Sunday, March 22, 2015

Super Mario 3D World (Review)

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Released on the Wii U, November 22, 2013, by Nintendo 
Retail: $59.99
Wii U Game Reviews Score: 9.7/10

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Mario. When I was a kid, my dad and I had an Atari 2600. I loved playing it. Breakout. The Tank Game. Pac-Man. Pitfall! Then, Super Mario Bros. was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Before, Mario was just that guy who was mean to Donkey Kong. Now, he was Super Mario. The 2600 just wasn't good enough any more. I needed an NES. I needed Super Mario Bros.
30 years later, and the high-jumping plumber is still here. He's had his highs (pretty much every major Mario game, excluding Super Mario Sunshine), and his lows (pretty much just Super Mario Sunshine...which is actually a pretty good game...just not a good Super Mario game). Can the streak continue? After the Wii's two fan-beloved Mario Galaxy games, can everyone's favorite koopa-kicker keep the positive momentum?
Apparently, Nintendo's developers are just as fond of Mario as his fans. Super Mario 3D World is a lovingly crafted homage to everything that has made Mario great, while still managing to take the series in some new directions.
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What's Old? Just like in the original Super Mario Bros., Mario still has to make his way through a variety of obstacles, including platform jumping, in order to reach a flag at the end of each level. Like 1988's Super Mario Bros. 2, the player can choose from four characters (from the start): Mario, who can run pretty fast and jump pretty high, his brother, Luigi, who can jump really high, but slides just a bit, Princess Peach, who can't jump quite as high or run as fast, but who can float after jumping for a couple of seconds, and Toad, who jumps the lowest, but runs the fastest. Mario and company jump on their foes to vanquish them, hit bricks with their heads to produce coins and power-ups. Like previous games, those power-ups include a Mushroom that makes Mario (or his buddies) a little larger (or into "Super Mario"), a fire-flower that grants the ability to shoot fireballs at enemies, a tanooki suit, which allows players to jump and glide much farther, and an invincible star that makes, making the player impervious to enemy attacks for a short time.
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What's New? It's on the box, and it's in the picture above: the kitty-suit. Mario and friends can attain a golden bell that turns them into a kitty version of themselves. The cat-suit grants the ability to flip in the air, dive bomb, and most importantly, climb walls. This grants many new gameplay opportunities and level-beating strategies. It can also incite fights over who gets the last kitty-suit, but we'll get to that. Another new item is the "double-cherry," which doubles whichever respective character gets their grubby little mitts on it. Here are three Marios, about to open up a can on a Boomerang Brother.
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Another item not common to other Mario games is the GIANT mushroom, causing the player to fill the screen, and giving them the power to cause mass mayhem. There's also a special version of the kitty suit found late in the game, which allows the player to turn into an invisible statue, and also causes coins to appear whenever the player stomps the ground. Finally, if a player is having considerable trouble completing a level, a white tanooki suit will appear at the start, giving invincibility against all enemies for the duration of the level, along with the rest of the tanooki suit's attributes.
This final item really touches upon what makes Super Mario 3D World great: it welcomes players of all skill levels. I'll talk more about that right after I wax rhapsodic about this game's camera perspective and multiplayer mode.
Bohemian Rhapsody? Super Mario RPG for the SNES was the first RPG I ever played. All those Final Fantasy games for the NES looked strange to me, so I never ventured into those waters. I picked up Mario RPG because I saw screen-shots of its 3/4 top-down perspective in Nintendo Power, and thought that it would just be a regular Mario game with Zelda: A Link to the Past's camera-angle: my dream come true. While I ended up really enjoying Super Mario RPG, and after that, RPG's in general, I still craved a regular, platform-style Mario game from that top-down, 3D-perspective. Seventeen years later, Super Mario 3D World is that game.
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The 3/4 top-down perspective is perfect for what Super Mario 3D World does most uniquely among its Mario game brethren: up to four-player cooperative multiplayer. While a few previous 2D games, most recently, New Super Mario Bros U, allowed multiple players on screen at the same time, Super Mario 3D World brings this element to the third dimension, and nearly perfects it. My wife and son and I played through large portions of this game together, and had a blast. The camera responds well enough to three or four players spread across the screen, and if one or more lags too far behind, they are bubbled and brought ahead to the other players. Question mark blocks also contain enough items to power-up everyone. Players can also chunk each other around, which is a good way to boost someone to a higher platform, or throw them to their death if they are annoying you. The multiplayer aspect really brings to light something I mentioned above, though: the game's universal challenge variation.
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My son, a relative beginner, can pick up the white tanooki suit to give him a better chance at surviving levels. The degree of difficulty ramps up slowly throughout the game's hundred-plus levels, lowering the frustration-level for the less-skilled player. However, the level-to-level obstacle variation, which is ingenious, keeps the more skilled player interested until he or she gets what they are looking for: a challenge.
What Challenge? Please Don't Bunny Trail Again!!!
Just wait, I'm getting there.
Super Mario 3D World is broken up into interconnected world maps, full of unique stages.
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Along with the regular platforming levels, Super Mario 3D World's world maps include some treats: "Mushroom Houses," which are places players can grab free power-ups, "Slot-Machine Houses," where players can try their hand at racking up on stacks of coins, "Mystery Houses," where players can test themselves with multiple timed-challenges, and my personal favorite, "Captain Toad" stages. Captain Toad features the titular toadstool roaming over unique stages for green stars. Unlike the core four-characters, though, Toad cannot jump or attack, creating a whole new set of challenges. These maze-like stages actually fall more into the "puzzle" genre than "platforming" and are a personal favorite. Variety is the spice of life.
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These stages must also be a personal favorite of Nintendo's, as Captain Toad now has his own Wii U game based around this same puzzle-filled level design.
All Right, Get Back to the Rest of the Game.
Once the player passes through eight progressively more difficult worlds, Bowser is fought and defeated, and the credits roll. This would be the end for most games, but for Super Mario 3D World, the challenge is only beginning. The player now has access to a rocket to space, where even more worlds can be reached. Early on in this challenge, a new character, Rosalina, can be unlocked.
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Rosalina adds an entirely new game-wrinkle, as her repertoire includes an enemy-smashing spin move, unique to her character. It's worth playing to that point in Super Mario 3D World just to unlock her and play the previous stages, but for the hardcore gamer, the true pleasure lies ahead. At about this point in the game, after hours and hours of excellent Super Mario 3D World enjoyment, my son and wife checked out, and I progressed alone. As even more worlds are unlocked, higher above the surface of the Earth and deeper into space, the challenge grows exponentially. Also, up until this point, the player has had to grab hidden green stars and stamps in order to progress through the game. The collected amounts needed to progress early on are quite lenient. Not anymore. Deep into the game, the player must stretch their skills to acquire everything.
But What Do You Get for All of this Hard Work
The reward is a hardcore, lifelong gamer's dream: for beating every level and acquiring every single item in Super Mario 3D World, the privilege of attempting one of the most difficult video game stages ever created is granted. The stage is Champion's Road.
If you ever want to see the below image on your TV screen, you are going to have to do some serious skill-honing.
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But what a rewarding experience. After hours of muscle-memory building, reaching that in-stage thank you message at the end of Champion's Road, and claiming the top of that final flag combine for one of the prouder moments of my 30-plus year video-gaming, hobby.
Thus, after many, many hours of use, my son, my wife, and myself all maximized our Super Mario 3D World utility. What a great game.
But How Does It Look? As you can see from the screenshots, Super Mario 3D World is a visually resplendent game. While levels don't contain an insane amount of graphical detail, Nintendo made everything that is on the screen pop. Grass blows in the breeze, water ripples magnificently,  and characters are gloriously animated. Textures are smooth and gorgeous.  Weather effects, including fog, haze, cloud cover, and rain are duly atmospheric. Colors are bright, vibrant, and beautiful, even on the most basically decorated stage.
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Super Mario 3D World's use of light and shadow is particularly masterful. There are actually a few levels innovatively dedicated to these two concepts, further stretching the diversity of Super Mario 3D World's gameplay.
But Will My Ears Like It? Nintendo enlisted a crew of composers, including original Mario and Zelda theme creator, Koji Kondo, to work on Super Mario 3D World's orchestral score. The game has its own unique jazz theme, played by a real ensemble, the "Mario 3D World Big Band." This new theme receives several jazzy variations throughout. The game also features copious amounts of new compositions, as well as the now mandatory reinterpretations and reiterations of the series' classic themes--it seems like every past Mario game score gets its due or shoutout on Super Mario 3D World. Lovely for an older gamer to hear. Sound effects are great, as well as character voices, enhancing the game's fun atmosphere.
It Still Seems Like You Left Out One of the Coolest Parts.
The Wii U gamepad also gets a great workout during a Super Mario 3D World session. First and foremost, the game can be played solely on the Wii U gamepad when the TV is not available, and the graphical and musical quality barely suffers. This is a great asset in itself (for when the wife wants to watch The Voice, or something), but using the gamepad has other benefits. For one, enemies can be stunned and sometimes defeated with a tap on the gamepad screen. Coins and other items can also be attained from tapping. Actually, it's also fun to use the gamepad to the tap on objects just to see what will happen, all Forrest Gump like. Tap on something you haven't tapped on yet: you never know what you're gonna get. The surprises seem endless. The game developers' love for their work shines through here, with the little touches, just as well as in the bigger ones. Also, there are all those hidden 8-bit Luigis...
Does It Control Okay? Ever play a Mario game? Then you already know what you're doing. Everything new is completely intuitive. If you're new to Mario, five minutes is all it takes to get the hang of the controls. True to Nintendo quality standards, the controller to game response is perfect. However, a slight problem crops up in cooperative multiplayer, and it is my only true complaint with this game: the same button used to pick up another player is used to dash. Unfortunately, most players, myself included, will generally be holding down the dash button 95% of the time they are playing Super Mario 3D World. This means that during cooperative multiplayer, friends are sometimes accidentally picked up and tossed off a ledge, just because another player was trying to dash jump to the next platform. While it doesn't happen often, this problem could have easily been remedied by mapping the "pick up" button to one of  the controller's unused buttons instead. Otherwise, Super Mario 3D World controls like a dream.
Anything Else You Want to Ramble About, Reviewer Dude?
That's about it. From the single and multiplayer gameplay, to the great diversity and fairness of challenge, to the game's bright graphics and fun score, Super Mario 3D World ensures that the legend of Mario will continue to be told for years to come. With so many bonus stages, the game is the gift that keeps on giving, more than earning whatever one has payed to play. I couldn't ask for more in a Mario game.
Oh yeah, and I got a perfect file, so here's a picture of that, with the amount of times I died conveniently cropped out of the picture.
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Beautiful to see, with movement and color as easy on the eyes as one could imagine, yet simple, a testament to the developers knowing their system's limitations.

Music and Sound
Great new themes, and excellent reinterpretations of old ones, with sound effects and voices that will warm the heart of all but the grinchiest player.

3/4 Top-down, 3D Mario platforming, with delightful and innovative level design, polished cooperative multiplayer fun, and some puzzle-solving stages to boot.

Lasting Value
Outside the simple fact that mastering the later stages will take a while, the multiplayer mode may never get old, giving the game nearly infinite replayability.  


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