Wii U review: Super Mario 3D World

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Mario’s newest adventure thwomps its predecessors

Super Bell Hill introduces players to Mario’s new world of cat suits, clear pipes, cat goombas, and bell trees. It’s the happy sort of playground that kicks off any respectable 3D platformer, with plenty of secrets and setpieces to toy around with. It’s absolutely beautiful as well, grass swaying in the wind, depth blur obscuring far-off areas. And it’s explorable solo or with three friends, each player selecting a different character from the classic lineup of Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad. They each have differing abilities taken from Super Mario Bros. 2, and each character is selectable even in single player.

You’d expect this first level to be the best. Nintendo always pours their heart and soul into each new game’s beginning, crafting wonderfully eclectic playgrounds to hop and stomp and climb upon. But Super Bell Hill simply stands strong beside the game’s other areas, each stage in Super Mario 3D World so brilliantly exploring its own playful focus.

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Take Double Cherry Pass, a pink and teal mountainside whose eponymous double cherry clones player characters, allowing them to control three or four or five avatars at once as they stomp groups of enemies. Or try Mount Must Dash, a Super Mario Kart theme level wherein players footrace down a mountainside, dashing along zip pads and jumping over pits and sliding down slides as they make their descent. Or enjoy Sunshine Seaside, an openly explorable beach where players hunt down keys, destroy Bowser and goomba sand sculptures, and find a gold shell that rewards them with the ding ding ding of coins while they plow through enemies.

The diversity is staggering, but each level has commonalities as well. Green stars replace the old star coins, three in each stage. They’re more versatile, often requiring players to complete mini objectives to get them to appear: defeating a room full of enemies, collecting a timed group of coins, or catching a flighty pink rabbit. Each level also contains a hidden stamp that allows players to add pictorial flair to their Miiverse posts. A user-created newsfeed of posts scrolls by at the end of each level, an honestly infectious exhibit of goofy commentary and groanworthy stamp edits.

3D World captures all of Mario Galaxy’s most stellar qualities, rich in scope and packed completely full of ideas. But everything’s rooted in the same foundation that made Mario 3D Land feel like the first honest-and-true successor to the main 2D Mario series. Movement is brisk and responsive, with a run button that allows for instant action. Levels are designed closely around precision platforming rather than meandering exploration. Most powerups stick with players from level to level, rather than being tied to specific setpieces.

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Of these powerups, the cat suit has become the defining aspect of 3D World. Unlike the classic tanooki leaf or cape feather, the cat suit widens players’ offensive and exploratory options without completely breaking level design. The leaf and feather are just too damned powerful; they too freely let players fly over broad swathes of their respective games. Cat-suited characters can climb walls only so high before digging in their claws and raking their way down. It feels much less abusable, much more considered, and yet it opens levels up in precisely the same way.

There’s also just something innately appealing about the suit’s design. Not the cat suit itself, which looks charmingly goofy at best, but the mannerisms characters display while wearing it. They walk on twinkletoes before bursting into a loping run, scramble excitedly up walls, and wriggle expectantly when crouching, as if waiting to pounce. There’s a certain charm on display that’s delightfully Nintendo.

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What feels delightfully un-Nintendo is 3D World’s handling of Princess Peach, given that her role in the last 10 years has been constrained to screaming “Mar-i-ooooo” from high towers and in the most obnoxious voice possible. She’s damned awesome in 3D World, running and jumping with all the bravado of the other characters and showing them up with her signature hover move. I didn’t think she could ever be cool again but she honestly is, fire Peach tying her hair in a sporty ponytail, tanooki Peach just looking boss as all hell. For the first time in a long time, Peach has real spirit and actual substance.

It’s a shame then that she’s been gimped with a slower run speed, making her a chore in multiplayer. Other players sprint ahead to plunder every coin block, nabbing first dibs on everything. She’s invaluable for certain sections and great for single player overall, but that one factor relegates her to second-tier status. That sucks, because she’s easily my favorite character otherwise.

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If 3D World has one big misstep though, it’s the world map. 3D World’s map purports to be a facsimile of the stages, offering players a small area to run around in, collecting coins and breaking blocks between levels. I would love for it to feel like a miniature level in itself, but each area is flat and lifeless, and the actual stages don’t fit in with the world themes at all. I understand that Nintendo wanted to keep the level designs as varied as possible, but it’s just strange entering a sunny grassland from an ice-themed world. In addition, players are herded along the main path rather than given any freedom to explore shortcuts, a lame holdover from the Galaxy games and 3D Land.

In the grand scheme of things, these are only the differences between an incredible game and a perfect one. 3D World doesn’t just have the best levels of any Mario game — or any platformer in general, honestly — it also has a staggering amount of them. Long after you’d expect 3D World to be over,  the game just keeps doling out fantastic stages filled with awesome powerups. Cat suits and tanooki leaves, goomba hats and goomba skates, fire flowers and double cherries all make their appearances, and the list goes on. 3D World seems clearly determined to prove that it’s the greatest Mario game of all time, and I’d have a very hard time arguing otherwise.

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3D World truly is the 3D Mario I’ve been waiting for, with tight platforming, incredible level design, and a mind-blowing number of ideas spread throughout its myriad stages. The ability to dash through the game with three other players makes it that much sweeter, the game’s social features make it that much more charming, and it being among the most gorgeous games I’ve ever played certainly doesn’t hurt its appeal any. Super Mario 3D World is a true classic, enjoyable in equal amounts to fans of the 2D and 3D Mario games. Play it meow.

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6 Responses to “Wii U review: Super Mario 3D World”

  1. Strawberry Says:

    This is probably a dumb question, but what is the difference between a platformer and an RPG?

    • catstronaut Says:

      Not a dumb question — the definition of what constitutes an RPG has grown so muddied over time that it’s almost impossible to provide a working definition without including all manner of other genres as well.

      Generally a Japanese RPG is something like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or Chrono Trigger, while a Western RPG is something like Fallout, Dragon Age, or Mass Effect.

      They’re heavily story/text/dialogue based and usually have turn-based combat, but imo their most important feature is that they’re based on stat-based progression. Your characters start out weak, but as they defeat enemies they level up, which increases their strength, hit points, etc.

      A platformer works more like Mario, Kirby, Rayman, Super Meat Boy, or Donkey Kong. They’re very action-packed, typically involving precise jumps and quick movement. They’re called platformers because you usually hope from platform to platform.

      Just think about the games I listed, and hopefully you’ll begin to be able to tell things apart. They’re malleable genres, so you’ll have to watch out for games that have a lot of the same characteristics but fall more neatly within another genre, such as Call of Duty. That has a progression-based leveling system, but it’s very clearly more of a shooter than it is an RPG, because the emphasis is on the action. On the other hand, Fallout New Vegas is an RPG because it’s more firmly rooted in dialogue and story.

      Hope that helped a little bit, at least. Thanks for commenting!

      • Strawberry Says:

        Ohhhhhhhh, that makes sense. Thank you for explaining that to me. Until I read your post I thought platformers were games where you picked which boss you do instead of following a storyline, like in Megaman. Then you said Mario was a platformer, so I was just like “WHAT?”. Thanks again!
        And thank you for posting such great reviews!

      • catstronaut Says:

        No problem! Main series Megaman games are platformers, just not for the reason you listed.The Megaman Battle Network games are RPGs, though. It’s a big series, so there’s bound to be crossover into other genres.

  2. Strawberry Says:

    Yeah. I was already aware that Megaman Battle Network was an RPG, I’m doing a gaming journal of that game on my blog. Thanks for telling me anyway! I heard that Megaman Starforce is also an RPG, so I guess Capcom decided they wanted to try that type of game for that branch of the series.

  3. Surprise! The Wii U is fantastic. | Catstronaut Loves Games Says:

    […] Wii U’s library has had time to grow since then, with Super Mario 3D World, Wind Waker HD, and Pikmin 3 sitting alongside strong second and third-party titles like Rayman […]

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