It’s no secret that since its launch last November, Nintendo’s Wii U console has had a bit of a tough time commercially. It has a less-than-stellar reputation among a lot of gamers, since much of video game culture is obsessed with a console’s horsepower. Among the new three major video game consoles, the Wii U definitely comes up short against the graphical capabilities of both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. This was true of Nintendo’s efforts with the original Wii when compared to the PS3 and Xbox 360 as well, but because of strong packed-in titles like Wii Sports showing what that console was meant for, the Wii was the hottest selling console of the last generation for a long stretch of time. One of the primary reasons, of course, was that last generation people learned that graphical capability doesn’t mean a whole lot when compared with the fun of the games. As with the Wii, many Wii U games definitely don’t come up short against their competitors when it comes to sheer fun, especially when those games are developed by Nintendo themselves.
Certain game analysts have also speculated that the Wii U’s sales have been soft because of the lack of a defining, must-own game for the platform, even with a Mario game under its belt at launch. Well, with new signs emerging seemingly every day of the Wii U warming in the hearts of the press, the console seems to be picking up some steam. This is especially true after the release of that potentially console-defining game experience, found once again in the lovable plumber from the Mushroom Kingdom. Super Mario 3D World is a seminal game in the life of the Wii U console, and is probably the single most fun I’ve had playing a video game all year. As I’ve alluded to in the past, nobody really does fun like Nintendo, and this latest effort starring Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad really seems to heighten exactly how true the big N’s standard for fun really is.
As the second major Mario game to hit the Wii U, this is also the second to be presented in high definition. New Super Mario Bros. U was absolutely gorgeous, and welcome for people clamoring to hit warp pipes and jump on goombas in HD, though its 2D perspective and elements of design were slightly critiqued as an effort not fully taking advantage of the new system and its higher capabilities. Super Mario 3D World, on the other hand, returns the platforming series to the third dimension (evoking some of the series’ best titles like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy), has beautiful high definition graphics that render fun, challenging level designs, and introduces a multiplayer element inspired by the playable characters of Super Mario Bros. 2. Make no mistake, 3D World is a celebration of all things Mario, and chances are that you’ll notice more than a few nods to previous games in the series on a single play-through.
The story is thin, but that’s perfectly in-step with the series as a whole. This game takes place in a new world called the “Sprixie Kingdom,” where the fairy-like Sprixie Princesses are kidnapped by the nefarious Bowser, who’s after their treasure. The story is all it needs to be: a jumping-off point for a great gameplay experience, along with a relatively atypical direction for the series since Princess Peach is a part of the entourage trying to save the Sprixies, as opposed to being kidnapped by Bowser herself.
This all leads to World 1-1, where your journey to save the Sprixies and their kingdom from Bowser really begins.
At first glance, even viewing gameplay footage, it looks as though 3D World controls similarly to Super Mario Galaxy, but this actually isn’t the case. It feels pretty different mostly because the Galaxy games were controlled exclusively by the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and this game relies on more conventional methods of control, though with greater variety of choice. The Wii Remote can be placed on its side for a more typical NES-style control scheme, you can plug the nunchuk into it for a more Galaxy-like experience, you can use the Wii U GamePad, or the Wii U Pro Controller (or Wii Classic Controller plugged into a Wii Remote). As a result, it takes a little getting used to, but after a couple of levels of practice you’ll be able to pull off many of Mario’s amazing trademark acrobatics.
Many of the traditional power-ups return in this game, such as the Super Mushroom (that allows you to grow when you’ve become small), the Super Star (which grants you greater speed and temporary invincibility), the Fire Flower (that allows you to shoot offensive fireballs at enemies), and the returning Super Leaf that gives access to the raccoon style Tanooki Mario, which first appeared in the landmark Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES. Making their first appearance in a home console version of Mario are the Mega Mushroom (which temporarily turns you into an invincible giant), the Boomerang Flower (that gives you a boomerang like the Boomerang Bros you often fight), and the Invincibility Leaf, which I’ll get into later.
Some of the biggest draws for this game, though, lie in new power-ups making their first appearance in this game. The Double Cherries allow you to duplicate yourself, controlling multiple copies of yourself all with the same control inputs, but the biggest, most fun, and cutest of the power-ups comes in the form of the “Super Bell.” When you manage to get a hold of one of these, you transform into a cat, with greater speed, better offensive capability, the ability to run up walls, as well as a really useful pounce attack. It also gives each playable hero a characteristic “meow,” that I’ve tried very hard not to smile at. I’ve failed every time.
The structure is pretty standard for a Mario game: there are 8 main worlds and four bonus worlds, all with about 8 stages each. You travel around an overhead game world to travel to each stage, although in this game you can actually freely run around the game map as opposed to being on one solid path throughout your inter-stage travels. This can lead you to find a few hidden surprises like extra lives, or bonus stages. The level design of the game is very good for two primary reasons: one, more often than not it can rely on you to reach a specific level of skill with the controls, and two, it starts off easy to give you a feel for everything before ramping up the difficulty level pretty considerably with each new world reached.
One of the often-made arguments made by Mario naysayers is that the games are obviously made for kids, which must mean that the design and controls are far too simplistic for “serious” gamers. I can’t help but laugh a lot (on the inside, of course) when I then see these same people unable to master such a “simplistic” game, repeatedly dying before they throw their hands up in frustration. True, Mario games are designed to reach people of all ages, but that hardly takes anything away from the level of thought and care that goes into each effort by some of the most renowned game designers in the entire world.
One element that can take away from this, though, is the inclusion of the “Invincibility Leaf,” which can turn Mario into “White Tanooki Mario.” This makes the player virtually invincible, removing much of the skill element if it is used. It’s easy enough to avoid, but if this game has any “dings” in it, it’s this. The caveat with the Invincibility Leaf, though, is that if used, you don’t score any points for the duration of the level. At least there’s that trade-off.
Super Mario 3D World supports multiplayer with up to four players, all allowing you to take the reins of a different character (Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad) to save the Sprixies. Each character has different attributes: Mario is the most well-rounded, Luigi has the highest jump but has the least amount of traction, Peach has a floating ability but runs at a lower speed, and Toad is the fastest runner but falls fast and jumps low. Multiplayer works surprisingly well, and is a marked improvement over the multiplayer effort of the New Super Mario Bros. series on the Wii and Wii U. It also adds an element of competitiveness as well, since the player who scores the highest at the end of a stage gets to wear a crown in the next level. You have to work together, though, because all the players draw from a single pool of extra lives.
Super Mario 3D World is a blast, pure and simple. If you have a Wii U, then I can’t help but join the chorus of other critics who say that this is a must-own game for the console. If you don’t have a Wii U but have been tempted to pick one up, then your reason for jumping on has arrived. The console is the only place to get great Nintendo games, and with promising entries in established series like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. coming in 2014 on top of this fantastic game, now would be the perfect time to get onboard with the system. Super Mario 3D World is the kind of video game experience that only Nintendo can provide, that is inclusive to gamers of all ages, presents a challenge, looks great, and plays greater.
It’s easily one of the absolute best video games of 2013, and could very well be at the top of the pile. Mario has done it again, and you’d definitely be doing yourself a favor if you grabbed a Super Bell, transformed into a cat, jumped into a warp pipe, and fought to save the Sprixies. It might just be the most bizarre fun you’ll have in a video game all year.
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