I know I'm not alone in thinking that Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 are among the finest adventures that Mario has ever been on. I'm also sure I'm not the only one that was sad to see Mario heading in the 3D Land direction on Wii U instead of a more Galaxy-like approach. Early trailers for Super Mario 3D World certainly made the game seem like a cut/paste of the 3DS title, but that all started to change the closer to release we go. The most recent screens and footage of the game looked absolutely stunning...it looks like a completely new game that had plenty of unique ideas to offer. Thankfully, the more recent content is indicative of the final project, and I believe Super Mario 3D World feels more like Mario gone 3D than any other game before it.
Again, I want to say that I absolutely adore the Galaxy games. They are some of the most pure gaming experiences I've ever had. They will forever sit atop the pile of games I think are the best the industry has offered. I'm just saying that you should make some room for Super Mario 3D World up there as well. When you put the Galaxy games side by side with Super Mario 3D World, you see something very interesting. The Galaxy titles aimed to take Mario into an all-new universe with brand-new mechanics. It kept the familiar characters and enemies, but the setting took on an other-worldly feel. Super Mario 3D World feels like a true evolution of the Mario ideas that existed in Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, 3 and World.
I get a feeling from SM3DW that I haven't gotten from a console Mario in a very long time. It's that certain something that you can't put your finger on. It's that element that sticks with you when you turn the game off. It's that vibe that rings true to the series. SM3DW is a title that aims to bring absolute pure gamer bliss to fans of Mario. This isn't a game that strives to show that games can be art, or that Mario needs to evolve and include a detailed story. This is a title of solid mechanics, outstanding level design, fantastic production value and unparalleled platforming. I truly feel that no one out there makes games like this...no one can touch Nintendo in this regard.
SM3DW seems to offer up unique twists in almost every single level. One level has you swinging from rainbow-colored swings high up in the air, the next has you ascending an Aztec-like temple while traversing mechanical gondolas. Sometimes you'll utilize a cat suit to climb up the series' trademark fences. Other levels will let you grab the new cannon-block power-up to fire at any crate or enemy that stands in your way. There are certainly a few similarities between levels, such as the amazing amount of fun you'll have. There's also the way SM3DW absolutely screams off the TV with its bright and colorful visuals. I don't think my TV has ever gotten a visual workout like this!
When I played the Galaxy titles, I just couldn't fathom how a Mario game could ever look any better. I imagined that a but in HD resolution would make for an even prettier picture, but SM3DW shows me that there's plenty Nintendo can do with the horsepower of Wii U. The attention to detail is staggering at times. The lighting system is most likely the best that Nintendo has ever utilized. The little touches blast out at you, like the fur on cat suits and the slick nature of Mario's outfit when rain is pouring down. All these little elements come together to create a new visual watermark for Mario games. Outside of cel-shading, Super Mario 3D World feels like a cartoon brought to life like never before.
Accompanying that visual feast is a soundtrack that is more varied and bold than any Mario game before it. Thankfully we had Galaxy and its sequel to introduce the orchestrated side of music to Mario, which is something Nintendo continues in SM3DW. Again, it's a mix of orchestra and midi-work, but boy is it fantastic. While almost all of Galaxy's tracks were grandiose and booming, SM3DW takes things in a very different direction. You'll get a lot of tunes that are in a big band style, as well as lots of jazz-influenced tracks. This soundtrack is RIGHT up my alley. I cannot express that enough to you. Tunes that you'll easily remember and hum along to, but a new approach to Mario music when compared to the entire series. My (captain's) hat is off to the composing team, as they've once again taken Mario's music to new heights.
All that's well and good, but how does the game play?! I think you know by now that Nintendo has proven their merit when creating platformers with tight controls. Even though Nintendo stuck with the 8-direction movement from Super Mario 3D Land, I'm very happy to say that SM3DW is a fantastically tuned experience. Every jump, twist, pounce and attack feels spot-on. Whenever you're struggling with a Mario game, you have no one to blame but yourself. That's definitely the case with SM3DW, as the controls will never let you down. I do have to mention that the game is best experienced with the Wii U GamePad, Wii U Pro Controller or Wiimote/Nunchuk. Playing with just a Wiimote is more than fine and may be preferable for some people, but I found the experience of playing with just a dpad slightly less appealing.
That said, I've played Wiimote-only plenty of times when tackling multiplayer. Super Mario 3D World provides the same chaotic multiplayer experience that the New Super Mario Bros. series provides. If that's something you enjoy, then you'll have a great time here as well. I feel it's all about finding the right type of people to play alongside. If you like causing mayhem, then by all means do so with your friends. If you're out to actually complete levels and find all hidden items, you'll need to find a group of friends that mesh well together. With all that said, I think it's a mind-boggling achievement to create a Mario game with 4-player in a 3D setting. How they manage to pull this off and have it play so well without camera control is beyond me.
When talking about myself, I just always prefer to play alone. I don't mind playing with others when I'm playing levels I've already completed. I like to experience the levels first on my own, as I feel like that's an important part of my Mario experience. If you were worried that this title would have too much focus on multiplayer, I want to tell you that it's exactly the opposite. The multiplayer here is wonderful and super enjoyable, but the single-player is really where it's at for me. This title stacks up to any other single-player Mario experience you've enjoyed. I actually believe it heartily beats a number of them. A true evolution of the idea of Mario.
The only real knock I have against the game is the use of the GamePad. The touch screen is there and you can certainly use it in some levels, but SM3DW doesn't really do much to really show us what the GamePad can do. You can move the camera around with motion controls, some levels require you to use the touch screen/microphone to activate elements. These GamePad-specific features are few-and-far between. There's also the Captain Toad levels that let you use motion-controller camera movements to a greater degree, but these aren't included too often. All these GamePad-mechanic focused levels do add variety to the game and are a blast to play, but I don't really feel that they made the case for the GamePad.
If you were looking for SM3DW to show you why Nintendo believes in the GamePad, you're not going to find that answer. The real question is, were you looking to SM3DL to show you why Nintendo made the 3DS? I'd think the answer is no for most of you, but that doesn't have any impact on the game itself. Super Mario 3D World is truly a new crowning achievement for Nintendo. I can't express the joy I got out of this title. It's a different kind of fun...a different kind of design from the Galaxy games. This truly plays/looks/feels like the Mario titles from his 8 and 16-bit days, but with major evolution steps taken with the hardware that has since come and gone. The variety and design is staggering. The flow of the game is buttery smooth. The hidden goodies are there for those that like an extra challenge. This may not have seemed like the Mario game you wanted at first, but I bet you'll be extremely impressed with the final results.
Super Mario 3D World is indeed a system seller in my eyes. It's the next must-have Mario experience. If you were turned off by the New Super Mario Bros. approach, you'll view Super Mario 3D World as a slap in the face to that series. The amount of ideas tucked into this game never ceases to amaze. The execution is on a level far above other companies. Super Mario 3D World explores ideas never seen in a Mario game before, and it also does away with conventions for the better. Play it alone...play it with friends...just PLAY it!