Super Mario 3D World review: the cat's pajamas

Nintendo has always marched to its own beat, but going head-to-head against not one but two console launches seems to have lit a fire under the company. This year's new Zelda is one of the best in years, and Super Mario 3D World is equally impressive. Nintendo's Tokyo team, having made the Galaxy games and Super Mario 3D Land, has rightfully gained a reputation for being the "A-team" of Mario development. Super Mario 3D World continues to prove this notion right. From the moment it kicks off, each and every stage is bursting with smartly crafted platforming, surprises, homages, and hidden secrets around every corner. focalbox I feared that the transition to a system that doesn't output 3D might compromise some aspect of the 3D Land aesthetic, since it was such a showpiece for the 3DS' unique capabilities. Happily, I found this unique approach to platforming lets Nintendo borrow the best pieces from both classic 2D and 3D Mario games, and the developer smartly pulled back from making any platforming challenges that rely too much on real depth-of-field. I also can't overstate how good this game looks. Wii U may not be as powerful as the new consoles coming out, but seeing Nintendo's iconic characters and environments animated so lovingly and in high-definition is really something special. Like the classic Super Mario Bros 2, 3D World lets you select from a variety of characters with their own abilities. Toad's fast vegetable-pulling has been replaced by increased run speed, but everyone else is just how you remember them--translated into the 3D space, naturally. The new environment makes the sense of familiarity feel fresh, as navigating with powers like Peach's float force new thinking and reflexes to respond to these stages. I was immediately drawn to Toad, and before long the other characters felt a bit sluggish. Everyone is likely to find their own style. [Ed's note: I chose Peach, thank you very much.]

Oh dear, Bowser has turned to kidnapping tiny ladies

Each new Mario game introduces new powers, and 3D World puts the new cat suit front and center. It's awfully adorable, but Nintendo has a knack for mixing in elements that are more substance than mere style. The cat suit feels specifically engineered to deal with this kind of space. Its climbing ability is well suited to the vertical space that litters most stages, while its diving pounce attack gives more options for dealing with enemies lurking on lower elevations. The Double Cherry, which replicates your character, makes the action more frenetic and challenging. It's very difficult to keep all your Marios in a row, so to speak, so getting them all to a goal line with some prize for having three or four is a clever way of keeping stages challenging by demanding perfection. They can also be used to collect coins quickly, or produce multiple fires or boomerangs from those respective suits. The pacing is also broken up by a few distinct stage types. One of my favorites, the Captain Toad stages, could almost be made into a small eShop release by itself. In it, you control both an explorer Toad with a heavy backpack, and the camera around him in a full cube-like 3D space. Since he can't jump like his heroic friends, these puzzle stages are more about moving the camera to see where he can walk or fall, and avoiding traps along the way. A handful of stages also have you rush to figure out and then complete specialized challenges in 10 seconds or less, invoking the frantic rush of a WarioWare game to gain more Green Stars. Those Green Stars are scattered around ordinary stages too, giving Mario veterans more to do. Though the main quest to defeat Bowser and free the Sprixies doesn't get extremely challenging until the very end, tracking down Green Stars will often require much more precise skill and patience--and more than a handful of lives, in some cases. BOOM video 16140 Meanwhile, Super Mario 3D World really comes alive in multiplayer. Nintendo long ago figured out how to keep a game like this engaging for audiences of all skill levels, and the multiplayer steps forged by other Mario games are still at play: losing a character traps them in a bubble, and you can enjoy harassing your friends by jumping on their heads or carrying them over yours. The addition of a crown for the top scorer makes a very clear sign for bragging rights--and puts a target on your back, since it can be lost in the midst of a stage. Some stages are simply more fun in multiplayer too. The Plessie stages, in which you ride on a dinsoaur's back, are fairly simple affairs in single-player. In multi, however, control of steering is divided, so you'll have to work together and vocalize your timing to navigate around obstacles and enemies. That kind of social interaction sits at the core of Super Mario 3D World. While online multiplayer has still been eschewed in favor of couch co-op, Nintendo did find a way to incorporate its Miiverse functionality. After finishing the game, you'll be able to see the ghosts of other Miis running through the stage. This brings out a sense of competition to beat them and, better yet, might just show you how to reach a secret you overlooked. Super Mario 3D World is a tightly-designed platformer, raucously fun in multiplayer, and a master's class in level design. Don't pass it off as just another Mario game. This one is not to be missed. [9]
This review is based on early retail Wii U code provided by the publisher. Super Mario 3D World will be available on November 22 at retail and downloadable on the eShop for $49.99. The game is rated E.