Super Mario 3D World

December 10, 2013

Something has always bugged me about the 3D Mario games. Ever since Super Mario 64, there’s been something… off about the games. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all great games, especially the Super Mario Galaxy games, but, well, there’s no easy way to put this.

To me, they didn’t feel like Mario games.

There were always bits missing. Instead of mushrooms and fire flowers and feathers and Yoshi we had caps and health bars and Mario could drown for some reason. It was a re-imagining, rather than a successor. There were no multiplayer options, and even Bowser seemed to be there only because he had to be.

“But Tim,” I hear you cry, “What about the New Super Mario Bros. games? Surely they are the true successors to Nintendo’s platforming legacy?” Well, they certainly do seem like they are. But let’s face it, those games are anachronisms: big-budget platforming titles in the world of today? Sure, they’re fun, but I can’t help but feel like there’s a little bit of misplaced nostalgia at work there. Do I like them because they’re great platformers in their own right, or because they call out to the twelve-year-old boy in me that spent all his paper round money on Super Mario Bros 3 and played it until he knew the entire game by muscle memory?

So then, the two Mario game styles are in conflict. On the one hand, there’s great 3D platforming action, and on the other, nostalgic callbacks to the games that made Nintendo a household name in the first place. Would it even be possible to combine them and create something that’s both in 3D, but also quintessentially Mario?


The answer, as presented in Super Mario 3D World is an emphatic “Yes!”. This is the 3D Mario game I have waited for since I first heard of 3D Mario games. You can tell, right from the title, where Nintendo is taking its cues from, and the resulting game is the purest, best 3D Mario game yet. It’s hard to believe that it’s taken Nintendo this long to figure out how to make a 3D Mario game feel like a Mario game, but hey, this is the company that thinks The Wind Waker is the Zelda game most in need of a HD re-release.

Super Mario 3D World isn’t about to upend the entire Mario formula, but it’s not afraid to mix things up. For a start, Bowser hasn’t kidnapped Peach, allowing her to be a playable character for the entire game. On the other hand, Bowser has to kidnap something, and in this case it’s “sprixies”, small sprite/fairy/pixie creatures who like to carry spanners for some reason. So Mario, Peach, Luigi and Toad all hop down a mysterious pipe to a new land built entirely out of amazing 3D platforming levels in order to stop Bowser from doing whatever nefarious things he’s planning to do with a captured bunch of sprixies.

The game borrows its character selection from (the Western version of) Super Mario Bros. 2. This is the first time since that game that this exact character selection has reappeared in a Mario title, with most other games relying on Luigi or a group of Toads in multiplayer. The abilities the characters had in SMB2 also return, with Mario being Mario, Luigi being able to jump high, Toad being fast and Peach having the very useful ability to float for a short time.


These abilities are put to good use thanks to some of the best level design in Mario history. It might be a fair point to say that the levels are really just 2D Mario levels with a third dimension, but this undersells just how fantastic an idea that actually is. Nintendo are masters of level design, and they get how to take ideas that were born in the sprites-and-tilemaps world of the NES and bring them into the polygons-and-textures world of the Wii U.

While the game has a fairly traditional set of themed worlds to work through, Nintendo understand that rigidly sticking to a theme for a world gets boring, so sure, you’ll find sand and fire in the desert-themed world, but also grassy savannah and tropical beaches. The ice world even hides a glorious homage to Super Mario Kart. Even the overworld map offers full freedom of movement, meaning you’re not stuck on the rigid paths the game lays out.

Each level contains three stars, all of which must be collected for full completion of the level. Unlike other 3D Mario titles, the stars are all available in a single playthrough of the level, so you don’t need to select the one you want to do as you would have in the Galaxy games or Super Mario 64. Collecting the stars is still necessary for progress, and you’ll need 170 of them to unlock the final castle. Getting more than this will let you unlock a number of secret worlds and even a hidden playable character.


The game is, as expected, packed to the brim with cool new power-ups in addition to the traditional mushroom and fire flower. The cat suit turns everyone into adorable cat versions of themselves that scamper about on all-fours, can whack enemies with their front paws, climb walls and even dive-bomb. There’s also a Tanooki suit (or Kitsune suit if you play as Luigi), a boomerang flower that lets you throw powerful boomerangs, and even a wonderful homage to Goomba’s Shoe in the form of an ice-skate you can ride around in.

Visually, the game is gorgeous. Nintendo may have struggled to get the hang of developing HD graphics for the Wii U, but the results speak for themselves, with the best-looking Mario game yet. Clever use of depth of field and camera positioning hide most engine limitations, and the game runs at a perfect sixty frames per second regardless of what’s happening on screen. The music is typically great, with a wonderful set of both new and re-arranged Mario tunes from past games.


People often complain about Nintendo constantly recycling their classic games and characters, but the truth is that, when the results are as brilliant as this, why should they stop? In an age where games are getting grittier and grimier and shootier than ever before, the crisp green grass and clear blue skies of Super Mario 3D World feel as original and refreshing as the very first Super Mario Bros. did all the way back in 1985. There’s more imagination and creativity in a single level of this game than in an entire game of many times the budget.

You know that feeling you get when you pick up a controller and start a game and realise, as you work your way through the very first level, that you’re playing something great? You smile, not because of nostalgia or any attempt at playing to your personal biases or emotions, but because, for the first time in a long time, you’re actually having real, genuine, fun in a video game? Well Super Mario 3D World is exactly like that. It’s glorious, glorious fun without any pretence or aspirations to something greater. Add three friends to the mix, and you might just have the best next-generation game yet.

If you own a Wii U, then there’s no excuse, you need to own this game. If you don’t own a Wii U, then Super Mario 3D World is easily the best reason yet to pick one up.


Glorious Mario 3D Action
Play as Peach!


There aren't any.
No, seriously, this is as near-perfect a game as you will play this year.

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