Lush, vibrant graphics; Excellent level design; Fun, memorable soundtrack; Tons of content; Multiplayer perfectly implemented; Packed with secrets; Great challenge.
Some boss battles are underwhelming. Yeah, that's about it. Go play this game.
Super Mario 3D World is why people play video games. The high quality of its gameplay, visuals, level design, and music all coalesce to form one of the most compelling experiences on any platform. Though perhaps not as grandiose as the Super Mario Galaxy games, what 3D World lacks in comparative spectacle it more than makes up for in terms of sheer ambition, craftsmanship, and opulence. It’s ironic that as Sony and Microsoft are in the midst of what pundits are calling the true start of the next generation of video games, Nintendo has produced a marquee experiences within days of its so-called inception. 3D World boldly reasserts why Nintendo is and will always be the undisputed leader and visionary of the video game industry.
3D World will be most immediately familiar to those who played 3DS’s Super Mario 3D Land. The basic control scheme of that game has been faithfully carried over to 3D World and represents what is the pinnacle of three-dimensional movement in a Super Mario title. While some might prefer applying pressure on the analogue stick to initiate running, the use of a button prompt, instead, is equally intuitive, particularly as it plays to the gaming instincts fostered by the 2D Mario games. Controlling and manipulating Mario is like an extension of the player’s body, an extrapolation of one’s natural tendencies brought to life through the controller. Taking a cue from Super Mario Bros. 2, 3D World offers players four characters to choose from (including a fifth, secret character later on), all possessing different attributes that will challenge skilled players and assist newer ones. Having trouble making tricky jumps? Take Peach for a spin, as she can briefly hover in mid-air. Want to blaze through levels and set faster completion times? Toad is perfect for that, as he’s the speediest character in the group. These accommodations are an ingenious way of making 3D World more inclusive while also offering a lovely bit of fan service.
One of the first things players will notice is the game’s interactive, three-dimensional overworld. While 3D World is still broken into the traditional worlds and stages of previous games, the player navigates the map in a way similar to how they would during gameplay. Mario’s moves are limited to running and jumping in this environment, which focuses the player to poke around and find secret paths and items. Series fans will be happy to know that the slot machine from Super Mario Bros. 2 makes a return, as do the presence of baddies on the overworld map like in Super Mario Bros. 3. The enemies were especially fun to see, as some of the encounters played out like mini-boss battles. While nothing beats a true overworld environment to explore between levels, 3D World‘s compromise is much better than a static map. Also, while each world is depicted with a theme on the map, the stages within don’t conform to them. For example, World 2 looks like a desert, but it has only a couple of stages that actually feature sandy dunes. This does a wonderful job of keeping every stage feeling fresh and frees the developers of any sort of design restrictions. I was pleased to see Nintendo maintain this approach to the stages, as it’s become something of a mainstay in the last few 3D Mario titles.
It’s the level designs where Nintendo’s ingenuity shines brightest. Each level has a goal flag and three hidden green stars to discover (stamps are also hidden about, though not in every stage), but that’s just about the only similarities any of them share. Nearly every stage has a unique hook that rarely, if ever, pops up again for the duration of the game. Chasing a running goal flag, a train made of gold and packed with coins, giant, flipping, smiling blocks floating in lava, and ascending an enormous ninja tower are just a handful of ideas that found their way into 3D World and will have players grinning from ear to ear. Fans who were thrilled when Super Mario Galaxy brought back the infamous airships of Super Mario Bros. 3 will be happy to know that 3D World marks the return of Bowser’s tank processions. These and the similar train levels are wonderful gauntlets that autoscroll forward and truly test players’ skills. There are a handful of levels that require the use of the GamePad, including the Captain Toad stages. Players must guide Captain Toad across a small environment to collect green stars without the ability to jump. These stages offer a break from the traditional Mario platforming and provide some wonderful brainteasers. The overall difficulty of the game is perfectly balanced, with the easier stages found in the first half and the more challenging ones coming in the second. Even the most seasoned of Mario players will enjoy themselves at the beginning of the game, as the green stars and stamps can be devilishly tucked away, which makes finding a test of both skill and observation.
Also further balancing the game’s difficulty are the numerous items and power-ups available throughout 3D World. The Super Bell bestows the Cat Suit, which is surprisingly fun to use. In cat mode, characters are faster and can take swipes at enemies, scramble up walls and polls, and execute a powerful diving slash in midair. It’s an excellent addition to Mario’s wardrobe that I hope makes its way into future installments. The Double Cherry creates an exact duplicate of whichever character touches it, and can produce up to five of these clones at once. Controlling the multiple doppelgängers is chaotic yet fun, with the game often requiring the player to keep a particular number alive in order to solve certain puzzles. While not an item, boost pads, which function much like those on the tracks in the Mario Kart games, send the player rocketing forward and provide an altogether different play mechanic than I’ve ever experienced in a 3D Mario game. Returning favorites include the Tanooki Leaf, Boomerang Flower, Fire Flower, Giant Mushroom, and the Invincibility Super Leaf for those who find themselves in a real jam. The auxiliary items introduced in New Super Mario Bros. Wii (like the Propeller Block) have found their way back, too, and there are a couple new ones to play around with: the Cannon Block and Light Block. The Light Block is especially satisfying, as players now finally have a weapon to use against Boos other than a Super Star!
There’s only one aspect of the game that I found lacking, and it was the boss fights. There are a few that stand out, including chasing Bowser down an endless highway while kicking explosive soccer balls at his enormous purple car and Motley Boss Blob who lumbers across the screen and butt pounds like a giant maniac. It’s not that the boss fights aren’t fun (there wasn’t one that I didn’t enjoy), I just found many of the encounters to be fairly mundane compared to the intense creativity of the levels themselves. There was no real standout battle where I found myself staring at the screen in awe, like when fighting Megaleg or Eely-Mouth in previous Mario games. I did, however, appreciate the impromptu boss fights that would pop up on the overworld map after beating a world boss. After a handful of boss battles, there’s a second, follow-up stage with yet another. Combined with the mini-boss battles on the overworld I mentioned earlier, these additions really helped make up for some of the boss fights being overly rote. 3D World has no qualms showing off in every other aspect of its gameplay, so it was disappointing that Nintendo chose to show restraint in this one regard.
The score of 3D World is top notch. Filled with original pieces and remixes and reinterpretations of classic tracks, 3D World spoils the player with a wealth of wonderful, catchy songs. The theme of the ghost levels is a notable triumph, with a suitably morose sound that’s hauntingly elegant. Fans of the Mario Kart series will be very happy with the inclusion of the Mario Circuit track music from Super Mario Kart, which is used for a very special stage in the game. There is also a cameo appearance from one of Nintendo’s other franchises that comes with a hilarious, techno remix that I never thought I’d hear in my life. The music is orchestrated for the most part, but even the stages that aren’t feature excellent sound quality. While many are quick to note Nintendo’s consistently strong game designs (as they should!), the endlessly memorable tunes the company produces for the Mario games alone are a feat unto themselves.
I was pleasantly surprised by the integration of multiplayer in 3D World. It’s a first for the 3D Mario titles, and is every bit as functional and fun as it is in the New Super Mario Bros. games. The key difference here is the addition of a ranking system that crowns (literally) the top scorer in a given stage. The crown remains on the leader’s head going into the next stage, where, if the player with the crown is hit by an enemy, the crown will fall off and anyone can snag it. Whoever gets to the end of the stage with the crown receives an additional 5,000 points tacked onto their overall score, making mad dashes for the headgear a common occurrence during multiplayer. It’s a fun feature, particularly if the players involved are of an equal skill level. In terms of online multiplayer offerings, 3D World keeps track of your best times in single player mode, where the data is saved and sent to other players through Miiverse. The computer then sends ghost Miis into completed stages as a challenge to beat their completion times! I found myself becoming hooked on seeing which ghost would appear and trying to be first to the goal pole. The Miis are selected at random, so there’s an endless supply of competitors to take on!
With roughly 30-35 hours of gameplay, there’s a lot to experience and love in 3D World. It’s fun, it’s gorgeous, and easily one of the best games on the stands. Mario’s longevity puts Lazarus to shame, as the plumber’s latest game is as fresh and timeless as any of the classics before it. I haven’t even touched on everything the game has to offer! Year of Luigi references, Luigi Bros., Plessie, Bullies, Kuribo’s Ice Skate, the return of Chargin’ Chuck, and a smorgasbord of other things that a review just can’t do justice to. There are Super Mario World Goombas in the game, for crying out loud! There’s only one, last bit of praise I can offer the game that fans of Super Mario Galaxy 2 will appreciate: Grand Master Galaxy officially has competition. Go buy the game, folks. It’s a masterpiece.