Mario is back in a game that celebrates all (well, most) things Mario, using familiar and fresh elements to create a superb platforming experience. (A mostly spoiler free, MONSTER sized review)
3D Mario games have taken quite a journey since Super Mario 64. Looking at all of the 3D Mario games, from 64, to Sunshine, to Galaxy (and Galaxy 2), to 3D Land, it is easy to see how Nintendo has strayed more and more from the "playground" blueprints that Super Mario 64 created. Even after the exceptional Super Mario Galaxy (and its sequel), it wasn't until Super Mario 3D Land where Nintendo finally went "back to basics," so to speak, with its flagship franchise. Nintendo had finally created a 3D Mario game that combined the three dimensional gameplay of Super Mario 64 with the tight, linear, "point A to point B" nature of the original games. Once again, players were nabbing Fire Flowers and Tanooki Suits, bashing blocks and climbing up flagpoles. With Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo has taken what they started with Super Mario 3D Land and made it even bigger and grander.
The question then arises....is that enough? And the answer is....well absolutely it is.
Let's set the stage with what the game is all about. Mario's arch-nemesis, Bowser, is once again up to no good, but this time, he has NOT kidnapped Princess Peach. Instead, he has captured the various princesses of the Sprixie Kingdom, a nearby land. Mario (along with Peach, Luigi, and Toad) follows Bowser to the Sprixie Kingdom, in an attempt to free them from Bowser's clutches.
That's right, this time, players cannot only play as Mario, but also as Peach, Luigi, and Toad. Each player has their own set of abilities, which will be familiar to any veteran Mario gamer. Luigi can jump high, but is a little slippery, Peach can float briefly, and Toad can run quickly. Mario remains the "all around" character who does just about everything pretty well. I personally found myself sticking with Mario throughout the bulk of the game, using Peach when faced with some more difficult platforming sections.
Players will guide these four characters through dozens of colorful and creative stages. You start at the beginning, and work your way to a flagpole at the end. Sound simple? It is!
What isn't quite so simple, however, is the game's incredibly fine-tuned level design. Almost every level in the game will treat players to something new, or put a fun spin on an old idea. And since every level is relatively short, the game does a wonderful job of making you want more. I can't say how many times I thought to myself "Just one more level." Then, "just one level" would turn into "just another hour and a half." Nintendo's Tokyo team is incredibly good at designing levels that are creative and fun, but never overstay their welcome. They make it look so easy, yet one cannot ignore the level of care that has gone into every single level. I'm sure that designing a game such as this SEEMS simple, but the little nuances in the level design shows that Nintendo is truly a master at what they do.
What makes the level design even more enjoyable is the inclusion of the game's new power-up, the Cat Suit. With the Cat Suit, Mario can scratch and dive at enemies, as well as climb up walls. It sounds like fun, sure, but what really makes it fun is the fact that the entire game is built around the new ability. Secrets are cleverly hidden atop walls and behind breakable blocks. The Cat Suit is equal parts adorable and functional. It does what every great Mario powerup should do: It makes you feel like you're "missing" something when you don't have it, and it makes you feel POWERFUL when you do get it.
Levels are also cleverly built around other powerups in the game, from the Fire Flower (some areas might be littered with enemies) to the new Double Cherry, which allows Mario to multiply. The Double Cherry, in particular, is loads of fun, partially due to its ability to stack with other powerups. If you have a Fire Flower and get a Double Cherry, you then control two Fire Marios. You can control up to 5 Marios at a time, which is equal parts hectic and exciting. Try to keep them all intact, as levels will often reward you for wrangling them towards the end of a level! It can be very rewarding to control all of the different characters at once. It's like the Mario version of the "extra ball" in a pinball game.
Players can enjoy Super Mario 3D World either by themselves or with up to three other players. Since I played through the game solo, I cannot comment on the game's multiplayer implementation. I can, however, say that the game includes a variety of control methods (including the Wii U Gamepad, Wii Remote, Wii Remote and Nunchuck, Pro Controller, and Wii Classic Controllers), so the option for multiplayer may be more doable than you think. If it means anything, I was not terribly interested in the feature, and its inclusion didn't necessarily detract from my experience. The game is still excellent when playing as a single player experience.
So, the Cat Suit is great. The levels are fun, beautiful, and addicting. Multiplayer could be a plus for those who like the feature. The music is stellar, and picks up right where Super Mario Galaxy 2 left off. What else is there? Miiverse is a fun little addition, and also allows players to use pre-made stamps to create their own scenes. You can turn off this feature if you want. I must confess that I delved into the Miiverse when trying to find some of the game's trickier Green Stars (every stage has three tucked away).
Off-TV play is also supported, so if you don't feel like firing up the TV, the Gamepad makes for a worthy and convenient substitute. Like all Off-TV games, however, be prepared to lose that sharp, crisp, HD image, which IMO is one of 3D World's biggest selling points.
The game also features three types of levels: Standard "reach the flagpole" obstacle courses, Captain Toad stages, and Mystery House stages. In the Captain Toad stages, players must guide Captain Toad (originally from Super Mario Galaxy) through isometric 3D obstacle courses reminiscent of bonus areas in Super Mario 3D Land. The twist is that Captain Toad cannot jump, so the player must think of different ways to move Captain Toad around. In the Mystery House levels, Mario and crew have only a limited time to perform various quick tasks to gain Green Stars. It sounds simple but they get very difficult towards the end of the game.
Guide Captain Toad through isometric 3D levels found throughout the game.
Speaking of which, it must also be mentioned that collecting Green Stars, as well as Miiverse Stamps and landing at the top of each stage's flagpole, are all required to see all of the game's content. I still haven't beaten the game's final level, but I can assure you that it is one of the most difficult courses in Mario history (and this is coming from your Negative World Super Mario Bros. Speedrun 2013 champion, cough cough).
Other fun little additions include various "hidden Luigis" in the most unlikely of spots. You may see him pop out of blocks or tucked into the environment, but there are dozens to find. They don't do anything functional, but they're a nice little extra that shows Nintendo's attention to detail. There are also some fun stages throughout the game that are truly memorable, including one based on a very familiar franchise. Nintendo spoiled it in a Nintendo Direct, so I will not be mentioning it here just in case anyone has been avoiding media regarding the game.
What isn't to like? (Get ready for a bunch of nitpicky complaints about a great game) Admittedly, I think the game's first worlds start off a little slow (but if you think about it, this could be someone's first Mario game - each game tends to start out a little slow before you get to "the good stuff").
The Sprixie Kingdom is different from the Mushroom Kingdom in name only. I was a tad disappointed that Nintendo didn't take the opportunity of a new location for some more visuals and motifs separate from the Mushroom Kingdom. The only thing that really separates the two kingdoms is the use of clear pipes, which only really factor into a handful of levels. Fans hoping for more of an homage to Super Mario Bros. 2 will be setting themselves up for a disappointment. Perhaps this is a small complaint but I just thought I'd mention it.
I wanted to shy away from spoilers, but I couldn't help but also mention that the boss fights in this game aren't the greatest. There are a couple of really fun boss fights that require you to use Mario's abilities in fun ways, but on the whole, the boss roster isn't very memorable. Even the game's Bowser battles, often a high point for Mario games, seem very out of place, and not very exciting at all (save for the game's final battle, which is quite exhilarating). Once again in a Mario game, I find myself wishing that the final boss fight in the game was the FIRST boss fight, and that the bosses got more creative and exciting from there.
I must also unfortunately mention that I am not a fan of how this game controls. Don't get me wrong - I love how Mario and his friends feel. I love how much momentum they seem to have. I even went back to play Super Mario Galaxy recently, and didn't realize how stiff he felt in that game. He feels great here. My gripe with the game comes with the fact that, like in Super Mario 3D Land, the player must hold a run button to make Mario sprint. This makes sense to me if I'm playing with a Wii Remote, but not when I'm playing with an analog stick. All it seemed to do was make the game arbitrarily require more coordination, especially for players who are new to Mario games. I didn't even feel like the game encouraged you to run all that much until a little bit into the adventure, where, if you haven't mastered the run button, you're screwed. So, if you're new to Mario, keep this in mind. You're going to want to hold that Y button if you want any success in this game.
Players may also notice that Mario doesn't exactly have 360 degrees of movement, even with the analog stick. It's not 8-directional movement, but it isn't fully analog. Personally, this is something I didn't even notice until completing the game, but if you ever wonder why things feel slightly different than in previous 3D Mario games, this could be why. I believe that Mario doesn't have full analog movement for one simple reason - since the Wii U analog sticks do not have ridges on them (like on the Gamecube and other Nintendo platforms), Nintendo wanted to make sure that the player never mistakenly runs at a slight angle. This prevents the player from, say, jumping off the side of the stage by accident.
I also didn't find the swimming levels very entertaining. There are some very, very cool concepts in them, but I found them just a little disorienting. For example, when Mario is swimming, it can be tough to place him in the 3D space. Is he close to the camera? Far away? Usually, the player would be able to quickly gauge this using Mario's shadow, but it can be difficult underwater. On the plus side, Mario and crew will have a cute little face animation when underwater - they puff out their cheeks to indicate they are holding their breath! What a nice little detail.
Again, without spoiling TOO much, I do think that a certain unlockable was a bit of a wasted opportunity. It's a little disappointing that Yoshi has absolutely no presence in this game whatsoever (although of course, he's a unique character that requires the utmost care).
One last complaint, at least for me, comes from the fact that there are a couple of levels that require the player to use the Gamepad's touch screen. I didn't find it intuitive at all, and kind of dreaded any time I had to do it. I appreciate the effort to make the game more creative, but I think it's an experiment that was better left on the cutting room floor.
However, despite any of these complaints, I can't help but give Super Mario 3D World my highest recommendation. If you seek out all the game's Green Stars and stamps, you have potentially dozens of hours’ worth of gameplay ahead of you. You'll be addicted from the very beginning, and won't be able to put the Gamepad down (especially towards the end of the adventure). The game is absolutely gorgeous, and the only downside in its visuals that I can see is that I almost wish the camera was a little zoomed in more - the characters and environments look fantastic up close. The music is the best the series has seen since Super Mario Galaxy 2. This game is just fun from top to bottom, and is an absolute must-have for any Wii U owner. And for those on the fence, this should be the very first game you pick up once you make your console purchase. It's one of the best games in 2013, and another spectacular Super Mario game.
too long;didn't read version: This game is great. It's pretty and sounds awesome. The levels are incredibly well designed. The run button feels weird. Bosses aren't the greatest.
I really don't mind the run button, but as we spoke in chat, something about the analog controls seems off... like you have less freedom of movement than in past games. This may be because there are a lot of platforming parts that essentially require straight line movement, which would be tough if the analog stick picked up every little nudge, but still... feels weird to me.
Nice review Mr. Pogue! I couldn't agree more that Nintendo are the masters of great level design that keeps the player wanting to come back for more, making it very hard to put the controller down to go do anything else. The power-ups are indeed masterfully incorporated into all facets of the level design.
Glad you mentioned the three types of levels: Standard "reach the flagpole" obstacle courses, Captain Toad stages, and Mystery House stages. I love how Nintendo threw these other kinds of stages into the game, which I wasn't expecting. The Captain Toad stages are pretty clever, and I would actually like to see more of them.
As for what you didn't like about the game (small nitpicks, like you said), yeah… I do think the bosses could have been better, for sure. Other than that, I don't think I had any issues whatsoever with anything else, including the controls. I actually thought the GamePad levels were handled well, consisting of some mechanics like touching certain platforms or blowing certain elements around. Plus, there aren't too many levels like that anyway.
All in all, glad that you still give the game the highest recommendation despite the nitpicks! Personally, this game is a 10 in my book.
@kriswright Agreed. A bit too easy for my tastes, but a fine design in all sorts of ways. Also holy crap that music. The whole soundtrack is incredibly spectacularly awesome. I reached the Bowser World a while ago, and got stuck on the map screen for a few minutes, just nodding my head to the music.
Solid review, I agree with a lot of it, great design, fun powerups, good music, etc. I was also disappointed that the Sprixie Kingdom is pretty much still the Mushroom Kingdom, this was their chance to try some new locales. I think most of the bosses actually have good concepts, they're just too easy by being slow and/or defeated quickly. Even after completing the game 100%, I still don't like the control or feel comfortable with it. Especially the water movement, it just feels so weird. The GamePad use was forced as expected, but it didn't detract anything for me. Totes agree about Yoshi, his absence actually seems odd to me considering how many recent Mario games have had him.
I also think it's worth noting that, for better or worse, this game is truly a mishmash of most things Mario. They have a nod to Mario 2 in one spot, enemies from all the games, the death music from Mario 3, the flagpole from Mario 1, power ups from various Mario games, etc. the one thing in this game that truly feels unique from the other Mario games is the catsuit, but outside of that, this game doesn't necessarily feel like it has it's own identity. It hasn't really been since Mario Galaxy or even Mario Sunshine where things have been pretty idiosyncratic. I look forward to a possible future Mario game that feels like it's doing its own thing a little more, rather than being more of a "Mario history celebration" game, which is what basically every Mario game has been in the last few years.
Excellent review! I can't wait to play this game! It's sitting on my shelf right now, waiting for my Wii U to come back from repair. I'm really psyched for all the spoilery stuff I saw on the Nintendo Direct, which I won't mention here.
I beat the game recently and loved it. I do agree with your complaints, thought. And what's with Mario's swimming animation? I don't like how it just looks like he's wading through a shallow pool rather than actually swimming.
How much of the consumer database do YOU think was thinking they were getting and/or hoping for a Super Mario Bros. 2 style game? I know I certainly was (put me down for "1"); do you think we'll see Sub-Con revisited -- on the Wii U -- this generation? Furthermore, do you think we'll see ANOTHER Mario game in this style on the Wii U?
I guess you answer might have something to do with "do I really think Wii U is doomed?" also, but yeah.
And I skipped over the review comments to avoid possible spoilers (I think I had the unlockable spoiled for me before, but I never confirmed -- and I won't!), but have you gotten a chance to go Multiplayer with this thing yet? I've ONLY played with Nikki by my side, so the "hold to run PLUS analog" don't even register for me (we're both using sideways remotes). That might feel a little goofy though, good point.
I've only played with Amanda, who was a child of the N64, so the concept of a run button is still kind of foreign to her. We're both left just thinking "We have an analog stick...why not just use that?" The Wiimote does feel really weird in this game IMO. It's just not ideal to have a D-Pad when you're running around a 3D environment. Nintendo was the one that pioneered that idea in the first place. I think this is largely attributed to the hardware though. People have Wiimotes laying around, so of course they should be a control option. If you have a Pro controller or Classic Controller, they're definitely the way to go.
I still do firmly believe though, that all of these games, from NSMB Wii to 3D World, suffer from their multiplayer. I don't think the pros of multiplayer outweigh the pros of having a world fully designed around a single player (whether we're talking about exploration or camera angles or whatever). It's a nice option to have, but I still prefer to have a game built around one person, and not having to compensate for other players.
The Mario 2 thing is just a minor personal thing on my part. I personally think it was a missed opportunity. Mario 2 was just so quirky and weird and fun. Obviously that is due in part to the game starting out with a different set of characters, but still...If we're in a new world, why not try to make that world more unique? The Sprixie Kingdom is really only different from the Mushroom Kingdom in name only. Okay, well it has clear pipes. That's about it though.
I agree the SMB2 was a huge cock tease that ended up with no real payoff. Not sure what that was about.
The run button works just fine and probably pretty essential considering the kind of platforming this game has.
Game continues to deliver and only get better each damn time I play.
What a classic gem I will never ever grow tired of just like the older Mario games. The Galaxy games were fantastic but were somehow missing the simple (not dumbed down) pick up and play gameplay the series should have always retained.
It amazes me with how a few spare mins I can play a few levels and have a blast doing it. I could never say the same about any other 3D Mario.
This is just Mario boiled down to its very essence. Feels like this is the Mario game we really should have gotten after SMW. Mario 64 and the others were completely different beasts, which were of course good in their own ways. But classic Mario they were not.
Think of it as an RE4 style comparison to me. Great game, not so great entry to the series (maintaining consistency and such that is).
I just got all 380 stars in this game with all Goal Posts turned golden and all the stamps I can get up to this point. Now I just need to finish the entire game again with every other character to get the remaining stamps.
This game is absolutely incredible! The more I play it, the more I love it. That last World, which only has 3 stages, is something else. Captain Toad's Last Level is pretty difficult. But those other two levels were just pure insanity! When I started doing the Mystery House, I couldn't believe that I had to do all 30 stars in one sitting. I thought it was impossible. That is, until muscle memory started kicking in after doing it a few times. It was then that I was able to enter "Zen Mode." And each time I got a new star, I was able to just get better at everything I had done before, until I was able to get all 30 stars in one sitting. It was quite an accomplishment!
I thought that after doing that Mystery House, then, Champion's Road would be a cinch. Boy was I wrong! That level is pure evil! I knew I was going to have trouble as soon as I saw the football guys. I died so many times it's not even funny. When I reached the part with the wall climb, I just couldn't understand how to get up there. Took me a few tries to realize what to do. And then, there's the lava run. That was awful. After I passed it, I was happy to find out that the rest is just fluff. I reached the flag with regular Mario but I didn't reach the top. Pissed me off so hard. I decided to give it a rest for a while but, my gamer pride didn't let me rest for long. It took me a few more tries but, I was finally able to get that last Gold Flag. And now I feel accomplished.