Reviewed by Jonathan Steele
That is perhaps the most effective way to describe the latest entry in the 28-year-old Super Mario franchise. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It was as if the developers said, “Let’s take everything that has ever been in any Mario game and throw it together.” That’s an idea that could easily become a disaster, so I commend Nintendo EAD Tokyo for turning it into an amazing and very enjoyable adventure. But after a few-too-many predictable and formulaic Mario games (e.g., later entries in the NSMB series), is Super Mario 3D World the Mario game that will push the franchise forward?
It should be no surprise by now that Mario continues to write the book on stellar gameplay mechanics. SM3DW is no exception. Each level is crafted with insane detail, and it’s extremely impressive how many fresh platforming ideas are presented throughout the game. I simply could not stop playing. As soon as I finished a level, I just HAD to know what the next level offered because I was sure it wouldn’t be more of the same. There were multiple times when playing through a level where I just smiled and thought, “Whoa, that was really clever.” The game’s sheer variety may be its most impressive feature. Wanna defeat Bowser by kicking explosive soccer balls into his rad purple Bowsermobile? Can do. Wanna wear a hat that shoots giant explosive cannonballs at unfortunate goombas? This game is for you. And speaking of cannonball hats, there are more powerups in SM3DW than I could keep track of. Aside from a handful of brand-new ones, there are some interesting re-inventions as well. You can steal a shell from a koopa, then actually jump inside it and become that dreaded shell-on-the-loose. It felt pretty cool.
Controlling Mario feels incredibly precise as well. Most of his signature moves have all made their return (though I do miss the triple-jump terribly) and they are fine-tuned to perfection. If you fall off of a ledge, it’s your own dang fault. I never felt like I told the game to do one thing and it did another. But in this entry, it’s not just about controlling Mario. Every character has their own unique traits, and it’s nice to be able to choose what suits your style best: all-round control (Mario), high jump (Luigi), floating jump (Peach), or sheer speed (Toad). This simple choice adds a variety to the franchise that it hasn’t seen in years.
But it’s not all fun and games and cool powerups. The later worlds also offer substantial challenge. And I mean substantial. The last few stages will be draining your once-impressive 1up stash dry before you can blink. SM3DW may start out as a family-friendly jump-around game with cute cats and lush green fields, but it ends as a harrowing gauntlet of carpal-tunnel-inducing level designs. It took me around 150 tries to complete the final challenge. I think that qualifies as harrowing.
If I had to complain about something, it would be that SM3DW seems quite skittish about letting you play with the same toy for too long. As soon as it gets you excited about a cool idea, the level ends and you never see that idea again. The one exception that comes to mind is the use of Plessie, Yoshi’s much larger water-faring cousin. Plessie kept showing up again and again, each time with a fantastic new level that brought a fresh idea. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the Plessie levels, and I wish that Nintendo would have been so liberal with more of its ideas. The Super Mario Galaxy games (also developed by Nintendo EAD Tokyo) had a much better grasp on this. They would give you multiple scenarios in which to use a single idea before taking it away and presenting the next one. It felt more balanced.
Super Mario 3D World will melt your eyeballs right out of their sockets with its brilliant, glowing color. When I first fired the game up, my wife exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! It hurts my eyes!” It truly is a beautiful game to look at, though. Every last block is polished down to the tiniest detail. The textures are gorgeous. The lighting engine is simply astounding, especially in levels that have a sunset or moonlight shining through a thick forest. Yet the game runs at full frame rate without breaking a sweat. Never once did I see it jump or slow down. Well done indeed, Nintendo.
I initially began writing this review a few days ago. I had completed the eight main worlds, defeated the final boss, and unlocked the typical “secret” ninth world (spoiler alert!). I was originally going to write about how Nintendo needs to change it up a little. Eight main worlds plus one extra is just expected now. But then I beat the ninth world, and opened up another. Then another. I stopped writing because I was beginning to wonder if the game was ever going to end. So if you were worried that SM3DW doesn’t have enough content to keep you coming back, you can set your heart at ease. This game has it all: secret paths, an abundance of well-hidden collectibles, intensely challenging worlds, more unlockable levels than you can shake a stick at, and yes, even a secret playable character.
We can talk all day about pros and cons, graphics, level design, franchise direction, etc. etc., but there is one thing that cannot be denied about Super Mario 3D World: it is FUN. Very, very fun. You’ll have such a blast playing it, you’ll pretty much forget what it should or shouldn’t be. I believe that is much of what defines Nintendo and what they’re about. While the rest of the world is going on about next-gen and realistic graphics and hardcore war-torn shoot-em-ups, Nintendo is just over in a corner having a lot of fun, and sharing it with those who want to join in. Super Mario 3D World is a prime example. Grab a copy, or find a friend who has one. You’ll be glad you did.
I give Super Mario 3D World a 9.5 out of 10.