|System: Wii U|
|Release: November 22, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Jenni Lada
My first magic Mario moment was when I was in second grade. I was playing Super Mario Bros. 3 for the first time, and I discovered the Warp Whistle in 1-3. It wasn't a huge secret, anyone with access to an NES knew the trick, but knowing how to reach it and getting it made me feel special. Though my platforming skills weren't among the best, I felt like a master every time I discovered something hidden away.
Unfortunately, it's been a long time since I had a Mario game make me feel that way. Titles such as Super Mario 64, New Super Mario Bros., and Super Mario 3D Land are good, but I’ve never had that moment again. That is until Super Mario 3D World. During my first half hour of play, I discovered a warp pipe hidden away in level 1-2. I hadn't used any guides; none were available yet. I stumbled across it on my own, using the cat power-up, and it was like I was 8-years old again, playing Super Mario Bros. 3 in my grandpa's living room. It's only fitting, because Super Mario 3D World is a special game. As a successor to Super Mario 3D Land, it does a lot of things I thought impossible.
People love a lot of things about Mario games, and different gameplay aspects make installments different people's favorites. Those who love Super Mario Bros. 2 praise the ability to play as different characters with unique abilities. I consider Super Mario Bros. 3 the gold standard for all of its secrets. Some adore Super Mario Galaxy for its unique presentation and perspectives. Super Mario 64 offers diverse environments and enemies. Somehow, Super Mario 3D World manages to combine all of these wonderful elements into one game while still giving even more. It is a tribute to prior games while showing us the series' future.
Super Mario 3D World begins with a common scenario. It's a lovely day in the Mushroom Kingdom, and Mario, Peach, Luigi, and Toad are enjoying the outdoors. They stumble upon something unexpected: a pipe that is entirely clear. Mario and Luigi fix it with their mad plumber skills, and a Sprixie fairy princess pops out. She's in a panic, as Bowser has captured the other Sprixies. Naturally, the group is going to help, but before they can learn more, Bowser arrives and bottles her up. He heads down the pipe, and Peach leads the charge to jump in and journey to the Sprixie Kingdom.
It's time to rely on the tried and true Mario formula. Super Mario 3D World is divided up into worlds, each with a Sprixie princess held captive in one of Bowser's castle, and various levels leading up to it overflow with minions. Every level has a gimmick or theme to it, yet none of them feel hokey or pedantic. Originality is rampant, with areas that may rely on trapeze timing, underwater antics, stealth spotlight dodging, key-coin collecting, and proper Bob-omb usage. Boo mansions return, as do areas where the goal is to complete an impromptu speed-run, defeat mini-bosses, or outsmart opponents.
In an odd twist, Super Mario 3D World even offers homages to other games. As Nintendo recently revealed, there are Mario Kart-inspired levels, where players run along tracks, hitting boosters to race to the end. What really struck me, though, were the times when I wondered if it was referencing other games. For example, there is one level where players only see the shadows of the characters and enemies along a wall, a la the niche Wii game Lost in Shadow. The Captain Toad levels, which require players to collect five stars from an area without jumping or attacking, feel like a callback to Echochrome. It doesn’t have the reality/perspective elements, but the need to keep shifting the puzzle to think where to go conjures up fond memories. The top down, shoot 'em up portions bring up memories of Ikari Warriors.
Nintendo could have gotten away with releasing Super Mario 3D World with a massive array of levels, but decided to go a step further by introducing new power-ups that make people completely rethink the way the game is played. The heralded cat power-up is the perfect example. Its ability to climb grants access to unexpected areas, and I felt encouraged to revisit suspicious locations in the spiffy new fur suit, perhaps with a character whose abilities were more suited to the area, in the hopes of discovering something new.