Modern Review: Super Mario 3D World (Nintendo Wii U)

smb3dworldWith another year, comes another Mario game; this time for the latest Nintendo console, the Wii U. With this latest entry in the nearly three decades’ long Super Mario Bros. series, does this game have what it takes to save Nintendo’s latest console?

Super Mario 3D World is, at worst, a regurgitated mash-up of previous Mario titles. It has influences from many previous titles. Its multiplayer option (local only, this is Nintendo we’re talking about,) is a chaotic, yet addictive mess. At its best, 3D World takes the best of Mario’s adventures and combines them into a single rewarding experience.

Choose Your Character

From Super Mario Bros. 2, the player choice is back. Though it had reared itself in more recent titles such as the New Super Mario Bros. series, the subtraction of a second Toad and addition of a certain female royalty member brings the return of a classic choice that has been unreasonably missing from Mario games for some time. No, Super Princess Peach doesn’t count. Replacing the second Toad was a smart decision on Nintendo’s part. It’s refreshing to not have to save Princess Peach (or Toadstool, whatever floats your boat,) and it opens up new ideas for storytelling other than the simple damsel-in-distress mechanic.

This time around, Mario and friends are passing through the Mushroom Kingdom when they discover a random pipe in the ground. They encounter a being known as a Sprixie, who flies around on fairy wings briefly, right before Bowser leaps from the pipe, kidnapping her. Mario and gang follow as the Princess falls through the pipe, with the rest of the group following afterwards. The scenes are brief, making sure not to encounter the same mistake that the first Mario Galaxy game did.

Gathered with friends, you’ll plow through levels like a Bullet Bill through a cloud. Alone, you’ll move through the game a bit slower. However, unlike last year’s New Super Mario Bros. U, levels are a lot more varied despite the overworld map existing on a smaller perspective. NSMBU and the previous entries in the “New” series have been about returning Mario to his early roots. The games all feel similar, recycling Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World into highly polished, heavily altered versions of their previous selves. This isn’t a bad thing, more exhausting than anything.

While NSMBU broke new ground for the series graphically, (finally, high definition,) it didn’t show off much in the way of new gameplay mechanics, adding on nothing but a fresh coat of paint from the original Wii title. New powerups can only go so far when you’re on a 2D plane in the year 2013. In 3D World, we see a return to the expanding ways that Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy. Levels, though shorter than titles just mentioned, feel more varied. In one level, you’ll be digging up the wall in your cat costume to uncover cleverly hidden secrets. The next, riding on an animal (that resembles a mix between Yoshi and the Loch Ness Monster,) through a body of water which will require multiple playthroughs to grab all collectibles.

Play Dress Up

Costume suits are back and work pleasantly well throughout the game. The cat suit is the new animal-themed powerup that Nintendo is pushing this year (similar to last year’s push on NSMBU and the flying squirrel.) Many parts of the game required the cat-suit in order to reach new secrets and parts of the level. Mario and the gang now scratch their way up walls to reach harder to find objects, collecting the stamps spread throughout the levels. Though they increase the replay value, they have a secondary purpose, allowing players to post them with comments into the Miiverse. This new suit also allows players to climb the end-level pole, something that could never before be done. It’s a fun mechanic that doesn’t get tiresome and playing as Cat Mario is fresh and fun, unlike Flying Squirrel Mario. There’s also the return of the secondary items list in-game that allows players to drop up to four extra collected powerups, which is a fantastic idea that allows players to almost never be without a suit.

Cannon Mario automatically shoots cannonballs once the suit is grabbed. However, if playing with other people, it will harm them, so holding down the fire button will actually charge your shot, allowing you to stop shooting. This led to frustrated friends until we realized we could stop the constant flow of fire, something that should only be happening when telling the game to fire. Keeping the suit until you need it to break open a hidden wall was a fun way to enhance gameplay. The cherry powerup allows duplicate characters to appear, a game mechanic straight out of the long cancelled Mario 128 demo. This brings confusion in, especially during multiplayer mayhem where it is hard enough to focus on your character, now all of a sudden you’re watching five Luigis leaving a lone Mario in the dust. As much as I thought the new suits were a mixed bag, they seem to be put on a pedestal far too often, making it seem like the older powerups take a backseat in this game.

In Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, the powerups you collected granted you suits of power that changed how you approached different level setups. There was a certain level of exploration that allowed gamers to embrace discovery and secrets. Getting the leaf or cape allowed the freedom of searching high and low for places that most players wouldn’t bother looking for, giving you that secret to discuss with those who were also the explorative type. In Super Mario 3D World, there is a greater push for the cooperative journey which sometimes works, yet in other times, it fails. In one level, the four of us died over and over until we decided to stop playing to allow one player to get us to the next part of the level. Giving players the ability to put themselves into a bubble and letting someone take the lead loses the magic of previous titles like Super Mario Galaxy and Mario 64 where players were encouraged to get better at something in order to progress.

The only saving grace behind these mechanics is that the game is no longer forcing you to teach yourself through practice and self-discovery, instead the player who takes the lead is showing the other players how it’s done through visual learning. Kinesthetic learners have to take a back seat during this process. It’s a change in the series that has come about starting with the multiplayer wackiness in the New Super Mario Bros. series that, frankly, only belongs in that series. Some may think of this game as Super Mario Bros. 2, but with all four characters playing at the same time. I’d call it, Mario’s Greatest Hits with some new suits, with a very heavy influence of the NSMB series.

How to Succeed at Mario Without Even Really Trying

When we sat down and began playing Super Mario 3D World, the first thing I noticed is that all of my friends began playing with the traditional Wiimote. Classic Controllers (I don’t own the new Pro controllers for the Wii U, so just the Classic Controller with the handles that Nintendo released later in the Wii’s life cycle) were available and were used as soon as everyone realized they didn’t have to use motion control for anything. While I made use of the gyroscope in the Wii U Gamepad for Captain Toad’s side-adventures (think Mario platforming combined with Pushmo-ish puzzling,) and later on took advantage of the microphone to make platforms rise up, I started to wonder. Why couldn’t this have come out on the Wii? What about this experience is changing the way I play games on this new Nintendo system? Aside from making spouses or partners happy about getting back to their Harry Potter marathon while you play on the Gamepad screen, there’s very little that I took away from Nintendo’s latest Mario outing that screamed “THIS IS WHY WE MADE THE WII U GAMEPAD.”

Regardless, that’s ok because the controls are tight. The camera can sometimes get frustrating, but only due to other players wandering around without a game plan. The Wii was a major breakthrough for gaming. Call it gimmicky or call it a revolution, it changed the way developers and gamers were making and playing games. Sadly, the steam engine of new ideas seems to have rolled back a few years due to Nintendo’s lack of true next-gen polish. Is this a next generation system? Technically, yes. Is Super Mario 3D World something I could’ve played years ago? Sure. But what this game truly represents is a jump into high definition gaming for Nintendo and that in itself is a huge step forward for a company that spent the past 6 or 7 years struggling to make visual miracles on the Wii.

Visual Sweets and Audible Treats

Graphically, Super Mario 3D World is a knockout. This is (so far) the prettiest game on the Nintendo Wii U and actually shows off what the system is capable of doing. Complete with an incredibly stable framerate, Super Mario 3D World features some impressive textures on levels and characters. Take for example, one of the Bowser battles. This Koopa king rolls up in a demonic, purple hot-rod, pulling in front of players, allowing for an end boss chase battle similar to something from an earlier Sonic the Hedgehog title. Mario and friends scamper after Bowser, kicking the soccer ball bombs he throws at you back at him. You can see every little detail in the puffs of smoke coming from the tailpipe. Explosions show off clouds of smoke and bursts of flames that emit embers from the fluffy grayness. All of this is happening on an incredibly detailed bridge with stone pillars on each side, flames rising up from each tower. The body of water underneath glistens, giving the final coat of paint to this scene that paints just one of the incredibly memorable moments in Mario’s gaming history. This game is visually breathtaking and deserves to be showcased as such.

Taking a queue from previous Mario titles such as Super Mario Galaxy, a live orchestra was brought in to record the majority of the music in this game. It’s refreshing to see melody take a front seat in a modern video game, with so many titles focusing on forgettable background movie-style soundtracks. Nintendo does a fantastic job of bringing the classic sounds into a modern age. The music is all over the place in the most positive of ways. Some moments are big-band inspired while others remain a festive jazzy mix. Some boss battles have electric guitar wailing through your fight while synthetic keyboards wiggle their way along. It doesn’t bake itself in nostalgia as much as many of us old schoolers would love to see but it gets the job done; A modern title like this will probably never revisit the NES style of bleeps and bloops in true 8-bit fashion, nor does it need to do such a backwards task. But for a series that reinvigorates our youth almost every year, it’s a shame that it steals from all parts of Mario’s early adventures except the sound. One can only dream.

But forget my nit-picking. I had a blast with Super Mario 3D World. There’s a ton to go back and do, such as collecting new stamps for the Miiverse and unlocking secret characters (I think we’re all still waiting on Princess Daisy to stop just showing up to play sports and party games and to actually be a part of the real Mario universe. She was here first, Rosalina!) Plus, there’s a bonus mode once the game is beaten –or if you have New Super Luigi Bros. U save data— where a bastardized version of the original Mario Bros. arcade game (Simply called Luigi Bros.) can be played. This is the game that should’ve come out instead of New Super Mario Bros. U at launch as this is the reason why most gamers should’ve owned the Wii U in the first place: high definition graphics, gorgeous music and a new way of playing an old classic. While the game doesn’t do anything too grand with the Wii U Gamepad, and there’s a severe lacking in making the old powerups matter again, the controls are tight and the multiplayer is far superior to the previously mentioned NSMB series. Nintendo still manages to showcase reasons why there’s still desire to join Mario and friends on their adventures through the Mushroom Kingdom.


Last Updated ( 02 December 2013 )  

Michael "Miketendo" Levy

Raised on an NES, Saturday AM cartoons and sugary cereal, Michael Levy was your average 80's kid growing up. Despite having odd obsessions with bears, peanut butter, zombies and Tifa Lockhart, 'Miketendo' is also the creator of the YouTube review series: D.Y.H.P.T.G?! (Dude, You Haven't Played This Game?!)

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Comments 

(Link to this comment) underwaterlevel 2013-12-04 19:02
Well Said! Just got this game and its amazingggg!
(Link to this comment) Loch and Quay 2013-12-04 20:38
Along with Pikmin 3 this is the best modern game I've played since BioShock 2, the design is superb.
(Link to this comment) Kirby228 2014-01-07 11:15
Really makes me want to buy a Wii U however I still feel as if there is a limited game pool; might wait out a bit for a couple more releases.
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