There's nothing quite like a new Mario adventure to get you excited to turn on your Nintendo console. From the Wii's Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros. franchises, to the 3DS' Super Mario 3D Land, we've had a wealth of platforming fun to enjoy these past few years. Though the Wii U received its first Mario title last year (as well as an excellent expansion this summer), it's this year's Super Mario 3D World that's gotten our attention. For the first time, multiplayer has been added to the 3D Mario formula, and the result is a wonderful success.
Super Mario 3D World has more in common with the likes of Super Mario Bros. 2 and New Super Mario Bros. U than it does with other 3D entries like Super Mario Galaxy. It's also got about as much plot as any game outside the RPG entries have had, which is to say there isn't much of a story at all. Bowser shows up, kidnaps some fairies, takes over the land and it's up to Mario and the gang to save the day. It's a story as old as the main character himself, but one we never tire of since each platforming iteration in the franchise has brought with it new challenges and inspired design to keep us captivated. With Super Mario 3D World, it never felt like we were trudging on through world after world. Instead, each new area had us eager to explore every nook and cranny, provided we lived long enough to brag about the experience.
Unlike previous 3D Mario games, Super Mario 3D World allows you to play with friends. There are four playable characters at the start: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad. Each character brings something slightly different to the table abilities-wise, and you can swap playable characters between stages should you find one particular skill set might be more advantageous than another. Mario's all-around prowess makes him the easy bet for newcomers. Luigi can jump higher, but isn't as easy to control as his brother. Princess Peach can float for a short duration, which makes her extremely valuable on hectic platforming segments. Toad's got the ability to run faster than anyone else, an ability you'll need to tap into few times when playing on your own. Actually, Toad's ability doesn't really come in much handy when playing with friends either, but at least there's a fourth playable character, right?
Nintendo's proclivity towards multiplayer in the Mario series these past few entries has paid off with Super Mario 3D World. Where New Super Mario Bros. U often put you at a disadvantage when playing with others (due to some strange suicidal/homicidal tendencies people observed when playing), the open expanses of the 3D levels gives you a bit more room to operate... and avoid those dastardly "accidental" death throws. That's not to say your cohabitants won't find interesting ways to put an abrupt end to your life in 3D World (they will). It's just that you won't be so on top of one another all the time. The occasional slow player will get stuck behind, but the safety bubble returns once more to provide sanction to those troubled with the mere task of keeping up with the Marios. The widest of camera angles, a result of players spread too far apart, can lead to some quick deaths, too, but for the most part, Super Mario 3D World is the most enjoyable multiplayer Mario since Mario Kart.
Of course, we'd be remiss in not mentioning the series' beloved power-ups, of which there are even more in Super Mario 3D World. The standard mushroom and fire flower are back, as are more recent additions like the propeller block. That condescending golden tanooki suit makes a comeback as well, and it's just as infuriating to see as it was the first time it showed up. So we died a few times in a row. That doesn't mean we need a game-breaking assist, Nintendo. Appearing for the first time is the new cat suit, acquired when grabbing the bell power-up, and the clone power, activated when you grab the pair of cherries.
The cat suit has gotten the most attention, and its adorableness is hard to argue. It also happens to be incredibly useful both when attacking and when exploring. The cat suit enables you to climb most surfaces in any given level, many of which lead to new areas otherwise inaccessible. It's almost hard to believe it took Nintendo this long to come up with cat suits, but we're glad they finally did. The cherries offer their own interesting spin on exploration and combat. When ingested, a double of your character immediately pops up on screen, equipped with whatever abilities you may have already had. Further cherry popping results in even more clones populating the screen. Having a fleet of Luigis armed with fire flowers is terrific for stages where enemies are coming at you non-stop. However, navigating can be a bit of an issue as every clone follows your commands, no matter where they are on screen. You might be on a new platform, but the clone might be stuck below next to the edge. Move too far, and whoops, there they go off the side of the level. Thankfully, losing a clone doesn't cost a life.
As nice as New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U looked, Super Mario 3D World takes things up a few notches. Colors don't just pop off the screen, they burst. 3D World's various worlds are all vibrant and full of life, and even when playing only on the GamePad, it looks outstanding. Characters look great, too, and the new animations brought on by powers like the cat suit are a treat to watch. The mad scramble to be the first to the flag when everyone is in cat suits makes it worth playing the game alone. What's more, no matter how much action there is on screen, 3D World just doesn't slow down. It stands as a wonderful testament to the power the Wii U possesses, and we already can't wait for more high definition Mario games.
It might not be the most original entry in the franchise, but Super Mario 3D World is up there as one of the most enjoyable. Whether playing the base game, or enjoying the hours of end game content, alone or with friends, Nintendo has shown once again nobody does platforming quite like it does. Never boring, always beautiful, Super Mario 3D World is just what the Wii U needed.
This review was completed using a purchased retail copy of Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U.