Super Mario 3D World preview: cherry fun

By Andrew Yoon, Oct 01, 2013 7:45am PDT

The annualization of Nintendo's marquee Mario series had us concerned: has Mario lost its charm? At first glance, Super Mario 3D World for Wii U may suggest the franchise has become stale. It looks and plays much like Super Mario 3D Land for 3DS--while losing the unique made-for-3D gameplay of the handheld original.

Yet, a recent hands-on session with the game shows that there's still a lot of untapped genius at Nintendo. Specifically, 3D World proves that one should never doubt Nintendo Tokyo, the team responsible for the best-in-class Galaxy games.

What makes 3D World so unique? Nintendo struggled to answer that question at E3, showing off character abilities ripped from Super Mario Bros 2, clear pipes, and a cat suit power-up that was more cute than innovative. Newly revealed by Nintendo is the double cherry power-up--an ability so innovative, it could carry an entire game by itself.

When obtaining a cherry, your character splits into two. Now, you can have two Marios running around in tandem, jumping and stomping in sync. If you grab another cherry, your two Toads will become three. Grab another, and your three Peaches will become four, etc. Best of all, you can combine this power-up with any other. At one point in the demo, I had five fire-powered Peaches laying devastation to a pack of enemies. It was wonderful.

You can't control doppelgangers separately from your main hero, meaning they will eventually fall out of sync with each other. That poses some interesting platforming challenges, as you try to get a horde of characters into a warp pipe. You'll start taking advantage of walls, or periods of time when your "main" hero is unaffected by controller input, in an attempt to reorganize your group. There's benefit to maintaining a large crowd, too. Not only is it incredibly empowering to see an army of clones on the screen, there are certain areas that are blocked off unless you have a certain number of doppelgangers. Because each of your clones will disappear in one hit, there's an increased challenge in dealing with the growing horde of characters.

Although the cherry power-up is exciting by itself, there are a number of other surprises on display. Perhaps the most striking is a level that plays on shadows. A light source illuminates exaggerated shadows in a high-contrast level. By seeing objects in the background that don't appear in the foreground, you can figure out where hidden passageways are. It's an interesting way of playing with perspective--and feels like a throwback to 3D Land (sans 3D screen).

With so much creativity on display, 3D World has the trappings of a must-have Wii U game. Perhaps the biggest qualm one could have with the game is that it doesn't have any noteworthy GamePad functionality. Last year, New Super Mario Bros U surprised us with its inventive platforming. Super Mario 3D Land looks like it may do the same.

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