I love Mario games. A big part of the appeal in recent years has been that Nintendo manages to continuously call back to the roots of this endearing franchise, while also adding new and interesting elements. New Super Mario Bros. for the DS brought in the giant mushroom. New Super Mario Bros. Wii added propeller and penguin suits, along with an occasionally-frantic multiplayer mode. New Super Mario Bros. Wii U added innovative gamepad use and even more powers. New Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U takes the best of all of this, adds even more, and wraps it in a wonderfully crafted new package.
The game opens with a scene of our cast of characters — Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad — coming across a mysterious clear pipe on their way to some grand celebration at the Mushroom Kingdom’s palace. A fairy emerges in distress, telling a tale through pictograms and sing-song sounds of others like herself trapped by some adversary. Bowser rises up, squeezing himself through the pipe, shoving the small storyteller into a jar before disappearing back down. Our heroes give chase and begin their grand adventure into lands unknown.
The basic gameplay is familiar from the get-go to anyone who’s played a Mario game in the past, and the controls are pretty easy to get the hang of right from the beginning; the game can be played with the Wii U gamepad, Wii remote, Classic Controller Pro, or a few others, though I stuck to the gamepad for my journey. Right from the start, we’re introduced to one of the game’s new power-up items – the Cat Bell. This great new addition gives the Mario crew a short-range claw attack, jumping dive attack, and wall-climbing ability. It’s easily the best new addition to the roster, being the most versatile and useful in many situations. In addition to running, jumping, and climbing, the gamepad gives some control of the camera, as well as touch and microphone-blowing borrowed from earlier DS titles. Secret boxes and coins can be revealed by either of these, and unique level elements make use of each in different ways as well; a fan might lift the players when blown upon, or a platform raised by a touch.
The four characters possess unique but familiar properties, as well. Luigi’s trademark jumping takes him higher than the others, Toad runs the fastest, Peach can float short distances in the air, and Mario provides a good all-around play without any particular focus. I found myself playing Peach more than any other, because her float gives some definite advantages in platforming and reaching out-of-the-way spots that hide collectible stars and stamps. Each standard level holds three stars and one stamp to add to the player’s collection. Checking item collection via the map screen menu also shows which levels were completed by reaching the top of the iconic end flag – another feat made easier with Peach’s float or the nimble Cat Suit.
The game’s worlds largely echo the standard Mario fare. From fertile grasslands and barren deserts to deep waters and cloudy skies, each provides an environment well-known to seasoned Mario veterans; I did notice that the levels within each World offer more variety than in some prior titles, not all entirely reflecting the terrain in which they occur. The map screen is a fully traversable 3D landscape, where one can collect coins, check into Toad Houses offering power-ups, check level progress, and find hidden secrets. The number of secrets seems to increase in later Worlds, gradually expecting that players who’ve made it further into the game have become better at seeking them out.
Much like prior Wii and Wii U titles, the simultaneous multiplayer shines, but can become a bit frantic. If players travel too far from one another, they’ll be reunited via the now-common ‘Safety Bubble’ mechanism, though players can now pop their own bubbles to return to play. Power-up boxes offer one item per player, but they’re dispensed one at a time rather than in bulk, making sharing a bit easier than it was in, say, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, in which I experienced a lot of accidental multiple power-up grabs. The item box also returns, allowing one item per player to be held in reserve and dispensed when needed. Players also share a single pool of lives, which can be a snag if younger players aren’t succeeding at more challenging levels – but, you can always drop back to earlier areas to collect coins and lives to spare.
All told, Super Mario 3D World offers a great Mario experience that’s unique, fun, and challenging without becoming too frustrating. New power-ups and mechanics provide interesting ways of interacting with the rich, enjoyable world, and solid multiplayer gives a good means of getting through tougher spots by allowing players to make use of their strengths. Honestly, I don’t really have anything negative to say; it provides everything you’d expect, and some things you wouldn’t that add to it in creative ways. I thoroughly enjoyed playing solo as well as with my wife and son, and I’d say this is a must-get game if you’ve got a Wii U — and, quite possibly, a reason to think about getting one if you don’t, even amid the frenzy of other next-gen consoles breaking into the market.
[+Great Mario fun in a new way] [+Variety of characters and powerups] [+Well-done multiplayer options] [+A perfect family-time game] [-Some repetitive portions]