The Nintendo Wii U was treading water for much of its troubled lifespan. 2013’s Super Mario 3D World was Nintendo’s attempt to alleviate some of this pressure by falling back on its most iconic mascot.
While the game’s impact on saving its drowning console can be scrutinized, there can be no doubt that Super Mario 3D World is a blast in its own right. It rides the wave of classic Nintendo design, leading to one of the tightest single player and most enjoyable multiplayer experiences in Mario’s platforming repertoire.
Super Mario 3D World elegantly takes the fundamentals of Mario and translates them into a three-dimensional multiplayer marvel.
The most noticeable feature of Super Mario 3D World’s levels is how they act as a bridge between the series’ 2D and 3D entries. Nintendo previously tried this design approach in 2011’s Super Mario 3D Land on the Nintendo 3DS. Here, though, it is given more creative freedom thanks to the myriad of captivating mechanics that are utilized to their full potential by the developers.
I found myself gleefully awaiting what surprises each new stage had to show me. I marveled at the visually striking act of using shadows to frame the level layout. And I adored zooming down slides and over speed pads in a Mario Kart-style race to the flagpole.
It was admirable how seldom the game chose to fall back on established ideas. The consistency of one-upmanship from level to level was all the incentive I needed to rescue those fairies.
The creativity on display is all tied together by Nintendo’s signature airtight design philosophy. It manages to strikes the perfect balance between being accessible to new players and respectful to series veterans. Each level acts as its own self-contained gameplay vignettes that will take you through a central evolving idea. As you play, you will learn to comprehend, test, experiment with, and finally master whatever interesting mechanic is on show for that stage.
I was also impressed by the layers of secrets and hidden interactivity that most of the levels contained. The vertical traversal that the cat suit opens up was particularly inspired. I used it to scamper up any walls that I could dig my claws into. Topping it off are a handful of Captain Toad puzzle box missions that ended up spawning their own spinoff game. As such, the level design in Super Mario 3D World remains some of the purest and most dynamic in the series.
Wonderfully-designed levels are only as good as the characters you get to play through them as. Thankfully, Super Mario 3D World offers several possible ways to jump, stomp, and cat-climb through these worlds. Mario plays as elegantly as he has since first going up against Bowser on the NES, with an emphasis on precision coded into his physics and mobility.
Meanwhile, part-time ghostbuster Luigi has an exaggerated jump height and feels designed to appeal to those who find playing as his older brother just a little too safe. Peach’s glide ability will attract players who have a habit of overshooting or undershooting their jumps. And Toad’s sporadic speed will surely create a few mistimed falls into bottomless pits as a result.
As much fun as I had playing through the game as each character, the true fun behind them is bringing up to four friends along to enjoy the ride with you.
The added space afforded from these 3D levels allows multiplayer to thrive in a platforming Mario game like never before. It was great trying to navigate the controlled chaos with some friends. And the emotions we experienced while playing ran the gamut from euphoric achievement to maddening failure.
Best of all, it’s never entirely cooperative and it’s never entirely competitive. I can say with certainty that “teaming” up with friends in Super Mario 3D World never produces a dull moment.
Nintendo injects Super Mario 3D World with a playful charm that permeates through the visuals and audio. The glossy art style helps the characters and objects pop right off the screen. Best of all, I never lost track of my character even amongst the insanity.
I do wish that a bit more effort had gone into rendering the backgrounds. They often just settle for bland, hazy textures repeating into the vastness. Likewise, Nintendo can take the minimalism of some ground and wall textures a bit too far. This results in a flatness that seems at odds with the expressive characters and level obstacles.
Thankfully, the soundtrack maintains a bouncy sense of fun that complements the lighter tone of the game. In particular, I was humming the main theme and Bowser’s Vegas-style theme for days after I finished playing.
Super Mario 3D World isn’t the most revolutionary or experimental Mario game that’s ever been released, but it displays a reverence for the series’ platforming roots and executes the potential of multiplayer Mario in a way that few games can match. Certain levels will stay with me for some time thanks to their memorable creativity.
I will surely fish out my Wii U whenever I have a willing group of friends ready to help me save those fairies. And, maybe throw each other off of cliffs. Or Nintendo could port it to Switch. Please port it to Switch.