Every Nintendo system (except for the GameCube) has had a definitive Mario game coupled with its run since the original Nintendo Entertainment System back in the 1980s. Super Mario 3D World is not 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy, nor is it 1996’s Super Mario 64; it shows no signs of emerging as the definitive Mario Bros. game of the Wii U. What it does do however, is maintain the charm of the franchise, along with the fun and enjoyment that one would expect from a Mario Bros. game. If Nintendo returns to the Galaxy series or goes in a completely new direction, I doubt 3D World will be considered the definitive Mario Bros. game of the Wii U, but in the interim, it is a remarkable placeholder.
Super Mario 3D World returns to the gameplay established in its 3DS predecessor, 2011’s Super Mario 3D Land, continuing the trend that Nintendo has established of adapting its successful handheld mario titles for the home console. We saw this with 2006’s New Super Mario Bros. and its 2009 counterpart, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and we will see this next year with Mario Kart 8, the counterpart to 2011’s Mario Kart 7.
Super Mario 3D Land‘s aforementioned 2D gameplay we have come to love all the way from its origins in 1985’s Super Mario Bros. is this time infused with many of the elements established in the 3D iterations of the franchise (save for the unique gameplay of Super Mario Galaxy). 3D World is the first game of the series that willfully and playfully feels more like a valentine, a love letter to the roots of the Mario Bros. franchise, rather than a collection of enemies and environments that are familiar and recycled.
The character selection is ripped straight from the annals of 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 2. Luigi can jump higher and fall slower, Toad runs faster, Peach can glide, and Mario is all-around average. There are red doors and levels where the gameplay consists of Mario and company’s shadows against a wall, similar to that of Super Mario Bros. 2. There are monsters reminiscent of the football players seen in the end of every level in 1991’s Super Mario World. Power-ups are minimal compared to the array found in the New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy games; this is all about Mario Bros. gameplay in its purest form.
One of the paramount aspects of Super Mario 3D World’s is the ability to play with four other gamers – the gameplay in 3D World can actually be extremely cut-throat for a Mario Bros. title. Like any other nostalgic title, the person who has the most points is king (literally, you wear a crown), and the variable power-ups provided are there to attain as many points as possible. A player who has the fireball suit or the cherry power-up that grants multiple copies of the player’s character will have an edge on his companions and a much easier time generating points for themselves. There are instances in gameplay that require multiple players to work together to overcome an obstacle or defeat a boss. This is the apex of a bonafide fun time in Mario Bros. games – working together one minute and making each other fall into pits the next, and not thinking twice about either situation.
The newest addition to the array of power-ups comes in the form of Mario’s cat suit. After utilizing tanooki (Japanese raccoon dogs), frogs, and penguins, I guess the developers at Nintendo wanted to go with something that was a bit more domesticated – also, cats are pretty popular on the internet these days. The cat suit allows players to scale walls, finding normally unattainable obstacles and power-ups, as well as providing the ability to climb the infamous flagpole at the end of the level and gain the maximum amount of points possible for doing so. It is a clever little power-up that while minimal in what it actually gives the player, opens up the entire level for exploration.
The problem with games like Super Mario 3D World and the recently released New Super Mario Bros. U is that while they maintain the charm and nostalgia that I mentioned before, those attributes are ultimately fleeting, and they diminish faster with each installment. The game lacks the level of innovation and allure of a new direction that preceded games like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 64; there is only so much a cat-suit will do for the plumber. Super Mario 3D World is a good direction, but it is not a bold one and it certainly is not a meaningful one.
Super Mario 3D World is being developed by Nintendo EAD Tokyo and will be published by Nintendo for the Wii U on November 21st, 22nd, 29th, and 30th, 2013 in Japan, North America, Europe, and Australia, respectively.