Super Mario 3D World Brings Back the Insanity Factor

Nintendo EAD Tokyo manages to keep players on their toes (and paws) with an ever-changing array of challenges.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

I'm sure that Mario means different things to different people. For me, though, the essence of the series boils down to two things: Spot-on controls and an unrelenting sense that despite the fundamental familiarity of the characters and mechanics, I'm always doing something new.

Super Mario 3D World may look like a fancier version of 2011's Super Mario 3D Land -- basically, it's 3D Land combined with the character assortment of Super Mario Bros. 2 and the simultaneous four-player action of New Super Mario Bros. Wii -- but despite those well-worn aesthetics 3D World looks to partake of the tradition of cheerful unpredictability, a feature common to the best Mario games. In the course of a five-level demo last week, Nintendo showed off a bumper crop of elements that, despite essentially being reprises of existing ideas, felt totally fresh, effectively new, and often completely wacky.

By far the most ridiculous of these (and by "ridiculous" I mean "fun") was a special stage which featured a new power-up, the double cherry. While visually a callback to Mario 2 (from which 3D World takes quite a few cues), the cherry has a totally different function here. Rather than collecting five of them to earn a Star power-up, in 3D World picking up a cherry clones your character. Suddenly, you're maneuvering two Toads or Luigis through the stage at a time. The more cherries you find, the more characters you can have on-screen at once -- sort of a cross between "multi-ball" in pinball and the Options of the Gradius games. By the end of the level, I'd managed to build up an army of five Toads; Treehouse director of product marketing Bill Trinen, who was demoing the game for me, claims there were actually a few more cherries than that to be found.

It's like a nightmarish version of "Cootie."

It's hard to imagine something more insane than five Toads storming a stage. Your clone characters all control with the same inputs, meaning they'll all toss fireballs when you hit the Y button, and they all move in the same direction. However, minor factors like the slope of the stage pitch or getting snagged on a wall cause them to drift apart as you play, and I found myself gently nudging them all into corners to reunite them and keep them from wandering off into danger (honestly, it should be a familiar experience for anyone who has ever worked as a manager before).

But yeah, there is something more insane than five Toads storming a stage. If you play the level with other players, you get to enjoy multiple duplicate characters on top of the three other player characters running around with you. With eight characters (or potentially more) on screen at once, Super Mario 3D World breaks down into glorious chaos. It makes the five-player parts of New Super Mario Bros. U feel tame dull by comparison. It also makes you hate your fellow players, especially since the person who scores highest in a given level gets to wear a little crown in the next stage (though you can steal it by butt-stomping near them and knocking it loose).

That level certainly wasn't the only place my 3D World demo felt a little out of control. Another stage featured bomb dispensers that barfed out explosives that Mario and pals could freely kick around. Punting bombs into walls in the distance served to break open new paths and reveal secrets. And when Bowser brought out his big purple sedan -- which I'm pretty sure he stole from Wario -- kicking bombs back at him proved to be the key to victory. No, after all this time, Nintendo villains still haven't learned not to use weapons and attacks the heroes can reflect back at them. Did you guys learn nothing from Agahnim?

Shady things are happening here.

Even the world map feels different from usual here. While 3D World makes use of the classic level map seen in a number of Mario games beginning with Super Mario Bros. 3, here you can move freely around the map. ("Even Mario's gone open world," I joked, to no one's amusement.) Trinen says exploring the map will reveal power-ups and other bonuses. And, as with any good Mario game, every stage contains lots of little hidden spots and out-of-the-way corners where you can find extra collectibles. One level ends with a small hill-like tower structure with linked doors, similar to some of the levels in Mario 2. If you duck behind the structure, there's just enough space for Mario (or whoever) to run through a narrow gap and collect coins. And if you're wearing the cat suit power-up, you can climb the structure to the top and hunt for bonuses up there, too.

The cat suit comes in to play in a number of ways, including special platforms that require you to spin valves with the suit's paws. The ability to climb walls that the suit confers changes your relationship with stage layouts, not unlike the Cape in Mario World, though it's liberating in a different way. Scrambling up walls creates a unique play dynamic for Mario, not only granting you access to normally inaccessible spaces but also giving you the ability to save yourself from potentially fatal falls off the edge of a platform -- a handy trick, given the verticality of many of the game's stage layouts.

And the game cheerfully plays with franchise conventions. One underground stage I played featured portions consisting of silhouettes, which apparently is a mandatory gimmick in platformers now. But 3D World put a twist on it, with the silhouettes caused by both rear and front lighting. After playing through a few portions with backlit silhouettes, your reach a Toad crying because his shadow is being menaced by the silhouette of Bowser -- even though there's no physical Bowser standing near the Toad. But walk forward into the camera and you'll reveal a hidden area where a Paper Mario-style wooden standup of Bowser lit from in front is casting its shadow onto the same wall as the Toad's shadow. Topple the Bowser and the Toad gives you a Star in gratitude.

The four-player design of 3D World introduces lots of amusing little minor details that have never come up in a Mario game before. Like the playable Toad interacting with generic Toads (what makes him so special, you have to wonder?), or what color Princess Peach's dress becomes when she collects a Fire Flower (white with red highlights), or what happens when eight characters and clones shoot fireballs at once (the game handles it fine, but the human brain maybe can't). It's Mario, but in a format that switches up Mario conventions in interesting ways. Just because Nintendo EAD Tokyo is working in the style of Super Mario 3D Land doesn't mean they phoned it in, and by all appearances the same creativity that made their Galaxy games so good is in full effect here.

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Comments 14

  • Avatar for davidbabb52 #1 davidbabb52 4 years ago
    I'm pretty excited about this one. It will be nice to play as the characters from SMB 2 (US) in a 3D environment.
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  • Avatar for pashaveliki #2 pashaveliki 4 years ago
    Any team other than EAD would have lost me, but I still have faith that the guys that brought us the masterpieces that were Galaxy 1 & 2 can give us a great experience.
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  • Avatar for Wellman #3 Wellman 4 years ago
    Wow that new trailer did wonders for my view on this game. I was thinking it would be a quick Mario cash grab that played just like 3D Land with multiplayer but it seems this is turning up into a pretty fun and interesting looking game.
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  • Avatar for docexe #4 docexe 4 years ago
    I was not particularly interested in the game before, but after the last trailer that’s starting to change. It seems they are giving a new spin to many old concepts, and adding some interesting new mechanics.

    Who knows, this game might prove to be in the end just as creative and refreshing as the Galaxy games.
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  • Avatar for grumba #5 grumba 4 years ago
    Okay, this is looking fantastic.

    Is it too much to hope for another free-roaming Mario after this? My current dream Mario game puts you in a huge expansive world comprised of different platforming challenges... basically Dark Souls Mario. Feel free to call me crazy.
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  • Avatar for Shinta #6 Shinta 4 years ago
    Just based on the latest trailer, this looks like the GOTY for 2013. The Last of Us doesn't stand a chance.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #7 Captain-Gonru 4 years ago
    I've been hoping for a return to the SMB2 character format for awhile, so this is a must buy for me. Not that a Mario game wouldn't have been anyways.
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  • Avatar for Pacario #8 Pacario 4 years ago
    Speaking of the playable toad, anyone wondering why it's not THE Toad with the red spots seen in almost every other Mario game (including the GBA remake to Super Mario 2)? I wish someone would actually ask Nintendo some day for some clarification on which toad is the "true Toad" and so forth.

    As for the game itself, it admittedly looks good (I was initially disappointed it hewed so closely to 3D Land's design versus the more epic sensibilities of Galaxy). That said, it kinda only makes me want a true successor to Super Mario Bros. 2 (Doki Doki Panic version) even more. Maybe someday...
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  • Avatar for strongbadsings #9 strongbadsings 4 years ago
    Anyone who still says this is a cheap cash-in port of the 3DS game can officially go eat a... awww, I can't do it, the trailer made me too happy.
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  • Avatar for chaosyoshimage #10 chaosyoshimage 4 years ago
    @Pacario If it was the red Toad we're used to being the default Toad then we'd have two red character portraits in the top left corner. That's pretty much the sole reason I can think of that they went with blue.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #11 brionfoulke91 4 years ago
    This game looks so much more innovative than any other game coming out right now. It's an isometric platformer with beautiful modern graphics on a console for my TV... how many other games like that exist? As far as I know, none.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #12 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 I don't know if "innovative" is the right word, but it definitely stands apart.
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  • Avatar for Dreamcaster-X #13 Dreamcaster-X 4 years ago
    Man this trailer has garnered this game so much positive attention this week. The overwhelming majority of people seem to have had their mind changed about this game with a viewing of this. I was already a fan but I'm glad to see others coming around. This game looks like serious fun!!
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