Thursday, January 2, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Super Mario 3D World has earned an apology.

From the undeserved “Galaxy 3” expectations to the deflated response at E3 2013, 3D World wasn’t given the chance it deserved. With a franchise that has given us iterative installments in the past 7 years, many of them console and handheld pairings in the form of “New Super Mario…”, little could we have expected that Super Mario 3D World is the best Mario title since Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Justifying that Super Mario 3D World isn’t just a consolized Super Mario 3D Land is a tough argument because there’s no significantly distinctive theme such as gravitiational platforming or a water backpack mechanic like what was seen in Mario’s previous 3D console installments. And if you’ve spent a short amount of hours with the game alone, it’s difficult not to see that 3D World isn’t just another Mario game.

However sticking to its classic world based formula has allowed Nintendo to relinquish any commitments and do whatever the f**k they please. Top down shmup styled level? Put it in. Donkey Kong Country-esque silhouetted side scroller? Why not. Drivable ice skates and throwable snow balls? I dunno, because it’s fun. Super Mario 3D World gleefully plays with inclusively “kitchen-sink” ideas that fit brilliantly together no matter how crazy or out of place they seem.

The level design, as expected, is often exceptionally crafted with 3D World’s various power-ups in mind if not a display of Nintendo’s mastery on the platformer genre alone. The Cat Suit – 3D World’s premier power-up – is a significant addition to the Mario formula outside of just being cute. It literally opens up a new dimension of level exploration as you can scale walls to higher ground. But the Cat Suit doesn't just change the way that you explore environments, it also offers an additional recovery technique. Though slightly less as easy to pull off as the wall jump, you can dive to the nearest vertical surface before falling into the abyss and climb your way up. Being a cat can be a bit sticky however as you’ll have to make an effort to dismount off of walls, but the substantial level of maneuverability it offers makes it arguably the best power-up in Super Mario 3D World.

That is, of course, unless you are a fan of the Cherry power-up which multiplies your character up to six strong and can turn your crew into a force to be reckoned with if equipped with the Fire or Boomerang Flower. The Cherry-power-up is as achingly infrequent as other situationally designed abilities and suits you can pick up, such as the Cannon Box, the Propeller Box, and the Goomba Suit. This deliberately flippant approach liquefies the game’s pacing and presents many levels that are very specific and isolated, yet relevant and highly entertaining. It’s refreshing level progression in a modern era where most game mechanics and encounters deviate and iterate from their baseline.

Serious fire power

3D World may be many little things, but if nothing else, it manages this: far and away, Super Mario 3D World is the most replayable proper Mario game in the series’ history. As a Nintendo platformer, a significant portion of the experience rests in gathering collectables to later unlock bonus stages. Finding and earning every Star, Sticker, and Golden Flag will keep you coming back to previous stages, tapping into even the most resistive completionists. But where 3D World earns its place as the most replayable title in the series is the differences between its multiple characters.

Play through as Mario with his baseline skill sets, then play through a second time as the floatable Peach to sweep up any missed collectables; speed runners will enjoy taking advantage of Toad's quicker little legs, and Luigi is a viable alternative for those who prefer higher jumps. Each character offers their own skillsets making multiple playthroughs different if not essential. In some cases, Super Mario 3D World feels revolutionary, particularly with one specific character that’s unlike any other character in Mario’s history.

Part of Super Mario 3D World’s charm is its discoverability. 3D World is purposefully mute, withdrawing from communicating explicit information to the player on how to play. It’s rewarding to find out certain items can devour everything in its path like a Baby Yoshi, or how certain power-ups have a hidden special ability. This becomes an all new phenomenon in multiplayer when four different minds can unearth many of 3D World’s number of secrets.

Super Mario 3D World’s multiplayer is vastly different from its 2D counterparts as it sways organically between togetherness and competitiveness. The crown – that’s awarded to the player with the highest score at the end of each level – is a tangibly meaningless item, but naturally taps into our self-esteem of wanting to be special. Silly fights break out in-game as the crown wearer is targeted while the next person is seeking royalty with no power. However often players will run into a complex obstacle set that forces everyone to shake hands and work together. Such experiences can only exist in couch co-op as the social entertainment of adversarial playfulness and discoverable “oopsies” can easily get lost in an online environment. Cooperatively and competitively, Super Mario 3D World is effortlessly designed for both styles of play. The hilarity of the constant retaliation after happy accidents and devious griefing keeps the action infinitely spontaneous.

Rat race, err... Cat race!

As welcoming 3D World’s 8 worlds may be to a party of two to four, the game’s later unlockable stages get increasingly difficult and are often relentlessly unforgiving even for one player. It's here where 3D World hits its classic stride, offering some of the best and most demanding level design the franchise has ever seen. They iterate in old ideas making them both challenging and new again. Pressured speed runs, subverted stage returns, and well hidden collectables make up these unlockable stages. Some of them even benefit from sophisticated item management to keep up with the level design. Unfortunately, the franchise’s traditionally strict camera exacerbate the game’s strange depth perception in Mario’s more difficult stages, despite the fact that some levels allow camera rotation within limited degrees. Nevertheless, Super Mario 3D World's traditional 8 world set up deliver great stages for both single player and multiplayer, but the game absolutely shines in its later half.

Like Galaxy before it, Super Mario 3D World puts its best foot forward in terms of overall presentation. The game has a constant glow to it, lifting every detail with slick, smooth rendering and gorgeous color assortment. Each stage breaths with catchy jazz tunes or an epic orchestral score that create an unmistakable immersion that only a Mario title can provide.

The Bottom Line

Super Mario 3D World represents the best results of Nintendo’s unwavering approach to game design. While fans begged for Mario Galaxy 3, Nintendo knew they wanted to do something different, and it worked. Super Mario 3D World works as not only a masterful and unparalleled handle on the platformer genre, but it offers multiplayer and replayability like non other in the franchise.

The jury’s out, Super Mario 3D World is Wii U’s definitive title.

+ Exceptional visual and orchestral presentation

+ Spontaneously creative level design

+ The most replayable proper Mario title in the franchise

+ Transformative multiplayer


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