The Wii U has been inundated with videogames featuring Mario since launch. It seems as though every third title from Nintendo features the portly plumber in some way, but then when their core audience gobbles them up each and every time who can blame them? Furthermore, Nintendo have never been known to rest on their laurels, so while New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land may well be doing the numbers after a cost-effective development, it’s Super Mario 3D World that’s going to prove that our aging protagonist has still got what it takes to innovate.
Super Mario 3D World is reminiscent of the classic 16-bit wonder Super Mario World, but only in its aesthetic. Mario and friends will travel through a familiar set of lands and fight enemies that return from previous titles, but the videogame is actually closer to Super Mario 64 in its execution. Each level has a finite end and plays as a 3D take on a traditional Super Mario videogame, but the constant stream of new encounters that vary between platform action, boss battles and heart-pounding river races – and much more besides – recalls Mario’s first confident stride into three-dimensions.
The platform action brings into play the Catsuit. A new power-up, this addition is remarkably flexible: players can climb up walls, flip, dive attack in the air and ground pound all with the slightest effort. Any character can wear the suit and make use of its abilities, but outside of doing so each has their own unique traits. Similar to that seen in Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad are all playable and provide standard, sprint, float and high jump abilities respectively. Of course, Super Mario 3D World is playable by up to four players simultaneously and the core principles for multiplayer are the same as that of New Super Mario Bros. U: if one player gets hit they will hover in a bubble and wait to be rescued, while the usual competitive/co-operative gameplay is encouraged with relation to the collection of coins.
This friendly competition is encouraged in all areas of Super Mario 3D World, as was confirmed through one of the gameplay variants: a level in which the players mount a dinosaur moving along a river. Players tussle for control of the dinosaur as he gathers pace, aiming to hit shortcuts, speed boosts and collect coins. Co-operation is more essential in a third level that Electronic Theatre was demonstrated; a boss battle in which players had to mount plates on snakes’ heads and then jump onto the large king snake in the centre. Undeniably the weakest of all the levels on display, this level proved that Super Mario is still best when played as it was always intended: a light-hearted, constantly progressive dexterity challenge.
While Wii U gamers have been clamouring for new high quality videogame experiences for nearly a year, this winter is proving to be something of a tipping point. The likes of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and Super Mario 3D World have been pre-empted by The Wonderful 101, proving that a line-up of strong titles will always be superior to an avalanche of so-so videogames. Super Mario 3D World has some strong competition for this busy holiday season, but betting against him will always be a fool’s game.