If there’s one thing the Wii U has really been needing, it’s a full-fledged Mario game. Sure there was New Super Mario Bros. U at launch but true to its unwieldly title that felt more like an afterthought sequel rather than the proper Mario game that the console deserved. Now we have Super Mario 3D World and while it is a sequel to Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS, it is also the true and proper Mario game that the Wii U desperately needs, one that takes proper advantage of the system and hits notes of both nostalgia and forward progress. Does it completely break the formula and reinvent Mario for a new generation? Not in the slightest, but it does do some very key things differently and the nostalgia it throws at you is more heartwarming than narcissistic.
This being a Mario game and all, there isn’t really a ton of need to talk story, but let’s talk about the premise anyways because for once it’s not just Peach getting kidnapped by Bowser. While out on a walk one day, Princess Peach, Toad, and the Mario Bros discover an odd clear broken warp pipe, upon fixing it a troubled fairy pops out followed by Bowser who quickly catches the fairy and heads back down the pipe. It seems Bowser has been catching these fairies for their ability to construct magic glass warp pipes and now Mario and the gang must stop him because that’s just what they do. The important detail you might have snagged out of that synopsis is the fact that Princess Peach is not captured at any point and that’s because she’s a playable character alongside Mario, Luigi, and Toad. In fact you can play as her or any of the others right from the start which is great because I’ve always been a Luigi man and getting to play as Green Thunder rather than his overweight scarlet sibling made my time with this game all the better. It is also worth noting that they do all control slightly differently (ala Super Mario Bros. 2) and that they do let you switch characters at the start of every level if you feel like mixing it up.
Gameplay-wise 3D World is ironically enough most analogous to the exploits of the franchise’s former 3D platforming rival, Crash Bandicoot. It’s built out of fairly direct linear levels with roads that are wide enough for some 3D roaming and have the occasional side path thrown in for collectibles sake. The levels are rarely pure straight lines like many of Crash’s were but they are still very linear in much the same fashion and that not’s a bad thing; in fact as a result it actually ends up striking a nice balance between the strengths of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario World. You have enough roaming space and secrets to find that you’ll be able to spend a long time just dicking around in levels, seeing where you can go and what you can do, which was the best part of Mario games like 64 and Sunshine. However the levels are still straightforward and linear enough that the classic NES/SNES era Mario joy of blazing through a course in no time flat executing perfect jumps and crushing every errant fungi that comes your way is still very much intact. This duality of gameplay is best present in the new (and surprisingly fun to play with) Cat Suit which gives you both a scratching dive attack as well as the ability to climb any wall. Secret hunters will spend hours trying to climb up every surface looking for hidden lives and other goodies whereas speed-runners will use its dive attack to cut precious seconds off their clear times, basically it’s good fun no matter what. Really my only fault with the gameplay is a slight inconsistency when it comes to difficulty; overall it’s very much the gradual increase you’d hope for but every once in a while things just got far harder or far easier than it felt like they should have been at that point, especially with the bosses. It’s a minor gripe and it doesn’t really affect the game all that badly as the level ordering has a very mix-tape feel to it anyways, but it does break your mental flow just a bit.
When it comes to the presentation, this game both looks and sounds amazing. The graphics are in super smooth and beautiful HD, basically looking like what we always wanted Super Mario Galaxy to look like. It has that same simple and pure design style Galaxy had where, similar to Windwaker though without the cell-shading, the look is made up of generally just solid primary colours without too much texturing to them. That simplicity translates really well to HD and gives the game an insanely clean look that really works in its favor. The most enjoyable part of the presentation in my mind though iss the music which is a perfect mix of old classic tunes done in a laid back jazzy style that fits the universe perfectly. No shitty chip-tune remixes for Mario, he plays it classy with upbeat soft jazz in the key of Mushroom.
One last thing I want to take a moment to talk about before we wrap this review up is the game’s fantastic sense of nostalgia. You see it’s ever so slightly different from the brand of Mario nostalgia Nintendo usually tries to push; the references on display here trend more toward the delightfully obscure parts of ’90s era of Mario. Instead of just pixel versions of Mario running around (though there is certainly a degree of that) it instead spends its time hearkening back to the way we used to imagine Mario rather than how he actually looked. You’ll regularly run into enemies based off of older designs that haven’t been used in a while like the sports loving Chargin’ Chuck or the rounder yet more intimidating Galoomba. Also one of the major collectibles you’ll hunt after in the game are rubber stamps which feature designs that look like they are taken straight out of the manual for Super Mario Bros. 3. They feature a shorter, fatter, but more expressive looking Mario; it’s a stylistic look that the franchise sadly lost as time went on and Mario got sleeker and more generalized, so it’s nice to see Nintendo paying homage to Mario’s iconic former art style. If anything it makes me wish that they would make a whole Mario game based off of that old NES manual art style as recently the character has seemed a little too normal and dull for the fantastic world he occupies.
This is easily the best Mario game I’ve played in quite a while, it develops really well upon the concepts introduced in Super Mario 3D Land and at the same time goes back to its roots in a lot of ways, evoking the feel of Super Mario World to a degree. Is it alone worth buying a Wii U for? Not quite, but in combination with Pikmin 3 and Windwaker HD a strong case could be made. I wouldn’t recommend it having it as your only system but with “Must Play” games like this in their catalog Nintendo is (as usual) single-handedly putting together a good argument to pick up their console. Any Mario fan would be remiss in not playing this game and if you own a Wii U then it absolutely needs to be in your library, as such we’re happily giving Super Mario 3D World a 5 out of 5 stars.