool1 posted November 29, 2013:

It's great to hear that Nintendo hasn't lost its touch and has released another stellar Mario game!

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