I never played 3D Land, it never really interested me. The thought of a Mario game being slower than the usual 2D platformers kind of turned me off, but the concept seemed intriguing. “Why is it getting high marks,” I kept asking myself. It was odd to me, seeing a game deviate so far from the usual formula and it getting praised for it. Still, I never really bothered to spend the money and buy it. Enter Super Mario 3D World.
I saw this high definition Mario game with interestingly designed levels and was just slightly faster than what I saw in 3D Land. Upon seeing a few gameplay trailers during the Nintendo Directs, I went on a total media blackout. I wanted to experience this blind. Perhaps it was the desire to feel again what it was like to adventure in a new and unknown world. I haven’t felt any different playing the current Mario games than any others; it has usually felt like playing something I have before. The last time I felt like everything was new and strange was Galaxy, but even then, I felt that it ran its course after the first game.
So was Super Mario 3D World really going to be that one true experience that I’ve been waiting years for, or was it going to fall flat like all the rest?
The controls are fluid and incredibly responsive. Each of the four characters you can play as (including a secret character that probably everyone knows about), feels similar yet unique given their abilities. Along with the moves you’re familiar with, you’ll have new tricks to use, most of which are easy to use and quick to master. You can play with literally any controller you can use on the Wii U, although if you want to play every single level, you’ll need to play on the GamePad.
There are four characters to play as, which you can switch out at any point before entering a level. Mario is the all-around, Luigi can jump higher but takes a little longer to stop, Peach can float in the air for some time, and Toad can run faster. Some levels require specific characters that can make your task through getting each level easier. You can play as each character whenever you wish, and if you can’t decide, then there’s a “random” button for that.
There are over one hundred levels in 3D World, each one unique in their own way. Some levels utilize the new moves and powers, and others have gimmicks of their own. Each level is not too easy, but not too challenging. Some levels are put here and there at times, without much direct placement; sometimes there will be a swamp level directly after, for example, a snow world or something else that seems out of place. Sometimes, there are special levels with one-of-a-kind gimmicks or even stages that reference various other Mario games. There are eight worlds in total, with four bonus worlds added into the mix.
Besides running through stages, you have access to challenge houses, which send you through gauntlets of rooms with a very tight time limit. There are also the Captain Toad stages, which you play as the brave and adventurous Captain Toad as you go through a small stage collecting Green Stars. This adds a little break from the usual grind of gameplay, and are surprisingly fun in a puzzle-platformer way.
The bosses are well-thought out designs and are unique. Some require specific power-ups, but will give you them if they’re needed or will help in defeating each boss. Some are throwbacks, like Boom Boom, but the rest are unique to 3D World.
Sometimes, there are points where the levels seem unfair or unbalanced, but these are few and far between from the other more well-designed levels. Also, as much as the multiplayer is a core part of the experience, it seems as though the camera doesn’t zoom out enough, which is a minor issue when your friends run ahead. This is improved by a more versatile “bubble” mechanic, which you can now pop yourself at any point. There’s also an easy drop-in method, where you can join at any point mid-game.
With 380 Green Stars (this game’s Star Coins) and over 80 stamps to collect, you’ll have your hands full completing this game. Luckily, if you’re having difficulty in a stage, there’s the Super Leaf. This special leaf makes you invincible and gives you Tanooki powers.
New to 3D World is the Cat Bell. This item turns you into a cat, which lets you climb up walls, dive bomb and even swipe enemies. There’s even a Boomerang Bros. suit, which lets you throw boomerangs. Returning power-ups include the traditional mushroom and Fire Flower (which doesn’t suck in this game), the Mega Mushroom (yes, it is back, and it kicks ass), the Tanooki Leaf, and the Super Star.
Amongst these power-ups, there are also block and item pick-ups. Sometimes you’ll hit a block and stumble upon a Cannon Block or a Propeller Block and be able to wear it. Sometimes you’ll find baseballs or snowballs, which you can throw, and even a potted Piranha Plant, which you can carry around and it will eat enemies (and friends).
The use of perspective is used in strange ways in this game. Sometimes you have to go towards the screen in order to find a secret, or perhaps it’s just hidden out of view and you can find subtle hints pointing at secret areas. In single-player, you can move the camera slightly to get a change of perspective, but in multiplayer this ability is taken away. The camera usually controls itself very well; you won’t need to take the reins too often.
The graphics are incredible and awe-inspiring. Each level is beautifully crafted and designed with various lighting and shader effects, and even the characters are affected by the lighting in the perfect way. The water reflects light naturally, the sun glistens off the fresh grass on the ground, even fire from a fireball or torch will give a small area light. 3D World even utilizes this lighting for some really cool levels, like giving players a Lantern Block to light their way through a Ghost House.
Each character has various color palettes for each power-up, all of which can be easily distinguishable from one another. These look incredible for each character, and clearly had thought put into each one.
The music is incredible and gives each level a vibrant tone. Each song is beautifully live orchestrated and fits the tone for each setting. Some of the themes are re-mastered versions of classic and loved Mario music. However, the best music from the soundtrack are the brand new tracks. They are just wonderful and make you feel good.
The sounds are very well designed and easy distinguishable from one another. No sound overlaps another, and even balances perfectly with the music. It’s something you literally have to hear to believe.
Overall: 9.5 (Incredible)
Super Mario 3D World is one of the biggest surprise hits of this year. It’s an incredible new-school platformer with amazing levels, controls, music, and graphics. All these put together make 3D World the must-have game on the Wii U. If you’re very old-school, then you might have issues playing this entry, but if you don’t mind a little change of formula then it’s definitely worth a shot. 3D World has incredible replay value and feels just as fun with friends as it is playing alone.
Super Mario 3D World is available now on Wii U physically and on the Wii U eShop for $59.99 USD.