Super Mario 3D World – Preview
With both Super Mario Galaxy titles occupying space in my top ten games of all time, it’d be pretty fair to assume that I get pretty excited every time a new ‘core’ Mario is announced, or if there’s a new Kart game… or a new RPG regardless of whether he’s made of paper or with Luigi. Okay, I’m a pretty shameless fan of the plumber’s numerous adventures – particularly his 3D adventures, if we’re not counting Mario Sunshine – almost as much as I am of the Legend of Zelda series (although not quite). With that in mind, I was probably more excited than most when Super Mario 3D World was unveiled during the Nintendo Direct stream during E3, especially owing to the fact that I’d only recently finished Super Mario 3D Land – its 3DS-based predecessor – with every star coin and secret level bested.
From the developers of the aforementioned Galaxy Series, Super Mario 3D World is the first of the plumber’s three-dimensional adventures to allow four players on-screen simultaneously, with Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach filling up the roster, and each coming with their own differences and nuances. For the first time since Super Mario Bros. 2, Peach is a playable character in a mainstream Mario platformer, and retains her ability to float for a short period of time after jumping, while Luigi jumps highest and falls the slowest, with Toad running the fastest. Supporting both the Wiimotes and the gamepad, the latter supports Off-TV Play and also allows the player using it to reveal hidden blocks and items, or stun enemies by using the touch-screen.
Trying out a variety of different levels with multiple characters, it’s clear that the magic that made 3D Land such a fun title has only been amplified; each stage has been designed with any number of players in mind, and so they feel remarkably more open than they did on its 3DS predecessor, with multiple ways to explore becoming evident from even a few cursory glances. Making this easier is the presence of the new bell power-up, which causes anyone wearing it to get a bit furry and become endowed with cat-related powers, specifically the ability to rapidly climb obstacles.
While there’s always a route through the environment without having to use the cat costume, it does feel remarkably easier to use it instead of anything else to the point where some of the levels didn’t feel as challenging as they could have been had you not equipped it – a problem earlier levels in 3D Land suffered with when using the Tanooki suit. It’s a fun addition, and one I sincerely hope will be used to some inventive extremes, but when you can use it to climb to the top of the finishing pole and nab an extra life without much effort, it does cause a nervous pang or two.
The ability to play with friends in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and U, while entertaining when it worked, had the unfortunate side-effect to cause arguments and conflict if everything didn’t go ahead entirely smoothly, which was a problem exacerbated by stages that often required precision or were densely packed, making it all too easy to screw over other players, whether intentionally or otherwise.
Apart from the differences between each character actually giving you an incentive to swap between them and experiment with which one suits your play-style best, another highlight of Super Mario 3D World was that playing with others didn’t end in an unwarranted cluster or the threat of fisticuffs at dawn. With the environments being significantly more open and accommodating to more than one player, there were no moments of someone ruining another’s time or accidentally ruining their jump, and it was a delight to play with others, even if they happened to be complete strangers with their own agendas that strayed far from the idea of co-operation.
The action will pan out to show everyone playing as much as possible, but those who are left behind or lose a life will be able to put themselves in a protective bubble to be released by their team-mates, although – as in the New Super Mario Bros. series – if everyone is in a bubble then the stage reverts back to its previous checkpoint. One problem with the bubble’s implementation in previous titles was that it was far too easy for someone to refuse to pop it, and one particularly-cruel wind-up tactic was to refuse to release your team-mate, even if it meant failing the level as a result. This time around, anyone who has been put into a bubble can also free themselves from it of their own accord if other players are occupied or unwilling to help you, allowing you to put yourself back into the action as you see fit.
By designing the levels and environments around the inclusion of multiple players, there was always the risk that the essence of what made Mario’s 3D adventure most fun would be diluted but, if anything, it’s only been enhanced. Despite normally being the first to eschew multiplayer in favour of going it alone, I actually found myself more eager to play this with friends than I was the prospect of running through in single-player. The plumber’s third-dimensional outings are always his greatest, and adding more people into the mix is only going to make it even better, although it’s still a tremendous amount of fun when by yourself. Hopefully, Super Mario 3D World may be the ultimate multiplayer platforming experience, and possibly the best reason to pick up a Wii U there is.
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