Friday, 3 January 2014

Super Mario 3D World - Wii U

When Mario made an enthusiastic leap into the third dimension in his Nintendo 64 debut, few could have predicted what an influence the game would have as the years rolled by. The plumber's magical journey spawned plenty of hopefuls vying for his coveted cloth cap, yet not one of them could touch the mustachioed plumber.

Since that memorable 1996 adventure, Mario has appeared in several wonderful platform capers, including the superb Mario Galaxy games on Wii, but it's taken until now for him to make his glorious big screen return to 3D in Super Mario 3D World.

The game moves away from the fabled Mushroom Kingdom and the expanses of starlit space and instead takes place in the Sprixie Kingdom - a place where Bowser has kidnapped the realm's fairies and plonked them in bottles to indulge his evil whims - something Link has been doing for years without anyone batting an eyelid. It's all utter nonsense, of course, and just a loose framework to hang the game's spectacular action on. And spectacular it certainly is, with the game boasting amazing level design, sublime visuals and yet another glorious soundtrack. In fact, the game has more fun crammed into its first hour than most games with a 12-hour campaign can boast.

The game sets out its stall before the player dives into the action, with the ever-changing title screen showing Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad gleefully scampering around, showing the player all the moves that can be pulled off in the game. It's a glorious opening and one which serves to whet the player's appetite for the action to come.

Once the player takes the plunge into the game proper, a world of wonder opens up, with Nintendo's latest brimming with fresh and playful ideas. Chief among these is the ability for the main character to slip into a cat-like onesie, complete with impossibly cute ears and tail. This snug-fitting new suit is a wonderful addition and not just a visual gimmick. It enables Mario to scuttle up vertical surfaces for a limited time, where coin stashes and emerald stars are squirreled away in the magnificent environments. It's also utterly adorable and it's impossible not to smile as Mario gambols along with cat-like agility, swiping and leaping at enemies with gusto.

Of course, it's not just Mario that is open to the player. Toad, Peach and Luigi can also be selected and each has their own particular trait which serves to help the player navigate their way through the brilliantly thought-out levels.

The new twists and turns don't end there either, as Nintendo have decided to get fruity with the arrival of the double cherry. Chomp down one of these, and a clone of Mario appears and it's possible to have multiple characters rampaging around the screen at any one time - all controlled simultaneously. Some levels have been crafted with this transmogrification at their very core, allowing the player to spread themselves out and activate switches which opens up even more hideaways.

Nintendo have clearly worked long into the night not only devising Super Mario 3D World's delicious levels, but in the look of the game. This is Mario's first perspective shifting romp on Wii U and the detail is stunning. Bloom is used liberally throughout, giving the game a wonderfully soft feel, while the patterns and textures used are glorious. Giant springy gelatinous orange blocks that wobble to life when Mario leaps on them are a personal favourite.

As Mario opens up new locations a few other surprises lie in store. Self-contained mini levels where the player controls Toad are a highlight, with the player tilting and rotating the cube-like settings in an effort to snaffle all the precariously placed stars before the time runs out. Because of the bite-sized nature of these stages, this would make an excellent standalone game on 3DS and the possibility of dozens more portable levels is certainly something I would like to see.

Control - as you would expect - is impeccable, with Mario and chums responding smoothly to button prompts and stick movements. It's also possible to play with all the Nintendo controllers since the launch of the Wii, and you are going to need them all if you want to take part in the game's riotous multiplayer mayhem. It's a madcap dash to the finish line and with up to three others and on a crowded sofa, Super Mario 3D World shines. That said, the single player mode is where the majority of players will find themselves and rest assured - played solo, this is still a wonderful experience.

Super Mario 3D World might not innovate as much as the splendid Mario Galaxy games, but it's still light years ahead of the competition and showcases Nintendo at its playful best. Utterly glorious, packed with an abundance of sparkling content and an absolute joy to play, Super Mario 3D World was the best game I played throughout 2013. A rare and precious treat.


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