Review by super_luigi16

"A Game (and Franchise) With Nine Lives, But It Isnít Quite the Catís Meow"

I have to be honest: when I first heard that Nintendo was releasing another Mario platformer for the Wii U, I was irritated. How could Nintendo overlook such underappreciated franchises like Star Fox, Metroid, and F-Zero? How could Mario have two Wii U games (three if you count New Super Luigi U) before Zelda even has one? But, as more and more information was released about Super Mario 3D World (SM3DW), those concerns assuaged somewhat. Granted, I still feel cheated out of a fresher game, but SM3DW is a very good game—much better than New Super Mario Bros. U.

Disclosures aside, SM3DW is another entry into the storied Mario franchise—a franchise that has been just about everywhere. SM3DW is somewhat like a hybrid game: one half of its heart lies with Super Mario 3D Land, a 3D Mario platformer, and the other half lies with New Super Mario Bros. Wii and New Super Mario Bros. U, four-player 2D Mario platformers. SM3DW melds these two concepts together. The best thing is that it does so masterfully: this is the best Mario platforming in years coupled with a wholesome local multiplayer experience. SM3DW is another solid Mario game; the only aspect this game lacks is something intangible… something that can only be felt and experienced, not visually criticized.

Itsa Me-ow, Mario!

Yep, the Cat Mario gimmick is the main sticking point of this review and of the game. While Nintendo does drive the cat schtick home, they actually do have quite a bit to offer, especially in terms of level design. Nintendo keeps a lot of traditional Mario elements and puzzles in SM3DW, but the developers also bring quite a few nuances to the mix to make things interesting.

SM3DW fuses 3D Mario controls with 2D Mario camera angles (for the most part). This means that you have more advanced jumping techniques, but you do lose triple and double jumps. Wall jumping is also slightly more difficult, and angling can be a bit finicky with multiple players. However, you do gain quite a few new, higher jumps as well as more sophisticated running and physics. Most of the challenge in SM3DW does indeed come from both aspects of Mario platformers; some goodies are hidden by the 2D camera while others are hidden by 3D viewpoints. Such a mixture strengthens the game.

The Level Design

SM3DW's best strength is the level design. This has often be the defining perpetuity of Mario games: the classic, instantly recognizable level design makes the games fun to play. While SM3DW's level design is inherently and demonstrably Mario in nature, it's genuinely fresh. SM3DW exercises full control over a wide variety of premises. The game has more familiar Mario platforming, especially in stages like 1-1 and 1-2. However, the game also significantly differentiates with many of the levels, most strikingly the castle levels. The mix of old and new retains the Mario charm while adding a refreshing taste of the new.

One of the most notable early levels that is easily discernible from the Mario of old is 1-Castle. This level involves hitting Bowser with his own projectiles while moving along a scrolling 3D platforming highway. Much different than the simple Koopaling boss battles of previous games, 1-Castle updates the level design. Furthermore, the rest of the level design is consistently amazing. Nearly each and every level is remarkable although this kind of consistency is almost expected from a Mario platformer. Nevertheless, there are very few “dud” levels, never leaving you wanting more. The variation between levels is also large enough to ensure that the water world doesn't feel like seven boardwalks in a row.

Each level has a few hidden goodies to spice up the platforming elements. Green stars are scattered throughout each level—some levels have five hidden stars while others have only one. Generally, these stars are somewhat difficult to find, but they are certainly manageable if one takes their time and explores each area thoroughly and carefully. Stamps, on the other hand, tend to be hidden a little bit more cleverly, and they often require a bit more technical prowess to find. Stamps and Green Stars alike both add to the experience, though.

Local Multiplayer

SM3DW touts the four-player 3D platforming and rightly so; the local multiplayer is excellent. In fact, it was the first way I played through the game. (The stages work just fine with one experienced player, don't worry). Unlike NSMBU, SM3DW's stages do not feel crowded, and it is much more unlikely that another player will accidentally knock you off the stage. Many stages require less coordination amongst players, which is a good thing when nearly every action required everyone to be on the same page in NSMBU. Cooperative play is much easier in SM3DW. Furthermore, the stages are not designed so that one player has to press ahead without the help of the others—rather, SM3DW integrates all players in stages like Plessie's, which is 1-4.

In 1-4, players ride Plessie, a large dinosaur, down a set of flumes. Each player has absolute control over jumping (if any one player indicates that they want to jump, Plessie jumps) but shared control over steering. Because of this, constant coordination is required, but one player's misstep is often not catastrophic. Rather, one player's quick reaction might save the rest of the players.

There are very few levels where unprecedented and unwarranted coordination is required: 3-2 is the major one that comes to mind. SM3DW derives its greatness from the sheer fun of platforming, so alleviating the stress of local co-op while spicing up the level design is a major plus. SM3DW's platforming is commendable, especially for a game that stagnated so much in the New Super Mario Bros. series.

Power-Ups

The namesake of this section, Mario's new power-ups are slightly underwhelming. However, the two new power-ups—the Double Cherry and Super Bell—are both very well implemented, especially the latter which is the Cat Mario power-up.

The Super Bell transforms Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, or the secret unlockable character into their respective cat forms. Once they are in cat form, they can climb up walls quite a bit, but not indefinitely. Furthermore, Cat Mario can also directly attack enemies with his claws. While these few additions do not sound like much, they are integrated superbly into each level in which they are intended to be used. Cat Mario also has several quirks, such as being able to run up the flag pole to the very top, that show a maturity and adaptability with the power-up not seen in more veteran power-ups.

The other new power-up, the Double Cherry, is a little underused and less impressive. Still, when in effect, the single player can use the Double Cherry to control two players at once, allowing for easier platforming if one has decent coordination. The Double Cherry is somewhat benign in local co-op, though, as you already have three or four players working together to make the platforming more manageable. However, benignity is not necessarily a negative.

The World Map

The aforementioned variation in level design does have repercussions with the world map. Although Nintendo did a commendable job making a more navigable world map, the map Is somewhat fragmented because of the wildly diverging levels. For instance, the third world (which is icy) switches from a snow level to a vacation cube; the switch is disconcerting.

The World Map also isn't that impressive. It follows a loose path, and each level is only tangentially related to the other; in fact, this world map is basically NSMBU's map in 3D. Not much effort was made to make the world wholesome. The world map is still there, but it could be so much more. It doesn't detract from the game, though.

Near Purrfect Presentation

SM3DW has impressive graphics… that much is obvious. Although the game does not push the envelope so to speak, the game does not lag and it does not sacrifice graphics at any point in time. The game is fully capable of rendering scenes in all sorts of camera angles, and the 3D viewpoints accommodate player movements well. Moreover, the music matches the level design, which is key for any platformer.

The Graphics

Landscapes and environments are damn near perfect. The graphics aid the level design in an immense way, obscuring hidden objects while adding grandeur and assistance when needed. The developers manipulate the graphics masterfully. In most levels, it's the little details in the graphics that give away the location of hidden objects, and that is very likely the intention of the developers. The graphics are an irrefutably vital part of level design, aiding the player's endeavor of finding Green Stars and stamps without forcing the player to search forever.

Moreover, the developers also use the graphics to show off just how impressive SM3DW is. Level 3-4's starting area showcase the detail of a head-on view while 4-1's cliffside platforms demonstrate a vertical platforming viewpoint. SM3DW's graphics vary quite a bit, showing off all sorts of viewpoint and vantages.

The detailing and figures look genuinely pleasing, though I do have qualms about some of the smaller versions of the playable characters. For instance, the smallest iteration of Peach seems to have an overly condensed face, and her features are lost among the rest of her face. While this may be a by-product of developing this model from scratch, slightly more finesse would have amended this mistake. Also, the cat power-ups look nearly identical among the different characters; the only difference is the color. Nonetheless, the graphics are still remarkable.

The Story

Admittedly, SM3DW does not have a story. Well, it has a story, but it's the simplistic “Bowser captures XYZ.” This time, we don't even know who or what or why Bowser captures these fairies. But, I think all of us are well aware that any game with “Mario” in the title does not have any story whatsoever unless said “Mario” is directly preceded by “Paper.” The lack of any tangible story to grasp onto is simply a given for this game; just enjoy the platforming for what it really is: hella good gaming.

Super Mario 3D World Is a Great Game

Yes, SM3DW is a great game. The only thing, the only ingredient this game lacks is the magic… the gravitas of a truly amazing game. SM3DW, in all of its greatness and glory, is simply there. It lacks the finality, the grandiose of a game that deserves a ten out of ten. In other words, SM3DW has the “oomph” of an excellent game, but not the “OOMPH” of a perfect game. It's lacking that one thing… the icing on the cake.

What could this one thing be? It could be the gravity of a storyline. If SM3DW had an actual concrete story with cutscenes and all, the game would have something to sink its teeth in rather than floating by as it does now. It could also be a more defined overworld. SM3DW's overworld, as wonderful as it is, is just a map. It makes marginal attempts at being interactive, but a world map that was actually interactive, comprehensive, and dynamic would give SM3DW that magic. Hell, even online features would push it over the edge.

SM3DW makes full use of its nine lives, but it quite simply is not the cat's meow. It is not the Mario game of the ages… it is the Mario game of the Wii U console (for now). And it is a wholly admirable Mario game, and it does not do the Wii U a disserveice. SM3DW has damn-near-perfect local multiplayer, platforming, atmospherics, graphics, and music. And, even without the finality, the concrete ground that the game desperately could use, SM3DW is a game worthy of your purchase. It's a wonderful Wii U game.

FINAL SCORE: 9/10 | OUTSTANDING

Gameplay
+ Amazing level design.
+ Extraordinary variation.
+ Decent world map.
+ Good power-ups.
+ Local co-op is wholly supported.

Story
- One-dimensional plot.

Graphics
+ Great camera views.
+ Wonderful integration into level design.
+ Most figures are good.
+ HD graphics.
- Some cloudy details.

Music
+ Respectable Mario music.

Replayability
+ Local multiplayer is engaging; easily replayable.
+ Collectibles add a bit of replayability.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/02/14

Game Release: Super Mario 3D World (US, 11/22/13)


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