Saturday, 21 December 2013

REVIEW: Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

The terms "killer app" and "system seller" get thrown around quite loosely these days, however, It's actually quite rare for a single game to single handedly move a substantial number of systems the way Halo did on the Xbox, or Smash Bros. did on the Wii (there are of course exceptions, such as Pokemon on the 3DS). Furthermore, all three next-gen systems have had incredibly lackluster launches, with 90% of the launch selection either being already available on other platforms, or being "ok, I guess" at best. The Wii U has had a year to find it's feet (and some decent games), and I believe Super Mario 3D World is the console's first steps to greatness. That said it is still not quite a "system seller".

Super Mario 3D World is the direct sequel to Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS (a fantastic game in it's own right). Furthermore, it is the first 3D Mario platformer on the Wii U, and the first major Mario title without Godfather Shigeru Miyamoto's direct influence. So even before it had been released, it had some pretty big shoes to fill.

The feature that sets this game apart from other Mario games (apart from the cat suit, but we’ll get to that later), is it’s co-op (and sometimes, not so co-op) multiplayer. Yes, it has been done before in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but this is the first time it’s been done in a 3D Mario, and furthermore, it brings back the unique abilities of Peach, Luigi, Toad and Mario from Super Mario Bros. 2. Luigi jumps a bit higher, Peach has her “floaty” jumps, Toad runs faster and Mario is the all-rounder. Even if you’re playing the game in singleplayer, each character feels just unique enough to warrant switching things up from time to time.

The game is best played multiplayer with a group of good friends
But, this game should be played with friends. It is couch co-op at it’s finest. I've always been baffled by most console maker's decision to eschew local multiplayer in favor of online. Online play on any console is always going to be a vastly inferior system to what’s available (for free) on the PC, so why not focus on local multiplayer, something the PC struggles with and fits the console perfectly?

Thankfully, Nintendo is still pushing that agenda, and Super Mario 3D World is very indicative of that. The game is fantastic fun to play with friends, and it works really well. There were very few times where it felt like we were “fighting” the camera, or felt considerably disadvantaged for having multiple players. There’s a nice little competitive element to it too - the player with the most points at the end of each level gets a “crown,” so there is always this mad dash to get the most points. Multiplayer in Super Mario 3D world is a kind of maddening chaos that still somehow feels natural, with a few of the levels in particular even seeming to be designed with multiplayer in mind.

I should take some time to talk about how the game looks, because it is absolutely gorgeous. That 1080p/60fps benchmark that games on the Xbox One and PS4 are struggling to hit? 3D World pulls it off like a boss. The game never once struggled to keep its framerate, despite the fact that it was outputting to both the TV and the gamepad. The cartoony graphics of the Mario universe really pop out at you; characters feel alive, stages feel vast, and the color scheme is a welcome explosion of vibrant yellow and green in the face of the gaming world’s current obsession with brown and gray. When you add a jazzy, upbeat soundtrack that has plenty of catchy, memorable tunes, you’ve got yourself a game that looks and sounds as fun as it plays.

Super Mario 3D World's vibrant colors are a welcome change from modern gaming's obsession with brown and gray.
3D World brings back a lot of old favorite powerups, such as the fire flower and super leaf, as well as bringing in some items from recent Mario games (such as 3D Land’s boomerang suit and New Super Mario Bros.’ mega mushroom). Completely new to the game are the cat suit and the double cherry. The cat suit is the game's "big new item", with many levels, and many, many secrets being designed around it. Basically, it allows you to climb up walls, melee attack enemies, and perform a jump-dive attack. The first two skills are exceptionally useful at finding secrets and defeating enemies, while the third is exceptionally useful at diving you right off the edge of the map. Seriously. I was deathly afraid of using it most of the time because cat-Mario has some kind of death wish that can only be satisfied by leaping into the abyss.

The double cherry creates a “clone” of your character. It appears fairly rarely in the game, and while is a neat new idea, I feel like they didn't take the opportunity to properly explore it. It could have made for some total madness in multiplayer games to have levels just brimming with cherries, generating an insane amount of players on-screen at once.

The double cherry has a lot of missed potential as a power up
The game has the classic Mario difficulty curve, with the first world being complete-able by your grandma, and the final world driving even hardened veterans insane. There is a huge amount of content, with seven standard worlds and three bonus worlds - it’ll take you quite a while to get through it all, and the challenges are surmountable, but satisfying. The only thing that’s a bit lacking is the boss fights, with several of them simply being repeats, and most of them being pretty easy. I beat the final boss, for example, on my very first try.

I also had a small problem with the fifth unlockable character, Rosalina, being made available so far into the game. She is actually a pretty unique character, and is a much more interesting than Toad (sorry, Toad fans!) so it would have been nice to use her in the earlier levels, especially in multiplayer.

The boss fights are not exactly satisfying
Shoe-horned into the game, as seems to always be the case these days, are some social networking features. In this case, Nintendo’s Miiverse network bleeds in, with player’s Miis scattered throughout levels spouting whatever nonsense they last posted in the game’s Miiverse community. I don’t know how it is for English speakers, but for the Japanese version of the game, most of them were just cute pictures made with the game’s unlockable stamps. No real harm done, but it doesn’t really add anything to the game either.

I’m in kind of two worlds on my last point, which is also the reason why I don’t believe this game is a “system seller” for the Wii U. Basically, the game does not really take any advantage of the unique capabilities of the system. The gamepad’s screen simply replicates the action on the main screen for player one, and while there is a “touch baddies to make them stop/touch areas to reveal secrets” feature, it feels more like a last-minute addition than something that’s integral to the game (and it’s certainly not integral to the game). On the one hand, I think this is bad because it really does not “sell” the system, but on the other hand, I honestly don't think the game would benefit from it anyway. It may have even been detrimental to "force" more gamepad features into the game.

The catsuit, contrary to the double cherry, is a great new powerup for the Mario universe
Is Super Mario 3D world a fantastic game? Yes. Does it sell the unique features of the Wii U? No. If you already own the system it’s a no-brainer, but I honestly doubt people will be rushing out to buy a Wii U for it. Furthermore, to your average Joe, it only exacerbates the problem of people thinking the Wii U is just an addon for the Wii, rather than a new system. There’s nothing, apart from the improved graphics (which average Joe doesn't really notice anyway), that distinctly sets it apart from say, Super Mario Galaxy.

That said, you probably should rush out and buy a Wii U for this game, because it’s flipping amazing.

The game, unfortunately, does not take good advantage of the Wii U's unique features
Verdict: Buy

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