January 14, 2014
When Nintendo announced Super Mario 3D World for the company’s troubled Nintendo Wii U console, many people were concerned about how similar it would be to 3D Land. But just like Super Mario Galaxy 2, 3D World greatly expands on its predecessor with new and old ideas, culminating in a great Mario experience.
For those who haven’t played 3D Land, 3D World plays in a 3D area but with smaller, more confined areas similar to that of the Galaxy series. Since these areas are smaller, there’s a timer that counts down as you progress through the stage similar to the original Mario Bros. games. The two combined help to press the player on through the stage, but the time limits themselves never feel like they stop the player from experimenting. It also allowed the developers the opportunity to include multiple unique areas inside each stage, instead of being forced to stick with a single overall design like in the New Super Mario Bros. series.
These experiences aren’t just a small collection of ideas repeated throughout the game. Like the Galaxy series, no one concept overstays its welcome and most of them tend to exist in a single level or spread across a few levels to prevent things from becoming stale. New to 3D World are clear pipes in lieu of the series’ trademarked green pipes which connect the areas together. They have their functions as gameplay devices like they always have, but their see-through nature allows the game to show off cinematic angles in the stages and it creates situations where you need to time your entry properly to evade enemies which are also moving throughout the pipes.
As far as the stages are concerned, Nintendo reached far back into the series’ history in 3D World. Accompanying the normal stages are race to the end levels, the Captain Toad levels which play like a game of Pushmo by rotating the camera, and even a stage that takes place on a moving train. One of my highlights in the game easily had to be a stage which paid homage to the Super Mario Kart series, having the players play endless runner-style.
Nintendo did a good job of balancing out the difficulty in these stages as the first few worlds will feel simple to veterans, but it’s clear they’re there to teach newcomers. That isn’t to say there’s cheap kills - it’s more that the game rewards carefully and planned out moves instead of trying to bum rush your way through the stage. Still, hardcore fans will find the whole experience relatively easy.
Like New Super Mario Bros. U, 3D World lets 1-4 players play at any given time. This time around, though, the second Toad found in Bros. U is replaced with Princess Peach complete with her mid-air floating power from Super Mario Bros. 2. Unlike the last Wii U title, you can now pick from Mario, Luigi, Toad or Peach in single player instead of being forced with the default Mario choice. You can even have the game choose your character randomly before entering a level if you wish.
Unlike Bros. U, which felt like a single-player game forced into a multiplayer format, the more open worlds in 3D World make multiplayer matches a lot more enjoyable, although when four characters are on screen the camera the experience can diminish due to specific angles that are created. The game also supports an additional fifth player, who can use the gamepad to reveal hidden objects on the field.
3D World includes many of the same power-ups as 3D Land. This means you’ll get to see boomerangs, fire flowers and mega mushrooms, but there’s a number of new additions to the mix this time around. One of these is the new cat suit, which allows players to scale walls, pounce and use an in-air dive attack on enemies. Most Mario games have been a vertical affair with horizontal movement, but the suit opens up platforming opportunities that didn’t exist in the series before. In many ways, it’s similar to what Galaxy 2’s cloud suit did for that game.
This new suit allows for some reasonably complicated manoeuvres like mid-canceling of a jump into a scratch, followed by an expertly aimed dive on a faraway platform which normally would have required a series of mid-air platforms to reach in any other Mario title. It’s easy enough for newcomers to use, but expert players are sure to use this to shave massive amounts of time off the clock when attempting speed runs.
Another honorable mention is the new “double cherry” power-up. As the name suggests, it creates a duplicate of your character letting you control two characters at once. The twist is that it also clones the prior power-up you had, so if you were Cat Mario it’d create two Cat Marios. This also works for the clones as you can keep grabbing more cherries and make even more clones.
There are a few negatives, though. The mid-stage bosses don’t have nearly as much variety as the major bosses do and this is a bit disappointing. It’s also disappointing to see 3D Land’s enemies, such as Boom Boom, are rehashed again here in 3D World.
3D World also copies the Galaxy series in a few areas, which require a number of MacGuffins to be collected before the passage can be unbarred. These issues aren’t that common, but it feels outdated in comparison to everything else the game does right.
Bros. U had some neat special effects to take advantage of the Wii U’s HD output, but 3D World puts that to shame. 3D Land already had excellent graphical direction and the HD-ification in 3D World makes the colors pop on a capable HDTV. Nintendo also put a lot of care into the small visual touches such as cloud particles and snow dropping realistically from trees when they’re climbed.
A few easter eggs were also included, such as the Koopa Troopas getting annoyed when you steal their shells and chasing you in an attempt to retrieve them or being able to slide around inside said shell to cover more ground faster. The overall graphical tone of the game also feels very retro-ish, which hearkens back to the older-style 2D Mario games even though this title is three-dimensional.
The soundtrack builds off what Nintendo started in the Galaxy series, but instead of just the twists on the pre-existing Mario songs, Nintendo also included other genres such as funk and fully-orchestrated film-level songs to round out the selection. The sound direction also follows suit as little touches like the torch’s wood crackling and the various surfaces the characters walk are represented here.
Like Nintendo’s other Wii U titles, 3D World has Miiverse functionality. One such instance sees ghost Miis appeared after completing a level without dying based off your friend’s gameplay. For those who aren’t artistically inclined, 3D World includes “stamps” which can be used inside the game’s Miiverse community and are hidden as collectibles inside the stages. Rounding out things is a fifth unlockable character to play as. And for you masochists out there who loved Galaxy 2’s Grandmaster Galaxy there’s a similar level waiting once you’ve completed all the other worlds in the game.
Like in Super Mario Galaxy 2, there are some specific moments in 3D World where the gameplay, graphics and music melded together as one in what can only be described as a joyful platforming experience. It’s not a “new” title, but it’s still an improvement on 3D Land and that's all you can expect. In many ways, this can be see as the Wii U's killer app.