When it comes to rescuing princesses Mario’s credentials are unquestionable, but can he rescue the Wii U from being forgotten amid the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One buzz? His latest adventure may have just done exactly that by finding the sweet spot between the three-dimensional joys of Super Mario Galaxy and the co-op fun-for-all of New Super Mario Bros Wii.
Built on tradition
Super Mario 3D World is comfortingly familiar, built on a venerable tradition of headbutting bricks, coin collecting and stomping on cute beasties. As such it’s more conservative than the wonderfully inventive Super Mario Galaxy, but that’s not to say this game is short of brilliance.
It’s filled with memorable grin-inducing moments, from rides on psychedelic Loch Ness monsters to the kind of speedy rollercoaster thrills we always imagined 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games would deliver but never quite did. It also makes thoughtful use of the Wii U Pad’s mic, touchscreen and motion sensor capabilities.
Mario in a catsuit
In true Super Mario style there are loads of hidden items and secrets to find. There are even some lurking within the game’s map.
The compulsive hunt for secrets is further enhanced by Mario’s latest outfit: the catsuit (No, not that kind of catsuit - Mario’s pizza-belly isn’t built for that). Once dressed as a cat, Mario can use his kitty claws to knock out foes and scale walls to reach new areas. Couple that with enduring favourites such as the Tanooki Suit and Fire Flower and you’ve got a game with more fabulous costume changes than a Lady Gaga concert.
Mario with friends
Super Mario 3D World might look like the big-screen brother of the 3DS’s Super Mario 3D Land but the influence of New Super Mario Bros Wii is just as great. As well as playing solo the game supports up to four players who take on the roles of Mario and his pals. Provided that you’re in the same room, that is, as there’s no online multiplayer. That will disappoint some but the local co-op works a treat all the same helping to bring out the sense of exuberance that makes Mario games so good.
It’s not an entirely offline experience, though. After completing each world you can post an update on your progress to the Miiverse. More significantly, the game imports the idea of ‘player ghosts’. These recordings of other players’ performances turn up when you replay courses so you get to see how others, represented by their Miis, handled the challenge. It works perfectly well but does run the risk of having other players drawing your attention to secrets before you’ve uncovered them yourself. Just as well the feature can be switched off.
The icing on Super Mario 3D World’s scrumptious cake is the short-but-sweet Captain Toad levels. In these you have to safely guide the slow and defenceless Captain around M.C. Escher-like constructions that can be rotated using the Wii U Pad. It’s like Fez but more accessible and provides a welcome break from the usual Mario action. The only downside is that there’s not enough Captain Toad. Let’s hope the Captain gets a standalone game of his own soon.
The Super Mario series boasts more high points than the Himalayas, but even compared with this golden legacy Super Mario 3D World is a belter of a game. It’s not as thrillingly bold as Super Mario Galaxy or as revolutionary as Mario 64 but it is damned close, and that's enough to make the Wii U itself a lot more appealing. What’s more, neither the Xbox One or PS4 yet has an exclusive as good as this.