Review: Super Mario 3D World

It’s-a-me! Peach? 

When Nintendo introduced the next 3D Super Mario title for the Wii U, most were expecting Super Mario Galaxy 3 to neatly wrap up the enormously popular Galaxy saga.  Instead, the Japanese video game company opted to expand upon the foundation of Super Mario 3D Land, released for the 3DS in November of 2011. What do you get when you try to port a game idea from a handheld to a console?  A product that’s undeniably fun, but decidedly lacking in some very key areas.

Enter Super Mario 3D World.  Released in time for the 2013 holidays, 3D World was heavily praised by the media, receiving top marks from some of the most respected video game magazines.  And it isn’t that 3D World isn’t worthy of praise; it most certainly reflects Nintendo’s hard work, and it offers the most fun and expansive multiplayer Super Mario title yet, although that was a relatively easy crown to take.

Super Mario 3D World
Console: Wii U
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: November 22, 2013
MSRP: $59.99

For a change, Bowser did not kidnap Princess Peach.  In fact, Peach, as well as Mario, Luigi, and Toad, are all playable characters in 3D World.  Straying from the series’ usual plot, Bowser instead captures a fairy-like creature called a Sprixie, and disappears through a clear pipe.  The protagonists jump in after the seasoned villain, leaving the Mushroom Kingdom behind as they enter a new realm, and take on the mission of rescuing the various imprisoned Sprixies.

Super Mario 3D World adheres to the classic 8-world formula (although there are a couple bonus worlds).  The layout and path choice of each world is highly reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3, and the components are all there – power-up slot machines, multiple paths, mini bosses, and a concluding bowser face-off.  While the overworld map of levels is “playable” in the sense that the player can move about and select levels or travel to other worlds, it’s nowhere near as expansive as the Comet Observatory from the first two Galaxy games.

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Presentation is where the game begins to fall short of my expectations.  The graphics aren’t an issue; smooth, shiny, and overall appealing landscapes provide a welcome environment.  No complaints about the perfectly fine game mechanics either.  No, the most bothersome aspect of 3D World is the limited scope of camera angles.

By default, the camera typically observes Mario from a three-quarter birds-eye-view line of sight, and will only change if the player chooses to alter the angle himself.  But even then, the camera can only rotate 45 degrees in either direction, which starves the player from a more free 360 degree view.  Changing camera angles will help reveal “secrets” that might otherwise go unseen, but that is perhaps the only redeeming aspect of the limited camera scope.  Otherwise, as the player, I felt trapped, unable to catch a full view of my surroundings from different vantage points.  When playing the few Captain Toad levels throughout 3D World, I couldn’t help but wish that the same 360-degree camera mechanics had been applied to the whole game.

The reintroduction of the clock was another unwelcome element in 3D World.  I was often unable to immerse myself in the game because of the ticking clock, and felt less willing to fully explore levels for fear of time running out.  The clock was absent from both Galaxy games, and as a result the player has no reservations about fully exploring each level.  All in all, 3D World is ironically more reflective of a linear 2D Mario title.

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Nintendo made a wonderful decision to include a selection of playable characters.  Beyond the obvious physical differences between Mario, Luigi, Toad, Princess Peach, and an unlockable fifth playable character, each boasts his or her own strengths when it comes to speed, sprinting, and jumping.  What’s more, each character may be better suited than another in a given level, posing the player with strategic choices to make.

3D World is playable with the Wii U gamepad, the original Wii remote, the Wii Classic Controller, the Wii Remote with Nunchuck, and the Wii U Pro Controller, or, in other words, just about any modern Nintendo controller you may own.  It was a great move by Nintendo to support all of these different controllers; it’s easy to scrape up four random controllers for an impromptu multi-player game.  More players can join in at any point in the game or level, even at an advanced stage, to lend a hand.  The multi-player is one of 3D World’s most redeeming factors, barring some frustrating auto-warping scenarios.

“It’s the little things that make Super Mario 3D World an enjoyable game and not the ‘flop’ label it was in danger of receiving.”

It’s the little things that make Super Mario 3D World an enjoyable game and not the “flop” label it was in danger of receiving.  Suits and power-ups breathe new life and depth into levels that might otherwise have been overly simplistic and formulaic.  While each level can be completed by simply jumping onto the flagpole, players can opt to find three hidden stars and a special stamp–which will end up on an collection board and can be used to send messages in the Miiverse–to delve deeper into the game and replay levels for 100% completion.

Let’s go over some of the upgrades, shall we?  The Super Bell, a new item, transforms Mario into Cat Mario, granting him the ability to climb walls, attack enemies, and perform a strange but useful mid-air pounce maneuver.  The Super Leaf, which debuted in Super Mario Bros. 3 more than two decades ago, is back, and the resulting Tanooki Mario once again swishes his tail to break blocks, attack, and flutter to safety from heights.  The Fire Flower, introduced in the original 1985 Super Mario Bros., is of course still a part of the game, and allows Mario to toss (goodness gracious) great balls of fire.

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Collect the boomerang flower, first seen in Super Mario 3D Land, to take on a hammer bros-esque appearance and wield a deadly boomerang.  Other upgrades include the Mega Mushroom, which inflates Mario to a mammoth version of himself, the Super Star, which still grants Mario immunity and omnipotence, and the Double Cherry, a new item that clones Mario and lets the player control multiple versions of the character.  The result is confusing, and controlling the clones is unwieldy at best, but the Double Cherry is ultimately one of the more interesting items in the game, and while keeping Mario’s clones in one piece is no easy task, it’s a feat necessary to find stamps and green stars in some levels.

Score: 6.5/10 – Review Scale

Expect Super Mario Galaxy 3 and you’re going to be disappointed by 3D World’s lack of attention to detail. In the end, it’s the unmet expectations coupled with a somewhat captive playing experience that brings 3D World just short of being a full-fledged Super Mario console title.  Mario fans were willing to put up with the New Super Mario Bros. titles because they knew that a more vast and explorable World or Galaxy installment would be coming soon, but 3D World misses the mark on filling those shoes.  Instead, 3D World provides a curtailed albeit fun playing experience best enjoyed by a group of friends.

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