Nintendo EAD Tokyo had a pretty tough task on their hands- Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 on the Wii are widely acknowledged to be among the greatest games ever made, and the greatest platformers of all time bar none. Their follow up for the Wii U had to at least equal the Mario Galaxy games in terms of level creativity, mechanical depth, and ambition and scope.
So when they revealed Super Mario 3D World last E3, a game that looked like a glorified port of the 3DS’s admittedly excellent Super Mario 3D Land, people were furious. A flagship 3D Mario game is supposed to be a showcase for the system it is on! 3D World seemed like it was a quick, NSMB-style cash grab to prop up failing Wii U sales.
As time went by, and we saw more and more of the game, we understood that maybe we’d judged the game too soon. Mario 3D World looked wonderful, brimming with new ideas, bursting with creativity and new mechanics. It looked like platforming goodness. Yes, it did lack the ambition of a Galaxy game, but it looked pretty fun regardless. And now, the game has released, and everyone has had a chance to have a go at it. And if there is one thing that it teaches us, above anything else, it is to never doubt EAD Tokyo. Ever.
The first thing you will notice when you start playing Super Mario 3D World is how gorgeous it looks. The Wii U’s relative lack of power compared to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 has been well documented, but you wouldn’t know it upon playing 3D World. Nintendo has always had an innately incredible sense of artstyle, and now, with their move to HD, said artstyle gets to shine. Mario 3D World looks stunning in motion. In technical terms, it’s a bit simple (although the draw distances and lighting are top class), but the sheer colors and character models all pop out, making the game stand out. It’s like years of suppressed HD goodness from Nintendo all comes tumbling out, as Super Mario 3D World might be the best looking game Nintendo has ever created. It is also the first example from the company to hit retail that the Wii U might not be as vastly outpowered (at least functionally) by the other two consoles as raw numbers would have you believe.
The great graphics are accompanied by a nice, upbeat, jazzy soundtrack. The music in Mario games has always been great, and 3D World continues that tradition, with remixes of great old classics, and new tunes that will add to the pantheon, and stick with you for ages after you are done with the game.
The best music and graphics in the world could not save a Mario game if it did not play well, and 3D World does not disappoint- it has everything from the previous Mario games that was great, and then it throws in ideas of its own. The game is swelling at the seams with new ideas and boundless creativity. Every new level introduces a new mechanic, a mechanic compelling enough to craft an entire game around, and then proceeds to discard it, and never use it again. You don’t even miss the mechanic either, because there’s always something new, something more exciting, than what you just got.
The amazing thing is how well the game itself is designed around all these plethora of mechanics- the controls are incredibly tight and responsive, as finely tuned as in a 2D platformer, the sense of control and momentum with each character just feels perfect and tangible. The controls themselves are backed up by some great level design, possibly the finest the series has ever seen outside of Super Mario Galaxy 2. The first few worlds are admittedly simple and straightforward, but just as you begin to get complacent, the game tips the boat, and starts throwing increasingly wilder and more inventive level designs at you. By the end, the level design will be mind blowingly incredible, and will constantly keep you on edge (literally), with only your mastery of the game’s equally great controls getting you through.
But reaching the end in itself will take a while- Mario 3D World is a game that will probably last you a fair bit. In terms of game length, it’s anywhere from 16-20 hours long, but the catch comes with the game’s multiplayer mode, which harkens to the co-op mayhem introduced in the New Super Mario Bros. series, while also functioning as a throwback to Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES. This makes it the first 3D Mario game to have this feature, and the results are glorious. While there are a fair few levels that feel like they were designed and balanced primarily for single player, most of the times, the game just becomes an outrageous, out and out free for all. The chaos and mayhem of New Super Mario Bros is here, present, but compounded and multiplied, because now, within a full 3D space, so much more is possible.
It’s the kind of mode that’ll have you returning to the game over and over again, even after you are done with it, having conquered everything you possibly could in its already meaty single player. When people are over, you’ll bust Mario 3D World out, and watch as the chaos ensues. A lot of the game’s finesse and finely tuned balance are often lost in the brute force anarchy of the multiplayer, but it doesn’t seem to matter, simply because of how fun it is.
And if you don’t care for it, then you’re all set anyway- Mario 3D World is designed first and foremost as a single player game, and as that, it is every bit as compelling and as epic as the Galaxy games. It may lack their immediate ambition, and perhaps their scope, but its creativity transcends anything that the Mario series has done yet. When Nintendo released Super Mario Galaxy 2, people wondered where they would go next- what could Mario conquer after having conquered the cosmos?
For years, people speculated about the existence of a Super Mario Universe, one that would realize the promise of Galaxy on an even broader scale. Mario 3D World is just the opposite of that. After his inter galactic adventures, Mario lands back to this world. The landing and grounding was perhaps necessary, as, freed from any external conceit, it let the developers focus on what is, more than anything else, important in a Mario game. Where Nintendo’s mascot goes from here is anybody’s guess. All we know is, it’ll be completely unexpected, and the very essence of fun.
This game was reviewed on Wii U.