Super Mario 3D Land was one of the few games on the 3DS where I would argue the 3D slider was an essential part of the experience. The game was built from the very ground to take advantage of 3D, and in fact as I was playing it I would struggle to properly gauge jumps and navigate around the world with the slider down.
So bringing a new “3D” game to a console that can’t display 3D graphics struck me as a somewhat odd move by Nintendo. That initial impression didn’t go away when I started to play the game. I did indeed lose a couple of lives early on from poorly-judged jumps and without Fire Mario at first I found it easier to simply avoid enemies than try to jump on them. That impression stayed with me for the first couple of levels, but I started to understand the physics and environments better, I was able to kick back and simply enjoy the supreme quality of level design that Mario’s latest outing offers.
It’s truly difficult to think of a single level that I would consider to be an objective dud within the entire package. Before I discuss the level design in more depth it’s worth nothing that that’s not to say I loved everything about the experience; not all of the powerups really worked, for instance. The powerup that creates multiple Marios was a irritant that created busywork in trying to manage them all, and the super growth mushroom is thankfully rare, but utterly pointless. But this is offset by powerups that do work and add something fundamental to the Mario experience. The cat suit is the most obvious one, and I quickly started to treat the bell that would turn me into cat Mario like a precious resource; its ability to allow me to scale walls meant that it was essential to fully explore a world and find all of its secrets. The ability to have a spare item in reserve, (and swap them at will), meant that I would save the cat suit until there was a wall that I felt the need to climb, and it was an item that I would pull out regularly because Nintendo has done a spectacular job with really packing the levels with secrets to find and places to explore.
Most of the levels provide players with a healthy time limit, encouraging them to explore each level and leisure and track down stars (which are required to unlock some levels) and stamps (which are just for fun and can be used in MiiVerse posts). The occasional auto-scrolling level that forces players to keep moving forwards quickly were less engaging experiences because it is the sense of wonder that comes with finding a new secret that will make players want to push on to the next level, and the one after that. That said the auto-scrolling levels are few and far between, and do serve an important role in challenging the player’s platforming capabilities and breaking up the rhythm of the generally quite beginner-friendly experience.
Mario games have steadily become more accessible over the years. The last 3DS outing made coins such a focus of the game that it didn’t really matter how many times a player would lose a life, there was never any real danger of hitting the Game Over screen. Super Mario 3D World’s environments are somewhat more hostile, but still something I would suspect most people will eventually get through without too much sweating. There’s also Nintendo’s usual feature that allows the game to take over and gently guide players through a level if they’re genuinely stuck and lose a couple of lives in the one section, and the multiplayer allows more experienced players to help less experienced players as well. All in all I can’t imagine too many people throwing their gamepads down in a fit of rage while playing this.
For some that will be seen as a weakness, but I don’t agree with the notion that Mario games should be challenging, however. To me, whether the game is difficult or not is irrelevant; Nintendo is at its best with this franchise when it’s delighting the senses and surprising players at every turn. 3D World does this, and it’s not just because of its secrets and treasure troves. Every individual level features something new to look at; whether that be a new, quirky enemy type or a new mechanic that manages to keep mixing up the basic two-button controls. It’s truly amazing how much variety Nintendo has squeezed into a game which features little more than a command to ‘jump’ and another to ‘run.”
I laughed out loud the first time I saw Goombas skating around on an ice level in a oversized ice skate, and jumped for joy when I realised that I could jump in said ice skate and slide around myself. Another truly inspired level requires players to run over panels that are lying on the floor, but if they touch them a second time the panel reverts to being unlit. All the panels need to be lit to proceed to the next section, so players get to experience some light puzzle gameplay in here too.
There’s some minigames that are truly engaging too, and in fact I would like to see Nintendo build them out into complete games in their own right (see our video above). It often seems like Nintendo is leaning a little too heavily on creating a nostalgia rush for its fans – and certainly Mario 3D World is guilty of it with the largely unnecessary but nostalgic tanooki suit – but it’s packaged in such a modern form here that I do believe there’s something for everyone.
Multiplayer is generally good, clean fun, and Princess Peach is a playable character in both single player and multiplayer, which means obviously that for the first time in forever in a main Mario release Peach is not kidnapped by Bowser and is not the damsel in distress. It was great to see that Nintendo seemed to understand that damsels in distress are a plot convention that are quickly becoming as embarrassing and outdated as those television and magazine ads from the 50s and 60s. But then, of course, what Bowser has kidnapped this time around is a bunch of female fairies… creating the damsel in distress storyline all over again. Way to take two steps forward and then one very big step back, Nintendo.
That bit of kitsch aside, Super Mario 3D World is a truly wonderful experience and a masterclass in quality level design, and without a doubt the first truly compelling argument for why anyone who is interested in games should consider picking a Wii U up.
– Matt S.
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