Nintendo’s long-game tactic has been in place since the launch of the original Nintendo DS hardware, and time-again has proven to be particularly fruitful. Launching a new console with a selection of welcoming titles that benefit from cost-effective development will see the early adopters satisfied and give Nintendo the breathing space required to push their beloved franchises into new territory. That any core gamer is still caught off-guard by this strategy simply confounds Electronic Theatre, but the fact that Nintendo continue to have faith in it is evident of a company still firmly invested in producing high quality software.
Super Mario 3D World heralds the initiation of the second phase of the Wii U’s lifespan, wherein Nintendo’s core franchises get a good workout. The first 3D Super Mario title will inevitably be followed by a new The Legend of Zelda videogame, the already revealed Mario Kart 8 and a number of returning franchises, most of which we’ll likely see at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in June 2014. All of these titles should be riding high on any core gamer’s ‘most wanted’ lists, but Super Mario 3D World is here right now, and it proves that the Wii U can truly be a contender in the console race.
Super Mario has always been considered a franchise that anyone can get onboard with, however when Super Mario 64 arrived it was clear that Nintendo’s desire to revolutionise the platform genre didn’t gel well with its console’s audience. Of course the core gamers loved – and still do love – Super Mario 64, but it was found to be falling short of upstarts such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro on Sony Computer Entertainment’s hugely popular PlayStation console simply due to a numbers game. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (following the Nintendo DS’ creative reinvigorating of the franchise) brought Super Mario back to the masses, and here in Super Mario 3D World we have the best of both: this is the evolution of the 3D world design seen in Super Mario 64 wrapped in a package accessible by all.
Super Mario 3D World features a level system opposed to the open world structure that Super Mario 64 championed, but it’s the internal design of these levels that is reminiscent of the first true 3D platform videogame. These maps are 3D representations of the 2D Super Mario Bros. levels and yet they consistently promote exploration: travelling off the beaten path to find additional rewards. The control system, the challenge design and the multitude of unique experiences all scream Super Mario 64. But Super Mario 3D World is a thoroughly modern experience, thanks mainly to its multiplayer gameplay.
Super Mario 3D World leans on its heritage yet again for its multiplayer gameplay. Up to four players can join the action simultaneously with the same co-operative/competitive style gameplay that was championed with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, however here each of the four playable characters – Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad – have strikingly different attributes. Players of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) classic Super Mario Bros. 2 will be instantly familiar with the capabilities of each and the kind of challenges the individuals will be able to overcome, but for newcomers the surprise if part of the fun.
The multiplayer gameplay is simply fantastic. It’s Super Mario 3D World’s raison d’etre, but there is still enjoyment to be had when playing solo. The level design is presented in such a way that anyone will be able to get from start-to-finish with relative ease (though later levels do ramp-up the difficulty considerably) but it’s finding the many secrets that will demand the skills of a more experienced gamer. And this is key to Super Mario 3D World’s universal appeal: a core gamer can enjoy the push-pull of playing with less experienced friends and family before returning alone to plumb the fill depths of Super Mario 3D World’s hidden backstreets. It’s such elementary design, and yet it still seems to be something that only Nintendo know how to create.
The visual design of Super Mario 3D World cannot be knocked. It’s simply a joy to play through the many different locales the videogame offers, whether on the television screen or via the Wii U Gamepad’s screen. In that regard, it’s a shame that Super Mario 3D World doesn’t make greater use of the Wii U’s key feature, but as the design doesn’t call for it the result may have been to the detriment of the experience had Nintendo decided to awkwardly shoehorn it in. As it stands Super Mario 3D World is a wonderful videogame that capitalises on Mario’s universal appeal, and with this leading the charge – if Nintendo can follow-through on their long-game strategy in 2014 – the Wii U will undoubtedly become a treasure trove of high quality videogame experiences.