Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review: Nintendo's 'Super Mario 3D World,'

 I was a bit skeptical at first when Nintendo revealed this sequel to 3DS' "Super Mario 3D Land." Don't get me wrong, "3D Land" is a must-own game for the handheld, but I was hoping for something along the lines of "Super Mario Galaxy" or the much more open "Super Mario 64."
After watching gameplay videos, though, my skepticism slowly went away. Then I got my hands on it, and after playing through the first world, I had to keep going.
"3D World" starts off typically like other Mario games. Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad are strolling along joyfully when they notice a clear pipe sticking out of the ground. Out pops the Sprixie Princess begging for help, but then Bowser pops out to capture her in a bottle. Mario and company dive down the pipe and into the Sprixie Kingdom where our heroes travel through dozens of levels across multiple worlds.
Reminiscent of the classic NES title "Super Mario Bros. 2," players can select between Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad in any level, and each have their unique abilities. While Mario is an all-around type character, Luigi jumps higher but has poor traction, Peach hovers in mid-air but is slow, and Toad is a speedster but can't jump high.
Messing around with all the characters, I found all four to be acceptable in pretty much every level. This is important since multiplayer is a major focus. Players have the option of selecting their character before the level begins, or it can be randomized in case someone wants to hog a specific one. Players can also hop in during a level as well, so no waiting around until it's finished.
Unlike "New Super Mario Bros." where having several on screen at once can become very hectic in a hurry, I didn't notice that too much in "3D World." Since it's on a 3D playing field with more open space to run around in, there's a lot less bumping into each other to create havoc (on accident anyway). Players are mostly free to run around and get as many points as they can before reaching the flagpole. Sometimes, though, the camera during multiplayer can become disorienting at times.
The game features some of the best level design to date from Nintendo, and the fact it's in glorious HD makes it even better. Levels have a uniqueness about them that stand out from others. Part of the fun is seeing what comes up next, so I won't spoil all the details. One level that plays with shadows has superb lighting effects while another is a tribute to Mario Kart that I wanted to play again and again. The new cat power-up will have you climbing up every wall to find secrets. Nabbing cherries to control multiple Marios or others at once leads to some very strategic situations.
The difficulty of "3D World" comes from finding three hidden stars in each level, as well as collecting dozens of stamps to complete your collection. The game can be breezed through in a day tops if one decides to just rush to the end of every level, but that's no fun. Collecting these stars will test one's platforming skills -- even some spots in World 1 which is typically the easiest. It's encouraged to attempt to get them all, too, since they help unlock more levels.
From a console standpoint, the PS4 and Xbox One will get all the attention this holiday season. The Wii U desperately needs software to stay relevant into 2014, and "Super Mario 3D World" is the best game to give the console a chance at turning it around.
4 stars out of 4

Written by Jeff Hoard for Digital First Media, reprinted with permission.

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