Review: Super Mario 3D World


Lands are on handhelds, worlds are on consoles. Since the era of the Game Boy this has been the terminology. It gives an indication that players can expect the same basic play style as seen in the tiny Land, but on a larger scale in the World. This world is not grossly larger than the 3DS land where it has its roots, but it does play as well and certainly looks better.

The setup is the same as most Mario games with a slight change of characters. Bowser continues his career as a serial kidnapper by capturing several new fairly-like creatures, called Sprixies, that have emerged from a strange, clear pipe. These crystal pipes serve the same purpose as the green pipes in the Mushroom Kingdom – transportation though some sort of hyperspace pipe universe adjacent to our own – but these ones can only be made by Sprixies. It is up to Mario and Co. to rescue the weird apparitions that look like Toad heads with old lady hair and a dress stapled to where their neck ought to be. As you might imagine, none of this matters as there does not need to be much justification for why Luigi and his brother’s running crew want to run and jump through a bunch of haunted houses and over girder platforms miles above the earth for the sole purpose of reaching a flag placed by a person or persons unknown. That’s just what they do.

Careful observers of Mario canon and lore might note that I have failed to mention that Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach, a clear necessity for a Mario game. 3D World bucks the trend by making Peach a playable character in addition to Mario, Luigi and Toad. This classic selection harkens directly back to Super Mario Bros. 2 which also allowed players to select from members of the quartet, each with their own handling and tradeoffs. Mario is a basic stock character — he is fairly fast and has the same jumping physics, which allow feathering of movement after he is in the air, that has made the series last this long. Luigi can jump a little higher and is slower, and Toad is very quick but sinks like a stone while in the air and cannot go very high in the first place. (It is not clarified if the squat mushroom guy is the Toad from the NES game or if he is just another Toad with similar jumping ability.) Princess Peach is the slowest of all but can jump the farthest and can even hover in midair. As a cute touch, each of the characters will have their own color schemes when picking up the various transforming power items, Peach’s being the most distinct as her versions tend to be more elaborate and girly. The super leaf, as an example, which will make Mario sprout raccoon ears and a raccoon tail, for hovering, out of the back of his overalls, will turn Peach from a pink encased ism of princess into a Russian beauty with a fur-trimmed coat and hood, and a raccoon tail that lets her hover like Mario’s. There is a secret fifth character that can be unlocked very late in the game, but the less said about her the better.

The Mushroom Kingdom, as always, is a vibrant cartoon land that invites exploration and should appeal to long time fans and people that have never touched a Nintendo game at the same time. The world makes it clear in what direction players will need to move to complete the stage (though how it would be possible to correctly do so is not always apparent) and still manages to hide enough secrets to make it worth replaying many of the stages a second time. Filled with exaggerated characters who would look good in most renderings, the high definition capabilities of the Wii U truly allow this game to shine. Characters appear smooth, there is enough movement on screen to make the courses feel alive, and the color palette forces the game to standout like a vibrant rainbow arcing over the sea of grey and brown military shooters. I cannot recall there being any technical problems either. The score, as seems to be the current and foreseeable norm for Nintendo, is a mashup of remixed tracks dating back to series entries from the 80s and a few new songs which are pleasant and do not distract from the action. Top to bottom this is a fantastically presented and executed piece of software entertainment.

The platforming as Super Mario is as compelling as ever, but it would not be a Mario game in the modern era without a few power-ups to change things up. By far the biggest change to the mechanics is conferred by the Super Bell that confers the Cat Suit. In addition to allowing a melee attack, players wearing the cat suit can climb up some surfaces for a limited period of time. No longer will just barely missing an edge result in death, Cat Suit Mario will simply run up the side to safety. Accessing secret areas and running up to the top of stage ending flag poles is no problem as he can simply climb them. For the most part players would only traditionally need to look across a gap to the other side in a Mario game, but with the Cat Suit it is possible to go upwards as well to see if there is a hidden Star or 1-Up. Players can stock one extra power-up so it should always be possible to suit up to explore a suspicious area. Double Cherries make a clone that can be controlled to attack multiple enemies or solve puzzles by having each clone hit certain boxes at the same time. There are a multitude of other powers, old and new, to take care of the Goombas, Koopa Troopas and Hammer Brothers which fill the land, and half the fun is finding these items, many of which will not carry over from one stage to the next.

In order to unlock all of the stages players will need to gather the hidden green stars, of which most courses have three. There are also stamps which play into the social aspect of 3D World and the game also keeps track of which flagpoles Mario has topped. Additional green stars can be found in the Captain Toad levels which appear in a few of the worlds and are essentially puzzle boxes where players will control a jumpless Captain Toad as he walks slowly through a very small stage and tries to avoid danger. These are a welcome distraction in a game that can run by at a quick pace. Gathering the stamps will allow them to be used to accent messages left for other players who wander around the overworld, but not in the game itself. Mii Ghosts, other people’s runs, can also be downloaded and when replaying a stage. The game has cooperative multiplayer as well, but it probably shouldn’t. Players on the same system choose their character and proceed through the level sharing a pool of lives and generally getting in each other’s way. By my count, this is the third proper Mario game with this option of play available, and it continues to be a novelty that might be cute for a while but is not a mode that any one who is serious about completing the game will want to play.

There are a very few instances where a collectible is only gatherable by certain heroes, but for the most part the game can be played using whichever character one wants or instead make use of the random feature at the start of each stage which will pick one of the four for you. This is fun to mess around with at first, but as the stages go on and get more and more punishing, most players are going to circle around and eventually land on their favorite character. And unless it is for a stage that requires quick advancement instead of precise jumping, of which there are more than a few, that character for many people is going to be Peach. Quite simply, early on in the game playing her feels like cheating. The Mario games require fine tuned performance at the controls for hitting platforms and jumping off of walls and occasionally getting onto an enemy’s head. She has the same move set as the other standard characters but her ability to hover in midair for a couple of seconds can often make the difference between sticking a landing and losing a life. Hovering in effect makes all of the platforms just a little bit bigger and the game a lot easier. She is so embarrassingly better at this platforming thing than Mario that I don’t know why she is the one always getting kidnapped or why the Bros don’t put on a dresses. With his speed and a pink gown’s ability to confer limited flight, it is plain that transvestite Mario would be the superior Mario.

Between this game and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Nintendo has been crushing it lately. They are managing to keep their old franchises fresh yet still remain true to the tone and play that made those games great in the first place. Super Mario 3D World is a varied, fantastic-looking, well playing platformer that continues to set the bar for the genre. It is true that for the most part Mario is just running and jumping, but as the handling is such a joy, you’ll hardly notice.


+ Tight controls
+ The best looking Mario Bros game yet
+ Replayability not seen since Super Mario Bros 2

– Advanced levels are gated behind collectible acquisition
– Super Mario Bros 2 is 26 years old, that makes me feel old

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 11/22/2013
Genre: Action Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.