When faced with following up Super Mario Galaxy as the flagship home 3D platformer, developer EAD Tokyo made a product out of cobbling together disparate smaller ideas. There’s the new (Cat Mario), the recent (local multiplayer), the classic (the overworld) and the callback (character abilities). This, meshed with the 3D Land aesthetic, sounds like it would be promising but uneven, a pile of good things that just can’t come together in a logical way.
But no, Super Mario 3D World is great both in parts and as a whole.
The new Mario title has you playing as one of the four characters from the Western Super Mario Bros. 2, complete with variations in speed and jumping. These differences feel a bit more balanced here than they once were: Peach certainly has the hovering advantages, but her diminished speed can really get her into trouble at times. The swift Toad will likely be a favorite for speed runs, but his smaller jumps mean precision is key. In multiplayer, these variations allow players to take certain roles in tight spots, no longer identical clones of each other. When playing alone, picking which to enter a level with adds a level of strategy that just hasn’t been there.
The levels themselves may initially seem very similar to 3D Land‘s diorama stages, and certainly the aesthetics are similar, but the scope makes them feel at least somewhat closer to Galaxy‘s more platforming-focused areas. They’re all usually very short, introducing a gimmick and jumping into it without leaving much time for atmosphere. That’s just it, really: where 3D World will never beat Galaxy is in environmental ambition. Instead, it leans hard into whimsy, creating a game that feels happy if not grand.
The new cat transformation has received much of the new game’s focus, and it’s certainly a big force throughout. Using this power-up, you can run up walls and poles, and you also gain a melee attack. It makes most other abilities seem just silly in comparison, as you’ll be bypassing obstacles and ascending the goal pole with ease. While previous games may have had their favorite suits, accidentally running into a different item while in cat form truly feels like a downgrade.
There are some other new abilities that are just as compelling, if not as impactful outside of specific levels. Collecting cherries creates a clone of yourself that is also under your control, making for levels with clever splitting of your different characters to take on enemies and puzzles. Kuribo’s Shoe returns in the form of an ice skate, allowing you to eject the Goomba inside and slide around ice-filled areas. There are a few more of these, as well as a new aquatic creature named Plessie that you steer through river stages. All of these new concepts really feel like they could have been explored more than they are; it doesn’t detract from the levels that are here, but it certainly leaves us wanting a 3D World 2 that takes these ideas further.
The two console New Super Mario Bros. games are known for their four player co-op madness. These titles are fun with friends, but in my mind are completely different experiences than playing solo due to how chaotic they can be. 3D World fixes that by having larger levels to make up for the higher player count. This is easily the best Mario co-op experience yet, and well worth playing with a friend (or three) even if NSMB multiplayer wasn’t your thing. – Andrew Passafiume
Possibly the most charming additions this time are Captain Toad stages. These single-player levels have you controlling the little lost Toad from Galaxy, moving through areas without being able to do much other than walking. They’re based on small square stages you can spin and interact with on the GamePad, helping the Captain to collect the green stars. Once again, this isn’t explored nearly as much as it could have been, with one level per world. We’re crossing our fingers for some sort of downloadable supplement of these, through a Pushmo-style standalone title or even just an add-on. There’s really a lot of promise here.
Of course, 3D World isn’t without its flaws. The main one is that, as a single-player game, it’s not particularly optimized. It’s best to play with at least one friend, or some parts could prove more frustrating than you may like. And when playing in multiplayer, the characters are color-coded… except, sometimes, Mario. His suits aren’t always red (or red-tinted), and that can get a bit confusing in chaotic four-player moments.
There’s a lot to sink your claws into in Super Mario 3D World, and the collection of levels contains very few misses. If you’ve been holding out on a Wii U purchase until it had an exclusive that was recommended without caveats, now may be that time, and if you already own the system, 3D World will make sure you don’t regret it.
Pros: Bright worlds, fun levels, well-orchestrated multiplayer
Cons: Being a cat is seriously broken