Mario has been going about this Bowser thing all wrong. After decades of dunking the dragon-ish brute into pits of lava, Mario has never contemplated the alternative: financial ruin. Mario 3D World finds Bowser holed up in his castle, fitted with outlandish lighting. He drives a car, thumping to bass dropping speakers and lives in such lavishness that no wonder he consistently believes he can have anything.
Said castle is a homing beacon for Mario and company as they trod through these HD Sprixie Kingdom vistas more beautiful than anything pouring from Microsoft or Sony. Nintendo, more so than any other studio, has blossomed in the expanse of higher resolution. While others draw battle lines over 720p, here sits the unassuming house of mushrooms recreating the dreams of those who grew up in the 8-bit era. We knew Bowser should look like this, plump with notable scales and adorned in clashing, vibrant colors. Mario 3D World looks like friendly, unassuming claymation specials born in interactive digital.
Creative spaces afford this console follow-up profuse personality. Too often videogames slips into gun fests where droning zombies or screaming aliens sprout nonsense too obtuse to be considered personality. In comparison, Mario surrounds himself in livable fantasy where Koopa Troopas desperately chase their shells when kicked and marching line troops panic when their ranks become broken.
This ambition takes the available technology to perfect a craft. Mario himself is not new to 3D spaces, but this sub-series has found an escalating desire to encapsulate the sharpest elements of 2D stage design. Free movement is crucial, and these characters can move in any direction, but design is tight. Where Mario 64 appreciated open expanses, Mario 3D World clamps down to slyly push players forward under unseen command. Platforming trickery is ingenious and carefully considered. There are no mysteries as to appropriate directions while the addition of necessary stars pulls players from their comfort.
All manner of flipping, spinning, swinging, disappearing, and invisible platforms are utilized to offer variety to tremendous levels, all locked to themed stages. Mario 3D World is more traditional than its handheld Land predecessor, with stages set aside for snow, ice, deserts, and other usual suspects. Each of the four (five with an unlock) characters match their Super Mario Bros. 2 skill set, with stage architecture built to highlight all strengths. Backing them are enthralling and perfect musical accompaniments, a honed mixture of nostalgic bliss and brilliant new compositions. Orchestration layers class and sophistication to otherwise simplistic hop ‘n bop themes which feel cozy the instant they’re heard.
Breakups with customary hopping include snippets of puzzle mechanics, with a brave (non-jumping) Captain Toad seeking stars in clamped down mini-arenas. Mystery Houses flash star grabbing puzzles with mere seconds to complete tasks, the type of quick thinking available in any Mario romp, now under stringent rule sets. These break up normalcy to provoke a hint of thinking, a break from reflex bulking.
Mario 3D World does make mistakes. Lack of stereoscopic 3D support betrays the namesake and impairs depth perception. Dwindling countdown timers are a genre convention, antiquated by these expanding standards. With limited availability for exploration, there are moments where the disembodied time keeper shifts gameplay into panic mode. The addition of scattered time boosting collectibles is no fix.
And yet, Mario 3D World survives. This is Mario, an enduring hero traversing all manner of panoramic beauty to save the world from destruction. Only here, Mario 3D World displays elegance of designs built on the ideals sprawled across decades of perfectionism. While Nintendo branded virtuosoes appear to have perfected their craft, they implausibly hone their arsenal further. Most impressively, it does not render the old outclassed, merely familiar. They never age, like Mario or the kid still buried inside all of us clamoring to make another leap across chasms of certain death… virtually of course. This is more than a reason to purchase a Wii U; it’s a reason to play videogames.
Super Mario 3D World is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Mild Cartoon Violence.