There was a time when Mario was a figure more well known than Mickey Mouse. The Wii U – Nintendo’s current home console – hasn’t received many favours, not from developers, media, or even consumers, but regardless of poor sales and confusing marketing, the system delivers on the Mario promise, and the newest Mario game is one that promises to do something that it’s never done very well – bring friends and family together…but it comes with a sacrifice.
Three’s company, four’s a crowd
Super Mario 3D World isn’t Nintendo’s first foray into same-screen multiplayer – that claim would go to the New Super Mario Bros. series – but where NSMB fails, 3D World succeeds. Gone are the days where tiny platforms would be the bane of any two player co-op game. The multiplayer in 3D World is certainly the key selling point and adds a bit of strategy, mixing in the competitive with the cooperative. Thankfully it also presents a challenge as this Mario title, like many before it, hardly pushes the boundaries in the difficulty department. Although the difficulty is usually due to player skill disparity, in the hands of equally skilled players, the game is faster paced and has a superior competitive edge; in the hands of a pro and a novice, the game is slower and has a more co-op styled focus. Both approaches are fun but the entertainment value is largely subjective. But be warned, hosting a game with more than 3 players can get more than a little confusing with the boundaries of the screen tending to leave more explorative (read slow) players behind and inevitably dead or in a safety bubble.
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What’s the point?
Unless you grew up in the Atari age or made a habit of visiting your local arcade in an attempt to reach the high score board, points have become an anachronism in today’s video game age – Nintendo being the company that put the final nail in that coffin. But just as the big N made scores redundant, they’ve found a way to make them relevant once again and they’ve done this by making the first competitive main-stream Mario game. I use the word “competitive” loosely as the this aspect of the game has little to no effect on the game itself. Points are accumulated by collecting coins, items, stamps and stars etc., in addition to the dispatching of enemies. The player who happens to accumulate the highest points is shown at the post-level scoreboard and is awarded the coveted golden crown which if retained throughout the following level will be rewarded with an additional points bonus. As mentioned earlier, the winning player receives no real benefit so this aspect is largely inconsequential, however it does drive the competitive spirit of the game and when more than two players are involved, it can lead to some pretty intense battles.
You can take the Land out of 3D, but never the 3D out of the land.
Super Mario 3D World is nothing like the Wii predecessors in the Galaxy series; where creativity and revolutionary design were once the hallmark of the franchise, this has now been dropped in favour of quick access fun for all and the paradigm shift in the targeted user. As the title suggests, this game is something of a sequel to Super Mario 3D Land on the Nintendo 3DS – everything from the game mechanics to the level designs bear a resounding familiarity. I’d even go so far as theorise that this title was originally intended for the big N’s popular portable console and saw a dramatic last minute shift to the Wii U due to an astounding lack of software on the floundering home console. 3D Land was by no means a poor title, in fact I would call it the true spiritual successor to the side scrolling Marios of yesteryear, perfectly translated into 3D. But, and it’s a big but, 3D World, like 3D Land before it lacks the creative flair that we’ve come to know from Mario, and where the challenge was once upped with tough as nails level design, this series now resorts to cheap tactics, a punch to the balls where head scratching exploration was once king. The game is a breeze up to world 4, and then we see how evil the designers can get: disappearing blocks, tricky perspective problems and time limits throttle the magic of the initial few worlds. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth to have to contend with a sucker punch rather than the glorious puzzles that we’ve come to know and love.
Is it Wii or U?
It should go without saying that 3D World is the best looking Mario yet, and it should be, but I’m not as wowed as I should be. Sure, specular highlights and high polygon models up the graphic fidelity game, but it’s to be expected on this current gen system. Mario has never looked better, but it does not do for the Wii U what Galaxy did for the Wii where in spite of graphical limitations, Nintendo delivered a title that could genuinely compete with the then more powerful PS3 and Xbox 360. 3D World is beautiful, with glorious textures and water effects, and I personally couldn’t find anything to complain about, but it should be more, it should be the title that pushes the system to it’s limits and makes players crap their pants in awe. The game also notoriously takes little advantage of Wii U Gamepad – the built in screen operates as an extra monitor; touch screen features are negligible, and the only redeeming function of the Gamepad is the microphone implementation (but in all honestly, I would have preferred the mic features to be mapped to buttons). Super Mario 3D World in no way pushes the Wii U’s boundaries but it’s still very fun – unless you happen to be playing with a standard Wii remote (a nunchuck or Wii U Pro Controller is practically a necessity).
Music to my ears
Mario has always had the most memorable tunes – the original Super Mario theme should be testament to that, but the latest titles have left a lot to be desired. 3D World brings back that legacy of catchy tunes that will be digging into your memory for weeks to come. A mix of old and new tunes flood the soundtrack, drawing on the legacy of the franchise and some newer numbers and all are just as memorable whether they have that fat bid band sound or synthesised electronic beats, this game has it all and they all have that trademark Mario sound. Nostalgia rules this title, and I couldn’t be more stoked about that.
The Bottom Line
Super Mario 3D World is a nostalgic blast from the past with a modern day sheen. It’s fun from start to finish and will see as much frustration as it will laughs. There’s plenty to do and it’ll keep even the most veteran Mario players busy for a long time and while the online component may be lacking, you’ll see visiting Mii characters that will drive you to finish levels faster and and harder than ever.
Mario’s latest foray on the home console is unique, but not uniquely Wii U and marks a different fundamental approach to the Mario franchise – Super Mario 3D World deserves a spot in your game collection, and if you own a Wii U, it’s a title that’ll lift the dust off your system which by now most likely has a layer of dust accumulating on the surface.