Super Mario 3D World is the game that the Wii U needed at launch.
Nintendo Land was a cool concept to show off the Wii U GamePad’s unique features, yet it wasn’t a full-fledged game as much as a collection of tech demos. Pikmin 3 was a fun distraction; it’s just not a system seller. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker still looks amazing, but it’s a port of a GameCube game.
That leaves us with Super Mario 3D World, an homage to the Mario franchise that Nintendo desperately hoped would shift some Wii U consoles at retail. Spoiler alert: It didn’t. The good news for Nintendo is that Super Mario 3D World – like a bunch of Wii U games – makes for a good Switch port.
Paying respect to Mario’s legacy
Super Mario 3D World is all about fan service. It has an overworld map like Super Mario Bros. 3 but it is three-dimensional instead. There is a time limit just like retro Mario games. There are plenty of opportunities for finding hidden nooks and crannies, coin and item boxes, and other goodies throughout the game. There’s even an old-school Mario Kart level.
The levels are small but feel more manageable when you have a lot of people playing at once. Four players can play at the same time; they can join in on the action at any point. Occasionally, players get in each others’ way, bouncing on a friend’s head or accidentally picking them up. There was a similar in New Super Mario Bros. These annoyances are real and can be frustrating, but it’s still a good option to have co-op.
Most levels have three green stars to collect and a sticker. The green stars are used to unlock certain new levels; other levels are simply unlocked in a linear fashion. While the game keeps a score whether you are playing alone or with friends, it only really matters if you are playing competitively. In this sense, collecting sought-after items like stars and stickers gives a hefty point bonus. Landing at the top of the flag pole at the end of each level also rewards players with extra points.
There are a few non-platforming levels where the number of stars can either be one or more than three, as well as bonus areas. These levels include an arena-like area for melee with certain enemy types; a Toad three-dimensional puzzle area where you have to collect stars while avoiding hazards, manipulating the camera to find the best path; and bonus levels such as the Toad house and a casino.
There are four playable characters: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad. Each of them have a unique feel to them. Mario runs with his signature upbeat attitude and is a good all-around character; Luigi has a walk that seems like you are gliding; Peach gingerly moves around levels and can float with her dress; Toad is fast and abnormally small.
As is the case with most Super Mario games, power-ups are a highlight in Super Mario 3D World. One of the more interesting power-ups is the double cherry. Essentially, it creates a clone of the character you are playing. They don’t just limit it to two, either. If you find other cherries, you add a second or even a third clone. Each of the clones moves in the same direction so you have to use the environment (walls, dividers, etc.) to get them going down a separate path to reach buttons, boxes, and the like. The clones even have the same power-ups such as the fireball suit or the cat suit, if you have them active.
Speaking of the cat suit, it is one of the better power-ups in any Mario game. Forget about Raccoon Mario. The cat suit allows any of your characters to scratch enemies, climb walls vertically, and meow. Believe it or not, scratching is much more effective than the other methods of taking out enemies since it doesn’t leave you open to attack. It’s also adorable.
The power-ups not only add variety but make it easier to attack enemies and explore the world. Some areas cannot even be reached without specific power-ups. Other suits are needed to take out enemies protected with armor or spikes. To that extent, the power-ups are not only a tool for exploration but also easing the difficulty.
Super Mario 3D World starts off as a breeze. Nintendo did a fantastic job easing gamers into the experience without the need for a tutorial. The learning curve is slow but steady. Ironically, the difficulty increases as you start adding more people since you tend to get in the way of each other.
In terms of visuals, Super Mario 3D World pops to life in a way that past Mario games had not done before. Simply put, the graphics look amazing for their time. The characters and levels have vivid detail and colors. The environments are rife with little creatures from birds and fish to Goombas. It begs the question: why did it take so long for Nintendo to release an HD console?
As I’ve argued since the Wii U’s launch, the GamePad is basically a waste of plastic and an LCD screen. The GamePad has minimal usefulness in Super Mario 3D World. In fact, you can play the game just fine with the much more low-key Wii Remote without even needing a nunchuck.
The few times that the GamePad’s features are utilized are for tacked-on gimmicks. One level has you use the touch-screen to move out blocks to create a pathway. Another level has you blow into the microphone to move a wind-powered platform. Lame!
Super Mario 3D World is easily the best Mario game that you’ll play on the Wii U. After Super Mario Galaxy, Mario games have felt uninspired, retreading old ground, particularly the New Super Mario Bros. franchise. Super Mario 3D World doesn’t break new ground as much as it does bring the franchise full circle. It’s a compilation of everything that we’ve loved about Mario since the 1980s. In that sense it is both nostalgic and new, combining the best of old-school 2D Mario with modern 3D.
Mario remains the pioneer for platformers for over thirty years running. Whether you play Super Mario 3D World alone or with three other friends, it is a blast. It serves fans in a way that you can only expect from a Nintendo title. While it may not utilize the GamePad particularly well, it does a fantastic job showing off the Wii U’s graphical horsepower. If only it was a launch title!