Game Reviewby Heidi Kemps, Nov 19th 2013
Super Mario 3D World
Seeing Super Mario 3D World announced at this year's E3 was rather worrisome. Super Mario 3D Land was an utter delight, filled with challenge, imagination, and a joyful attitude that made it one of the best games in the 3DS's library. Yet here was Super Mario 3D World for Wii U, seeming to come so soon after its predecessor while ignoring what the “3D” part of the first game's title indicated. I was dreading that this would become like the New Super Mario Bros. series, an almost-annualized set of paint-by-numbers platform games content to rest on nostalgia and ill-conceived gimmickry instead of true imagination.
It was a little worrisome starting out, though. The very first stage in the game introduces you to the new Cat Suit power-up, which enables a jumping pounce attack and limited ability to scale walls. Getting the hang of its controls is a bit challenging at first: brushing up against a wall initiates clinging. You can press up and down to climb, but your grip only lasts a few seconds before you slide down, and trying to jump off and grab the wall again won't re-establish your grip. It's frustrating at first to try to scale a wall only to realize that you are going to scrape downwards to your doom in spite of your best efforts, but once you grasp the “rules” of the power-up, it becomes a fascinating tool: incredibly useful in many situations, but failing to recognize the boundaries of its skills can be dangerous.
Yes, the introductory levels are a bit dull, but there's a good reason for that: they allow you to figure out and explore the game's mechanics in a refreshingly tutorial-free environment, such as the aforementioned Cat Suit. Many modern games start by assuming you don't even know how to move your character around, so the game basically tossing you into this gloriously colorful playland and saying “have a good time!” is a welcome change. You're able to experience a lot of things on your own here: the differences between the four playable characters (Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Peach), the ways particular enemies and objects behave, what sort of places secrets usually hide in. When you reach the more complex levels at the end of the first world - giving power-ups like the character-multiplying cherries and introducing level designs that require more than just a simple beginning-to-end run – you feel confident in your skills to take on these challenges.
But part of what makes Mario 3D World so much fun is that the game never stops giving you new things: new power-ups debut in almost every world while additional mechanics shake up platforming in fascinating and engaging ways. You never stop learning and adapting to the game's challenges, and you are always encouraged to try to head off the beaten path and find potential rewards in unlikely places. Even when the game plays off of nostalgic elements, it doesn't lean on them in the pandering way the New Super Mario Bros. series does – it gives them a fresh, imaginative twist that makes them feel exciting again. You want to replay these stages, not just to collect all of the Green Stars and character stamps hidden in them, but because they're just so fun to play through
The Wii U's GamePad controller is nicely implemented into the design of the game: certain stages ask you to touch or blow on the gamepad to activate certain devices, and you can tap on parts of the screen to try and detect hidden objects and temporarily stun small foes. The entire game can be played comfortably off the TV screen on the GamePad, and given the small but palpable benefits it provides, it may be the preferable way to experience Mario and company's adventures in the Sprixie Kingdom. There's no real sacrifice in visual impact playing the game on the GamePad, either – the game looks pretty great no matter if you're viewing it on the big or the small screen, with colorful, surrealistic environments and characters that make you wish more modern games would take a similarly whimsical approach to world and visual design.
If there's one area where Mario 3D World disappoints, however, it's in the seemingly corporate-mandated multiplayer mode. The game supports up to 4 simultaneous local players, with each taking control of a different character. The problem here is that the majority of these stages simply aren't designed for multiple players. Throwing three additional players into the mix turns an otherwise brilliantly-made stage into a chaotic mess. The loss of the true 3D element from the previous game – one of the few 3DS titles where playing in 3D had a very strong effect on the experience – is also a bit of a downer.
But compared to the strength of the rest of the package, these complaints seem like trifles. The sheer, giddy joy of dashing through clouds while pocketing hundreds of coins, of riding a sea monster through raging rapids, of chasing down a running Koopa train and stomping all the critters onboard – is more than enough to warrant a recommendation. We're surrounded right now by next-gen games trying to trick us into thinking that shiny new tech alone is a substitute for fun, engaging, and creative game design. It's nice that there are games like Super Mario 3D World that make us realize the folly of that school of thought.
Overall : A
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : A
Gameplay : A
Presentation : A-
+ Fun, imaginative, and filled with little surprises and delights
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