Author: Aaron Hall
It’s a weird one, describing a new Mario game. Those who are interested will likely know all about it already – such is their devotion to Nintendo’s persistent mascot. Those who don’t, however, likely won’t look up from yet another explosion in Call of Duty 5748 to pay Super Mario 3D World any attention. Maybe they’ll yell ‘LOLZ, yet another kiddy Mario game AGAIN #YOLO’, but that’s as much recognition as any game featuring the portly plumber will prompt from them. I implore you to hear me out, whatever way your interest lies; this is one of the best Mario games in years. And you can play as Toad wearing a cat costume, enough said.
The set up is fairly traditional, then. Mario and cohorts travel around a selection of themed worlds, ticking off stages and hopping across platforms against the clock. So far, so Mario. It’s presented in a classic Super Mario World format, a top-down map unlocking new routes to different stages with tiny little asides along the way as per usual. It’s also the typical bright and cheerful you’d come to expect, with vibrant colours and upbeat tunes you’ll be humming long after the game has finished. Each of the worlds are themed in some way, and while those themes aren’t unexpected – grassland, snowland, desertland etc. – they’re presented with such happiness it’s easy to forget the similarity, and the overarching theme doesn’t extend to all levels in that world. It’s your standard affair, but with small twists on every Mario convention.
It’s the stages themselves that really matter, of course, but here Nintendo has really gone above and beyond anything Mario has faced before. Not in terms of what you actually do in the missions, mind, but in their sheer variety. Every single stage offers a new challenge beyond just jumping over platforms to reach a little flag at the end. One level might have you using bouncepads to traverse the landscape, while another might focus on navigating platforms while all you can see is the shadows of your chosen character, the platforms and any hazards you might be pit against. But best of all, you won’t see an idea repeated more than once.
While this might sound a little scattershot, Super Mario 3D World’s plethora of stages helps remove some of the familiarity that the series has become known for. There are so many original ideas here that even Mario experts will find themselves surprised by some of the stages available. You’ll dance between varying challenges, so each newly unlocked level feels fresh – you’ll constantly look forward to see what you’ll encounter next.
The problem, however, is the over-reliance on nostalgia. Nintendo has often targeted that rose-tinted recollection of games gone-by, but Super Mario 3D World can, at times, feel like a Greatest Hits album – short one-shots of the superb ideas of Mario games of yore. And we mean short. Though a handful of stages are Speed Runs that begin on 100 seconds, a large portion of the levels are so brief you’ll likely have them done within a minute or two.
It’s a shame, because while some of the new ideas are exceptional, Nintendo somehow manages to fall on its own sword a little by not really exploring these ideas as fully as they could be. In addition to that, you’ll have seen many ideas before in a Mario game – as if its inclusion should give you that warm feeling you get when you think about the SNES or Gamecube, or whenever you jumped into the world of Nintendo. None of this really detracts from the constant fun of the game, of course, but it does feel like Nintendo is phoning it in slightly.
Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy all focused around one key idea and utilised that as a springboard for originality. Even Super Mario 64 did, to an extent, with its ‘idea’ being 3D. Super Mario 3D World doesn’t quite share that level of inventiveness. Of course outside of what you’re doing, Super Mario 3D World does bring a number of changes to how you do them.
Though a large selection of power-ups return, Super Mario 3D World brings with it a bevy of new options. Cannon Blocks let you return fire on your opponents, Light Blocks help you defeat Ghosts while Goomba suits let you blend in with the enemy. Double Cherries are the most interesting addition, however, which create a clone of yourself each time you find one. They only last the length of the level, but it twists the way it is played as you control multiple characters at once.
Often hidden items are tied to their use, too, so you’ll want to make sure you can get as many Marios racing around a stage as possible. Primary among these additions is the new Cat costume, which turns Mario into – well, an Italian in a cat costume. The suit at times feels overpowered, with the ability to run faster, scramble up walls and even use a claw attack to easily dispatch almost every enemy available giving you an unnecessary advantage. You’ll want to try and keep onto this power-up as long as possible, since it’ll let you simply bypass a number of the game’s hazards, but it opens up the on first glance ‘linear’ stages to more than just running to the flag pole. Secret stars and Stamps, the games main collectable, are hidden absolutely everywhere and anywhere, and often in places that you’d never thought accessible in a Mario game. See a wall that might be have something on top of it? Chances are there is. There’s more than likely a whole new path to the flagpole up there!
For many of you these minor concerns won’t be enough to detract from the overall experience, and it’s true that Super Mario 3D World never stops being anything other than superb fun. It just feels a little lacking in some regards, as though it’s enough that we’re seeing Mario’s world in glorious (and it is absolutely glorious) HD. There is an element to that, of course, but Nintendo is capable of more.
When Nintendo promised a new 3D Mario it recalled memories of Super Mario 64, Mario Sunshine or Galaxy – each of which revolved around a central conceit and built an adventure into it. Super Mario 3D World has the hard task of following on from years of exceptional Mario games – and that essence of innovation isn’t quite maxed out here, not to the level Nintendo always brings to it’s top tiered franchises.
New ideas aren’t explored as wholly as they should’ve been, and far too many knowing nods to the past form the basis of entire stages. Nonetheless this is one of the most fun, madcap and smile-inducing games we’ve played all year, and no-one can capture that childlike enjoyment like Nintendo can. If you own a Wii U, you owe it yourself to own this game. And if you don’t, it might just be enough for you to finally take the plunge.