Wii U: Super Mario 3D World

9th February 2014 – 3.29 pm

The flagship Super Mario game for Nintendo's Wii U is arguably a year late, released twelve months after the launch of the console, but has it been worth the wait? New suits for Mario, full 3D levels, and simultaneous multi-player action sounds good to me. But I still remember Super Mario Sunshine and how unplayable it was after the shine wore off. The deformed worlds of the Galaxy games didn't quite capture the sheer wonder I felt when playing the first 3D Mario game either. For me, Super Mario 64 is the game to measure up to.

First impressions are good, with the world map copied from Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES, but with free movement around the map and full 3D graphics. It's a nice touch, and much easier to navigate and understand than those of the Galaxy games and Mario Sunshine. The map greatly simplifies level selection and allows the player to jump in to the game with ease. Level design harks back to Mario 64, with simplistic but elegant obstacle courses to complete. No super-deformed worlds or open levels with no firm sense of direction. You go forwards, look for stars, and finish by jumping on a flagpole. This is Mario gaming getting back to the basics.

Introduction of new features is handled well too. Indeed, jumping in to the first level has the camera pan across half the level before homing in on Mario at the start, to give completely new players an idea of where to head, and experienced Mario gamers a sense of what lies ahead. The cat suit is given to the player in the first level of the first world, with no waiting or having to play for hours before seeing it. And once in the suit, there are paw-print clues lying around giving the player hints about what you can do as a cat, even if you haven't watched the attract sequence. It's a good new suit too, letting Mario run up walls and pounce on enemies.

Nintendo's level design is as beautiful as it has ever been. Even from the early Mario games, it has always been possible to play the game running Mario at full pelt, with jumps and moving platforms designed to accommodate this kind of gameplay. Rarely does a leap of faith end badly; more often than not you make the jump. So many other games rely on a wait-and-see approach, but only Mario reliably lets you jump first and wonder later if it was a good idea, because you nearly always stick the landing.

Gameplay focusses on collecting stars, but instead of aiming for just one per level, with perhaps the level being revisited in a different layout for subsequent stars, there are three stars per normal level to be found. Some are obvious, some are hidden, but you even get clues as to where they could be. The display shows the outline of the three stars to be collected, and when you find and collect one it fills in the outline in the appropriate order. The first star in the level fills the first box, the second the second, and the third the third, all according to the spatial relationship of the stars within the level. If you get the first and third star, you know the second is somewhere in-between those two. If you just get one, you know roughyl where to look for the others. It's simple and clever.

The levels vary from standard 3D platform design, to Mario shown in silhouette exploring an apparently 2D level, and forced-scrolling levels that require you to keep moving and not being able to go back. Each world naturally culminates in the boss level and the boss itself, and most of these will be familiar from previous Mario games. There's rarely anything particularly challenging in working out how to complete a level or defeat a boss, the challenge is in doing it. That's the beauty of the game.

Some of the levels can get pretty tricky, mostly because there can be a lot to dodge, or jump on, or jump across, and if you start getting it wrong then the challenges can pile up. Thankfully, help is at hand. Fail on a level enough times and a power-up box appears at the start, opening which gives Mario a special suit that combines the powers of a raccoon suit and an invulnerability star. The raccoon suit lets Mario float after jumping, and the star effect gives him immunity to all enemies, even those not normally able to be defeated, and the power stays with you until the end of the level.

The raccoon-star suit is a great idea. You will occasionally get stuck on a level, but you won't want to be stopped from progressing to later levels. It is just a game, after all. With the raccoon-star suit you can ignore most of the hazards of the level and treat it as an obstacle course. The obstacles in itself can be challenge enough, even with the suit, and there are enough levels that remain difficult that most players will be thankful for this suit at some point. But what makes the idea great is that the suit appears as a power-up box at the start of the level, so you can still choose to try to complete the level normally. The suit is not forced on you, but given as an option to allow progression.

The levels are nearly all fun to play, although some can be frustrating, particularly when some stars are placed behind one-use pipes and locked in to a time-limited challenge. But the frustration passes soon enough, as the game is just good, simple fun. Gone is much of the gimmicky nature of recent 3D Mario games and the gameplay is more reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3, but rendered in three dimensions. It's exciting, fun, fast, and big. There are hidden areas to uncover, levels to race through, and design to appreciate. Just the little touch of having the dinosaur you just rode on wave goodbye to you gives an indication to the attention to detail that Nintendo have included. It all shows.

I've managed to get to the end of all the standard worlds, which unlocks a couple more. The levels get increasingly challenging, and the final level of these is fiendish. I would never have completed it without the raccoon-star suit, and I'm glad that option is available. I believe there is another world to unlock, but I need to revisit earlier worlds to accomplish more before it becomes available. Whilst this sounds like an unenviable chore, what I've found in replaying the earlier levels is that it is genuinely fun to go back. I only played these levels recently, but returning to and running through them again still feels fresh and entertaining. I am really enjoying replaying the game, and that is surely the mark that Super Mario 3D World is perhaps the best Mario game released so far.

  1. 2 Responses to “Wii U: Super Mario 3D World”

  2. I've yet to purchase a Wii U, however I can confirm that an N64 is still alive and well (Pikachu Edition) in my sitting room and is regularly used to play Super Mario 64. It really is a timeless classic, and my children enjoy it as much as I did.

    By Mortlake on Feb 10, 2014

  3. Yeah, I have a lot of fond memories of playing Mario 64, particularly as I wasn't sure that the 2D games from the NES to the SNES would translate to 3D. Nintendo really knocked it out of the park for that first foray in to 3D Mario gaming.

    Sadly, I sold my N64 in the great clearout of 2007, so gone is Mario 64, as well as Diddy Kong Racing with the extra world unlocked. I liked playing as the tiger.

    By pjharvey on Feb 10, 2014

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