Super Mario power-ups have been a big part of the fun of playing the games since the star and fire flower first appeared in 1985, but when we first heard about the cat suit in Super Mario 3D World we were a bit on the dubious side. However, now that we’ve had a chance to play the fungus out of the latest platformer to hit the Nintendo Wii U it’s become clear that it’s another inspired idea from the Japanese developers that keep making Mario so much fun.
It’s not just the genius of the cat suit that makes the game so entertaining though as it’s packed with great platform gameplay, some very crisp and cute graphics that are easily the best we’ve ever seen in a Mario Bros. game and a big chunk of retro love for all of the previous games in the long series that have gone before it. While we’re still hoping for something a bit more breakaway and different in the not so distant future, like the larger than life 3D adventure of Super Mario 64, it doesn’t take anything away from the big smile Super Mario 3D World delivers as you’re playing.
The storyline is a bit of a departure from the old Bowser kidnaps the Princess plot of old, but it isn’t a million miles off. Once again the Koopa King is up to no good, but this time around it’s the Sprixie kingdom that he’s out to take control of. It all kicks off when Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach discover an odd transparent pipe in the palace grounds and a Sprixie fairy pops out in a bit of a bother.
Before she can get to safety Bowser squeezes his chunky frame out of the pipe and captures the little fairy in a jar, let’s out a triumphant, roaring laugh and drops back down the pipe. The band of four inevitably give chase and hop down the pipe into the Sprixie kingdom to help stop the marauding Bowser and his army of Goombas, Kooper Troopers and Boos.
It’s a nice twist on the old Mario storyline and it delivers a game that gives you Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad all as individually playable characters, similar to the mad-cap fun of Super Mario Bros. 2. On the other hand, it would be nice to see a bit more in the way of an evolving storyline as you play in the future, like in Super Mario RPG, lending a little from the adventure aspect of The Legend of Zelda series.
Storyline review: 3.9/5
The gameplay lends a lot from the structure of Super Mario Bros. 3D Land on the Nintendo 3DS, with a similar style of progression and set level construction. The biggest new addition to the history of Super Mario is the brilliance of the cat suit to the power-up mix. When one of the four characters get a hold of a bell power-up they don the randomness of the catsuit and it instantly opens up a whole world of fun.
With the suit on you can do most things you’d expect from a cat, including the ability to climb up walls, leap a good deal further than usual, claw your enemies to destruction and perform a very cool diving pounce move. It’s a power-up that turns the levels into a series of giant playgrounds to scamper around in, and when combined with the existing gameplay factors of Mario games, it makes for an absolute smile fest right the way through.
Cherry splitters add a lot of fun too on the levels that they can be found on, as each cherry you run into creates a little doppelgänger of each character you have, so if you’re playing as Toad and you run into a cherry you get two Toads, but if you run into another cherry you’re up to four Toads and so on. It’s a feature that also takes the grey matter requirement of the game up a notch or two as you’ll need to think about how you need to move them to get around the levels and find all of the stars.
As well as being inspired by Super Mario 3D Land, the game also takes a lot from other games in the vast back catalogue of platform excellence. There’s the racing challenge throwback to Super Mario 64 when you take to the back of the water-surfing Pressie (an awesome Mario equivalent to the Loch Ness Monster, which is hilarious when you remember that the game was developed in Japan). There’s also a brilliant iteration of the Bowser battle tanks level from Super Mario 3, which will hit you with a whole lot of nostalgia, as well as modern-day platform smarts.
Bosses are an absolute random mix in Super Mario 3D World, which means that you’ll always be surprised by who you’re facing off against and how they fight, with everything from Bowser cruising away in his tripped-out battle car to one of his flailing and wild eyed Kooperling offspring. It’s a move that keeps you on your toes right the way until the end for the final showdown.
The great thing about the game is that Nintendo has left it as a fairly challenging platformer, which we’re definitely in favour of. Mario games are supposed to have a slowly steepening learning curve, it’s one of the reasons they’ve been such a big part of gaming over the years, so it’s good to see it in the latest outing. However, the white Tanooki suit is back from Super Mario 3D Land if you fail a level ten times, so youngsters aren’t entirely stuck.
If all of that isn’t enough, the guys at Nintendo have got another gameplay trick up their sleeve as they’ve added multiplayer action into the mix, building on the success of New Super Mario Bros. Wii U. Once again you get to have up to 4 players in the hunt for the finish line and the battles with Bowser and his minions, which makes for a lot of fun as you try to outdo each other, while still working as a team.
Gameplay review: 5/5
Visually the game is sharp and colourful and with the 3D platform element it’s almost instantly the best looking Mario we’ve seen to-date. However, you’ve only got to take a look at the vastness of Lego City Undercover, or the detail of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag to see that there’s a lot more graphical power left in the Nintendo Wii U than they’re using in Super Mario 3D World.
In addition to the cuter graphics, there’s also a little inspiration here and there from indie titles that have added a lot to the classic 2D platform concept in recent years. This has resulted in some very cool looking shadow levels, dark critters and chainsaws of doom becoming a part of the Super Mario Universe.
If we had to say where we’d want the series to go next it would be a return to the style of Super Mario 64, but with graphics that really stretch the capabilities of the Wii U. For now, we’re still impressed by SM3DW, but the next level of platform gaming has got to be just around the corner soon.
Graphics review: 4.2/5
Overall review verdict
All in all Super Mario 3D World in an absolute treat to play, bringing another platform gameplay masterclass to the Nintendo Wii U. It’s got a lot of variety under the hood, which adds to the fun, and with the brilliance of the cat suit it feels like a great refresh of the Mario series, while interweaving some of the best elements of its predecessors.
It might not push the boundaries of the possible much in terms of graphics, but it does keep you grinning whenever you play. This is a factor that only intensifies when you throw three more players into the fray.
Super Mario 3D World review: 4.5/5