Nintendo has thrown down the gauntlet. In the wake of the next-gen launch season, Super Mario 3D Worldmade its arrival. With nearly perfect scores across the board, the message was clear: the next-gen is here, and the Wii U has the best game. In the face of the Wii U’s dwindling sales, this may be the stark difference between doom and gloom of the Virtual Console and the fairy-tale rebound of the 3DS. With such a heavy burden resting on the back of Nintendo EAD Tokyo, can they provide the goods?
It’s getting more and more difficult to place Mario games in their respective series. Super Mario 3D World is the second of the brand new “3D” series, following the acclaimed Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. Accordingly, the game’s story is perched between the minimalist approach of the “New Super Mario Bros” series and the slightly more story-heavy 3D open-world series (Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and arguably Super Mario Galaxy).
The game begins with Bowser popping out of the newfound clear warp pipe to capture the green Sprixie princess, conveniently ignoring Princess Peach because of reasons for the sake of the story. After entering this new Sprixie Kingdom, the task is simple: rescue the 7 Sprixie princesses and save the kingdom from Bowser’s tyranny. The story rattles off in the tried-and-true Mario formula without a hitch, and while there is little to complain about, there is also very little to commend. They have even ditched the postcards that Super Mario 3D Land used to give small story installments through the game. It seems that the “3D” series is very quickly nearing the minimalist approach that the “New” series utilizes.
While the story is bare-bones at best, Nintendo’s EAD Tokyo studio (renowned for crafting the best Mario games to date) really pulled out all the stops on Super Mario 3D World. Though the Wii U had already seen its first HD Mario game with New Super Mario Bros. U, this is truly the first game showing the HD possibilities of Nintendo’s next-gen. Mario and the gang has made the transition beautifully, with the character models’ evolution seeming like a very natural progression. Additionally, the stages themselves are beautiful—really beautiful. For instance, I had to stop and just stare at the beautiful particle effects, ambiance, and Puffprod Peaks (World 2 – Stage 2). The sunsets and the water effects had me gawking. Though HD has been used through the industry for more than 5 years, it seems to take new form coupled with Nintendo’s famous art-style.
Further, the game plays fluidly from every aspect—transitioning from menus to gameplay to off-screen play is easy, enjoyable, and done at an astonishing 60 FPS (for a more in-depth look at this, check out Digital Foundry’s love-letter to the game). Many articles have come out discussing Nintendo’s difficult transition from standard to high definition gaming, however the end result refuses to show it. It is clear that Nintendo aimed and surpassed their high standard of quality seen through their first party titles.
Finally, the music. The beautiful music. The soundtracks for videogames are getting ever more complex and integral to the heart of the software. While this is a trend that seems to just be picking up steam with other developers, Nintendo (and especially Mario) have been touting this for decades. Super Mario 3D World utilizes an orchestra for all of the levels, much like they did for the Galaxy series. The songs are infectious and vibrant, featuring at times heavy jazz elements. Also, as I noted in earlier reviews, Nintendo’s attention to detail regarding the sound is remarkable—simply diving underwater changes the entire feel of any song. Though I would like to point out one of my favorite songs, I can’t. There are just too many. However, if it is any indicator, eBay auctions for the free Club Nintendo SM3DW soundtrack are going for the upwards of $210. So the music is that important.
Last but not least is the gameplay. When the game made its debut at last year’s E3, it received some lukewarm welcomes. The main argument was that the game, with the exception of the cat-suit, seemed to bring nothing new to the table. Now that the game has hit the shelves, this claim is almost comical—the game may have the most unique aspects of any Mario game to date.
Let me rapid-fire list some off: there are the double cherries, the shadow levels, the Mario Kart dash levels, the Goomba suit, Plessie the lovable waving dinosaur, and that is only a few. The touch-dojo levels and casino stages are some of my favorite in the game. When I get bored, I roam around the open-world-esque prairie levels or the beach levels. And I have never said this before in any Mario game but I love the ghost houses. There are simply too many new game elements to adequately cover in one review, but needless to say, I loved them all. They all felt unique in their own right, yet never overplayed. The game would introduce a concept and then very cordially bow away from it. Every level felt fresh and new.
There is little to discuss on the platforming matter—if you don’t know how a Mario platformer feels, then I am confused to how you found this website and got this far through the review. Everything is consistent: the physics feel exactly like they should and there is nothing to complain about. While some people seem to find a small issue in judging depth in the isometric view, I never had issues with it myself. My guess is it deals much more with the individual’s history with Mario and platformers than the game itself.
On top of all the new elements, there are 3 collectable green stars in each level and a stamp in nearly every level. These collectibles are either hidden or require mild skill to reach—very few actually get tricky until the expansive post game content. Getting everything is rarely difficult after one or two playthroughs of a level.
The Miiverse integration is well placed and unobtrusive. Much like New Super Mario Bros. U, the other players around the world can post small comments about levels or the overworld. The only noticeable change is that the players can now use the stamps in the Miiverse posts—a fun, small addition.
Finally, I want to dispel the rumors that this game is better as a multi-player game. Playing through the game numerous times by myself and with friends, I had a great time doing both. The difference is that playing solo allows for more exploration, whereas playing multiplayer is more of a swirl of comical chaos. They are both fun in their own right, and I can’t honestly tell you which I liked better.
The Verdict: 9.5 out of 10
Super Mario 3D World is an instant classic, a game that is going to undoubtedly be known as one of the best of any Mario games. The inventiveness and new concepts throughout the game are a breath of fresh air that the series hasn’t seen since the Galaxy series. That said, the game couldn’t have come at a better time—clearly the Wii U is struggling and needs all the help it can get. The next-gen is here, and Nintendo has given us the first good next-gen game to date. Now its your turn, Microsoft and Sony.