At E3 2012 when Reggie Fils-Aime proudly announced that the Wii U would be the first Nintendo console since the Nintendo 64 to launch with a brand new Mario title, players were probably expecting something a lot more ambitious than New Super Mario Bros. U. Now a year later, Nintendo have delivered a much more expansive title that builds upon 2011ís 3D Land formula with Super Mario 3D World.
Quite surprisingly Princess Peach isnít kidnapped by Bowser in the brief introductory cutscene as the shelled antagonist is set on capturing the Princesses of the Sprixie Kingdom. Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad give chase immediately after witnessing one such kidnapping and the player almost immediately takes control of the action upon starting a new game, with only the very brief introduction to set the scene, not that Mario requires any real story to be enjoyable.
Progressing through the game is essentially identical to any other recent Mario title as the player moves through the world map, clearing each level in succession before moving onto the next world and eventually the end of the story. The world map itself allows players to move around off the traditionally structured paths between level, allowing players to collect stray coins and discover the occasional secret passage.
The levels themselves take on a form near-identical to Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. Mario, or whoever the player picks, must be navigated through a mainly linear environment whilst overcoming obstacles and defeating enemies before jumping onto the flagpole at the end. Itís the classic Mario formula, and as each level is fairly short and focused on a particular idea it does make for a game that is very easy just to pick up and play for a few levels, especially so if just using the Wii U GamePadís off-TV functions. Also hidden away in each level are three Green Stars, used to unlock further levels, and Stamps that can be used as pre-made graphics for Miiverse posts.
As with its spiritual predecessor, 3D World controls more like a classic 2D Mario title than the likes of Super Mario 64 or the Galaxy games. The charactersí movement are not fully 360 degrees and a button needs to be held down should you want to run. No doubt these concessions are made to accommodate extra players using the Wii Remote setup, but those wanting more accurate controls are still likely going to be disappointed with the reduced moveset that Mario and company have. In order to gain momentum the player has to run a short distance before they gain an extra burst of speed somewhat like using the cape in Super Mario World. Initially it does feel quite redundant but as more levels that do utilise this ability it does begin to make a lot more sense.
In a first for a 3D Mario title there is a cooperative multiplayer mode in which up to four players can drop in and out of at any time between each level. The four starting playable characters consist of Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad, all of whom have their own unique advantages in play. Mario is a good all-rounder, Luigi has the highest jump, Peach can float while Toad is the quickest, making each character retain their abilities from the international version of Super Mario Bros. 2. The fact that characters do have their own traits make the selections much more involved than in the New Super Mario Bros. line of games where everyone moves and jumps exactly the same. New players who want to ease themselves into the platforming may want to make use of Peachís floating while speedrunning pros are going to want to take advantage of Toadís fast movement.
Thanks to the increased 3D space, playing with all four players doesnít feel as insanely chaotic as it does in New Super Mario Bros. U as each player is given more room to manoeuvre around one another. The camera will keep up with the leader, zooming back to keep stragglers in the field of view, but only to a point as dropping too far back will lead to a temporary death, lives permitting. By defeating enemies, collecting coins and landing high on the flagpole each player increases their score, which is then displayed at the level completion screen. This more competitive slant to the multiplayer also allows players to pick one another up and hurl them into a chasm and their doom, or carry them over a tricky part of a course. Any Wii controller combination can be used for the second, third and fourth players as 3D World supports the Wii U Pro Controller, Wii Remote Plus (with or without Nunchuck) and even the original Wii Classic Controller Pro.
Despite the mostly traditional controls, there are a few levels that require the player to make use of the Wii U GamePadís unique features. Tapping the screen to open up doors and expand new platforms works well enough but having to blow into the microphone to activate fan platforms is as tedious as it is in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and the Donkey Kong Crash Course in Nintendo Land, which at least had the option to use a standard button input instead. Also by swiping around the touchscreen itís also possible to find hidden power-up blocks which the player could easily pass by without noticing, although doing a ground-pound nearby will also highlight them as well.
As is usual for a Mario game there are numerous power-ups that can be acquired throughout each level, many of which are brought back from past games. The Tanooki Suit, Boomerang weapon and Fire Flower all make their reappearance and function in the exact same way as they have done in the past. The two major new power-ups introduced in 3D World are the Cat Suit and the Double Cherry. The Cat Suit allows the player to grab onto and climb up walls, letting them explore and access areas in new ways for the series. The Double Cherry clones the player and the ability stacks up when picking up a second, third and even fourth cherry. There are also some new temporary power-ups like the Goomba disguise, making the enemies ignore the player when nearby, and a Cannon hat which automatically fires off canon balls every second or so.
The first hour or so of the game is incredibly easy, even when collecting all of the stamps and hidden Green Stars. The first three worldsí worth of levels do feel kind of conservative in terms of both environments and the types of obstacles and challenges that players face. By about the beginning of the fourth world things do gradually begin to pick up the pace as each individual level doesnít seem so concerned with sticking to the greater world environment, allowing for much more varied levels and challenges. As with Super Mario Galaxy 2 it does start out feeling almost too familiar to its spiritual predecessor, but once the game does step out of its shadow, 3D World constantly delivers exciting and varied surprises from level to level. The bonus stages further ramp up the difficulty, featuring some of the most controller-throwingly challenging levels the series has ever seen.
Miiverse utilisation is very similar to that of last yearís New Super Mario Bros. U in which players can post a message onto Nintendoís social network at any point on the world map or after they have finished a level. Posts are displayed along with the playerís final level score and it can be quite interesting seeing how difficult others have found a level youíve just struggled with. Those who want to discover every little detail themselves may wish to disable aspects of the Miiverse as many players will be discussing the location of the Green Stars and stamps that you may have yet to collect. Those who arenít as artistically skilled can also make use of the stamps collected from each level to use pre-drawn characters and objects to decorate their posts.
3D Worldís bold, simple aesthetics do look very nice even if they arenít the most technically complex. Some of the lighting effects are stunning, while character models are simple yet charismatic and fluidly animated. Running constantly at sixty frames per second without any frame drops, the game runs butter smooth. The big band soundtrack also makes old tunes sound fresh in addition to some catchy new melodies that punctuate each level.
Super Mario 3D World is a joy from beginning to end, and is the best game for the Wii U so far. The game features the same perfected platforming mechanics and endlessly creative level designs that fans have come to expect from the icon of gaming. It may not be as grandiose and epic in the vein of the Galaxy series and does perhaps feel a little too familiar to 3D Land, but this would have been a much stronger title to kickstart Nintendoís first foray into high definition gaming. Itís possible that with the pretty frequent releases of Mario games in the last couple of years may lead some to feel fatigued with the franchise, but nevertheless 3D World is an astounding game, and one of this yearís very best titles.