A world of difference over the 3DS game.
When I was a kid playing Super Mario All-Stars and Super Mario World on my SNES, I was fascinated by the manuals that came included with Nintendo games of the era. Rather than the lazy black and white screen captures of pixelated items, alongside poorly-translated descriptions that were normal for SomE GAmes (subliminally sublime, eh?), Nintendo manuals more often than not were tomes of beautiful artwork, entertaining back stories and multi-page enemy indexes.
Thumbing through hand-drawn renditions of Chargin' Chuck, colorful charts showing powerup hierarchies and the complete world map of Dinosaur Land, I would often think to myself; Some day, Mario games will match these drawings. We'll be able to play games that look so perfect that it's almost like playing this art, the way these pictures represent Mario's world, the way it's meant to be. Super Mario 3D World brought memories of those daydreams flooding back, and made me realize I was playing the reality of my childhood imagination. Welcome to Mario's world, 3D Land was just the beginning.
The game manages to successfully combine the best ingredients from every game the series has given us in the last thirty years of its existence, paying tributes to elements I didn't even know were sorely missed. Most obviously is that the latest adventure can now be played with up to five players. Four can jump into the game as one of Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach (and of course Rosalina, but I won't whine about that Nintendo Direct here), and a fifth player can use the GamePad as an unseen assistant who can touch the levels to uncover secrets, bash blocks, restrain enemies and even blow certain enemies off their feet via the microphone. You need not be concerned about the single player experience being any less of a focus however. Regardless of how many players there are, each type of play – single, two, three-player, etcetera, holds its own unique merits and all are a blast to experience.
Despite not playing as Toad or Peach since the days of the NES, I was taken aback by how familiar they played. The jumping and speed mechanics are so spot-on to the physics in Super Mario Bros. 2 that you'd almost forget it's been nearly three decades since the last time the whole gang adventured together like this. Each character is also diverse enough to require fine-tuning your playing style, making multiple playthroughs of the game just different enough each time.
The game's levels are a pure joy to navigate, capturing the true essence of a 2D Mario adventure in a 3D space in such a way that 3D Land before it could only vaguely touch upon. Each stage is creatively built and features memorable elements that sets it apart from the others, no two levels feel like simply “more of the same”, even the multiple steam train levels found throughout 3D World have their own quirky twists. The soundtrack is another particular high note, taking some cues from games before it and expanding them into booming orchestral themes, whilst also dishing out plenty of catchy new tunes. You won't find any New Super Mario Bros. “bah”s in this game!
Much like in the original Super Mario World, some of the classic enemies are replaced with strange new Sprixie Kingdom variations. Flying Dry Bones and Snow Pokeys? It feels both nostalgic and fresh at the same time. If I had one complaint to make, it would be that the boss battle standard is starting to show signs of age. Hisstocrat, the snakelike boss shown in trailers, is a great step in the right direction with some interesting new mechanics, but it's still the same old “three stomps and it's over.” Likewise, one appearance of Boom Boom or Prince Bully is plenty for the game to establish their presence, but they show up repeatedly with very minor difference in execution. I would have adored seeing 3D battles with Bowser's Koopaling kids, their individual tricks being applied in creative new ways. Fortunately, you have hands down the coolest final boss sequence in any Mario game ever to look forward to, which completely outweighs any mediocrity of the bosses before it. I won't reveal spoilers, it's up to you to play it and find out.
Not since Super Mario World on the SNES has a game felt so chock-full of hidden bonuses. I won't reveal the specifics, but Rosalina really is just the tip of the iceberg. Added to that are the often minuscule hidden Luigis I mentioned in my feature, which give you no reward beyond a smile to discover and serve no purpose other than a cool little Year of Luigi send off.
I want to personally shake the hand of whomever it was at Nintendo who came up with the idea of collectible stamps to use in Miiverse posts, it's such a simple feature but the practicality makes such sense to the Wii U's design, and I greatly look forward to seeing this feature implemented into many new games to come.
Super Mario 3D World is thoroughly enjoyable any way you look at it. If this is the new standard for Mario, any doubts about Nintendo's future are quickly laid to rest.