With two new consoles eager to take the spotlight away from the Wii U this holiday season, it clearly wasn’t enough for Nintendo to simply release another less-than-ambitious rehash in one of the gaming giant’s many popular franchises. The company had to do something far more drastic; it needed to combine a Super Mario Bros. game with the one thing that seemingly few humans can resist: cats.
Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U is a brand new, fully fleshed-out 3D Mario game – the first in high-definition, no less – and it’s a rock-solid platformer in every respect. If the Internet has taught us anything, though, it’s that felines are inexplicably popular, so the addition of a new cat suit in the game makes all kinds of sense.
The funny thing is, adding a cat power-up that allows players to climb walls and swat at enemies is arguably the biggest change to the series since the release of the spectacular Super Mario Galaxy in 2007. In other words, Super Mario 3D World doesn’t take a lot of chances, but it’s such a masterfully realized platformer that it’s easy to forgive the lack of originality on display.
The plot is thankfully barely a consideration here, and involves Mario traversing several worlds to save fairies known as Sprixies from his longtime nemesis Bowser’s clutches.
In a very obvious throwback to Super Mario Bros. 2, players can choose to play either as Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach or Toad. And like Super Mario Bros. 2, each character has his or her own special ability – Mario controls easily, Luigi can jump high, Peach can float, and Toad can dash quickly.
It’s one of the countless ways in which Nintendo pays homage to past games in the Mario Bros. canon. Not a single title in the series is left out, and it’s one of the many ways in which the game slathers on the charm, making it virtually impossible to go more than a couple of levels without smiling.
There may not be a lot of new ideas on display in Super Mario 3D World, but the high-definition treatment makes the game sometimes seem brand new, even if you’re traversing the same deserts, lakes, mansions, castles and so on that you’ve become keenly accustomed to over the years.
The Wii U may not have the brute processing power of an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, but for my money, Super Mario 3D World is one of the nicest-looking games released in 2013, and is easily the best-looking Mario game to date. Nintendo clearly had a ton of fun here, and the game manages to keep levels feeling fresh and full of surprises by taking advantage of things like shadows and camera angles.
Like many recent Mario Bros. games, Super Mario 3D World can be played co-operatively offline with up to four players. With more room to spread out in a 3D world, playing with friends is slightly less hectic than co-operative side-scrolling Mario games. Still, you’ll need to really work together if you want to get through levels in one piece, while also attaining all the hidden goodies.
Super Mario 3D World can be played with any number of controllers, and while more choice is always a good thing, it’s annoying that certain levels can only be played with the Wii U Gamepad. What that means is that if you’re using a Wii Remote or Pro Controller, you’ll be forced to remove the player slot you were just using, as the game (rightly) assumes that a second player wants to drop in when you turn on the Wii U Gamepad. It’s a small thing, but it’s annoying.
Speaking of which, the Wii U Gamepad doesn’t add a heck of a lot to the Super Mario 3D World experience. Tapping the screen or blowing into it will allow the player to interact with the environment in small ways, such as revealing hidden objects or blowing away smaller enemies. It doesn’t feel nearly as impressive in later levels, though, once the initial excitement wears off.
Few companies can pull off what Nintendo has done with Super Mario 3D World, which is release a game that has very few new ideas, but still manages to feel fresh and modern. If anything, it’s proof that things like strong level design and solid controls are timeless, and there’s absolutely no doubt that Nintendo has checked off those boxes here.
It’s also proof that cats can make anything kinda cute – even a pudgy plumber with a giant moustache and an obsession with princesses.