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RELEASE DATE (NA): November 22, 2013 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Cat Mario got your tongue?

Clockwork struck again! Nintendo's hippest, newest (at the time), and oft-forgotten-to-play-because-the-batteries-ran-out-AGAIN home console, the Wii U, has included among its library a brand new Super Mario title! Not a single Nintendo console has passed that hasn't been graced by a Mario game, and Wii U owners were thrilled to finally lay their hands on—

...wait, what? There was already a Mario game on the Wii U?

Oh, but this one's THREE-DEE! It clearly says so in the title, as though the inclusion of a third dimension in a video game still impressed people in 2013. The title DOES differentiate itself from the 2D New Super Mario Bros. series, and it seems to be banking more on the undeniable success of Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. But, all of my griping aside, is this game any good? Well, it's not bad.

Someone at Nintendo just have thought that the age-old damsel in distress story had outlived its usefulness, as the rosy Princess Peach seems to be fine and dandy, unharmed and unscathed. Instead, our heroic team of Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad just happen to be taking a brief promenade when they suddenly spot a glass pipe in need of repair. Upon doing so, a small fairy-like creature emerges with fear on her face. She tells the team that her kin, the other Sprixie Princesses, have been kidnapped by Bowser and need to be rescued. Then Bowser somehow wedges his oversized physique through the pipe, snatches the last Sprixie Princess, and zooms off. Now it's up to Mario & Company to hop in and travel to the Sprixie Kingdom, hoping to release Bowser's clutch over the land and bring peace. In other words, they just replaced Princess Peach with another helpless creature to be captured. Same story, different victim.

At the start, Super Mario 3D World plops you right into a grassy knoll, the first "world" of pretty much every Mario game. I believe it's pretty much official Nintendo law now that no matter where Mario goes, whether it be the Mushroom Kingdom, the Sprixie Kingdom, or heck, even another planet out in space, it HAS to be grassy. And, like most of the 2D Mario platformers, the second world is automatically desert-based. If they had switched this up, I'd probably suffer a heart attack in shock. But this is the overworld, and within each world are a number of stages to complete, each one unlocking more of the path and more stages. Your character is free to roam around wherever they please on the overworld, but eventually Mario and Friends must return to the regular path and enter a level. Finish enough levels, and you'll make your way to the castle to rescue that world's pixie.

Before each level, you can choose which of the four characters you want to play. You've got Mario, the all-around well-rounded fellow; Luigi (who controls a HECK of a lot more fluidly than he ever did in Super Mario Bros. 2), the impy and gimpy blue Toad, and, for the first time in a 3D platformer, the one and only Peach. Princess Peach doesn't get much platforming experience. Aside from Super Princess Peach, her one and only solo excursion on the Nintendo DS, as well as that one time she did stuff in 1988, Peach has been relegated to spinoffs and being Bowser's undisputed top captive for over a quarter century. For games such as New Super Mario Bros. Wii and New Super Mario Bros. U, it was argued that she couldn't be included because Toads more closely match the physics of the Mario Bros., and that the development team, in the words of Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, "would have to have special processing and programming to handle how the skirt is handled within the gameplay". Which is a crock, because I doubt "skirt physics" has ever caused a programmer within the last ten years to abandon ship. Luckily, they smartened up and finally added Peach as a playable character, and for this I am grateful, as her floating ability has saved the day on more than a few occasions. Heck, they even added Rosalina from Super Mario Galaxy as a hidden character, which means they programmed TWO skirts! Someone at Nintendo certainly wasn't skirting their responsibilities this time...

Personally, and this may come as a surprise, I don't care much for playing as Mario. His jumps are significantly shorter, and that makes for a rougher experience in the heat of the moment when you need to make quick leaps. It's also more noticeable when you're trying to reach the top of the iconic end-of-level flagpole! Toad suffers from this as well, although his quick running speed saved my hide a few times. My preferred characters are still Luigi and Peach for their jumping ability; Peach gets an additional nod for the float.

Yep, there's always something dangerous to avoid.

Your general goal is to get to the end of a level, but there are a couple of other things to look for. In former times, Nintendo would have hidden three large Gold Coins to find; here, they replaced them with Green Stars. Same idea, different look. These stars can be used to unlock castles and other levels of interest. Also hidden in most levels are stamps, which can be used on the Miiverse, if putting Luigi faces all over a message on a public forum is your thing. Furthermore, the game keeps track of every stage in which you touch the top of the Goal Pole. Get hopping!

Typically, the controls are solid, although perspective does play a few nasty tricks. On many occasions, due to perhaps my inability to perceive three-dimensional worlds as I ought to, my character would careen into the oblivion below when I clearly wanted them to move in a different direction. Level 3-2, "Chain-Link Charge", was the worst offender for this. Combining autoscrolling, moving fences, and a free-spirited princess whose sole desire was apparently to jet off into the clouds beneath her, I received a lesson in how to successfully frustrate the adult male of the human species. Many expletives were released that day; much shame was felt afterward. And the game only gets worse as its progresses. Beyond the regular set of worlds, more are subsequently unlocked after you complete the main quest, and believe me, they will tear you up like a kitten in a toilet paper store. Many of them are amped up versions of past levels, which were difficult enough as it is. I think I cried several times...per minute. If anyone ever tells you Nintendo only makes "kiddie games", just point them to the extra worlds of Super Mario 3D World, and that'll shut them up. I spent two hours on one of the final levels and still only survived by the skin of my teeth. ...Wait, what kind of expression is that?

If there's something I can say about Super Mario 3D World, it's that the gimmicks are working hard to win over my love, but they're not working. There are certain ones I can accept, most notably the new "suits". The introduction of the "Cat Suit" is perhaps the most notable, likely trying to capitalize on the overwhelming affection for cats the Internet generation conveys. When you collect a bell, suddenly you are transformed into a cat... or just a dude with a cat suit, which is far more creepy. With the ability to climb walls, the development team suddenly had more places to hide their secrets. Plus, being able to claw out your enemy's eyeballs seems sound. Stranger still, though, is when you collect a cherry... and suddenly you've been cloned! That's right: there's a Double ability. Imagine controlling two Marios at the same time... or three... or, like, SIX. This is all possible, and although it can sometimes be awkward, especially when someone gets stuck on a wall or flat-out falls into the abyss below, there's some fun strategy to be had here.

Other gimmicks are either silly or just a pain. There's no Yoshi in Super Mario 3D World — try to find him, I dare you — but instead, they included "Plessie", a one-off character with whom you ride down water flumes on his back. Admittedly, Yoshi couldn't do this, but Plessie is used so sparingly that they might as well have scrapped the idea and just put Mario in a patched inner tube. His design is childish ever for a Mario title. Additional gimmicks try to put the Wii U's GamePad to good use, but it ends up just being tedious or downright annoying. Having to blow into the GamePad to make certain platforms move? That's novel but unnecessary. And having to tap panels on the GamePad to make platforms pop out in the game? It's incredibly awkward having to switch between the stylus and the regular controls, especially given that those platforms only protrude for a limited amount of time. This is NOT the best use of the GamePad.

But, in a sharp nod to a certain game of the past, Mario can knock a Goomba out of a skate and hop inside to glide around wintry surfaces. That's one classy way to travel. Hope there's an odour eater in there.

Mario is, and I quote, "ballin'".

The last addition, and a preeminent one at that, is the inclusion of one character: Captain Toad. He's a special Toad, a spelunking Toad in search of fine gems during his adventures. Every once in a while, Mario will stumble upon a Captain Toad level, during which time you play as Captain Toad who has to navigate single-screen puzzle-based stages with multiple layers to obtain five Green Stars. As Toad walks (and I say WALKS, because he can't jump due to a hefty backpack full of provisions and extra vests), you'll spend most of your time fiddling with the irritating the camera around to ensure you see everything. This must have been a popular enough concept in Nintendo HQ, because the following year, they released a full game based on its style for the Wii U, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. They're cute little puzzles, none of which are overly complex, and they help easily nab five stars that would take a lot longer to accumulate with regular levels.

Super Mario 3D World looks awesome. As the first 3D Mario title in high-definition, it looks absolutely gorgeous. I don't think Nintendo forgot to include a single shade of any colour. Though the game won't win any awards for exquisite complexity (though you can definitely make out every single tuft of fur on the cat suits), the smooth, appealing visual style that you can only get from a Mario title more than makes up for it. From the grandest of surrounding to the lowliest Goomba, everything you see has received the developer's full attention. Your eyes will be delighted.

Playing through the various worlds of Super Mario 3D World, and having enjoyed the many generations of Mario games that came before it, I find the musical score a bit of an oddity. Mario platformers are supposed to have peppy, upbeat ditties that fill the player with energy and spunk, preparing them for the hard road ad infinite jumps ahead. Super Mario Galaxy tinkered with that formula a bit, utilizing more orchestral tunes. Super Mario 3D World takes that ball and runs with it, offering more jazz fusion and even mildly depressing classical songs as a means to guiding our heroes along. The music are quite good, but it doesn't fit the plumber's journey quite like it should. You won't get the same vibes here as you will from a playthrough of, say, Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario 64, that's for certain.

The voices also seem to give me cause for concern, mostly Mario's. His voice is different; it's lower in tone than usual and it's ever-so-slightly more lethargic. Is Charles Martinet getting on in years? Or did he just walk into the recording studio, groaning, saying "Unnnh, THIS again. Do I really have to stand here and say 'Mario time!' and 'Wa-hoo!' for the millionth time? Can't you give the guy some actual dialogue? Or does he have the IQ of a baseball bat?" At least Toad's his usual self, his speech patterns reminding me of gargling cottage cheese.

Despite a few flaws — its gimmickry could have been toned down a bit in favour of simply creating unique challenges — Super Mario 3D World is an absolute treat for Nintendo fans. And believe me, it offers enough depth and challenge to keep players going on it for a long while. This is no "finished in two hours" kind of game; this is a Mario title that'll keep you on your toes for a long period of time. Better keep that Wii U GamePad charged, because you're going to be hooked on this for a long while.

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