Platforms: Wii U
Nintendo don't make bad games. So it was that the sigh that went up from certain fans following the appearance of Super Mario 3D Land at Nintendo's E3 Direct presentation wasn't one anticipated failure or apathy, but rather that in order to achieve their glowing record, Nintendo had rather looked backwards than forwards once again. It seems odd, perhaps, that the game Nintendo are banking on to lift its ailing new console is a derivation of a 3DS title, but then Nintendo's strengths ever since the halcyon days of the SNES have always lain with its stranglehold on the handheld market rather than its home console offerings.
Lest we forget too, Super Mario 3D Land was a barnstorming game -- a near-perfect distillation of 3D Mario into an inventive isometric form that cleverly leveraged the stereoscopic 3D and well-constructed levels to produce a game that was gently inviting at the first time of asking and fiendishly hardcore the second. It served to define a console, and gave the 3DS the hefty kick up the backside that it needed, arriving just in time for the 3DS' first Christmas.
Now Nintendo need that IP to prove that lightning can strike twice. Only this time on an HD home console limping towards its second Christmas.
Can it do it? Well, quite frankly, I just don't care at this point in time.
You see, unlike New Super Mario Bros. Wii and U, which I found almost aggressively (perhaps even lazily) nostalgic, there's a degree of delight that comes with playing Super Mario 3D World that I just didn't get with those games. Much in the same way that Mario Kart 8 appears to have taken the best bits of the most recent games in that series and added a few new twists as well, so too does Super Mario 3D World feel like something of a bridging point between its 3DS forebear and the Wii's Super Mario Galaxy. The isometric perspective from the former returns to allow for the most accessible co-operative (and competitive) gameplay that the series has ever seen, but Mario and co. have a full suite of 3D moves returned to them.
The new features for this particular title come in the form of an expanded roster of playable characters and a new magical onesie for Mario and his chums to slip into.
Significantly, and it almost seems ridiculous that this has never been the case before particularly in the NSMB games, Peach is playable and, in a game where special abilities can count for a lot, especially when it comes to the competitive aspects of the game, she's pretty awesome. Mario is an all-rounder as per usual; Luigi is yet again the slippery-soled sibling who can leap a little higher than his brother; Toad is the useless but lightning-fast twit we've come to love; and Peach, though slower than a sloth mired in treacle, has a nifty little glide attached to her jump that makes her perfect for traversing lengthy gaps.
Then there's the Cat Suit which, as you've probably seen or guessed, turns Mario and his chums into cats. It's weird. But it also opens up the levels. The gorgeously rendered Mushroom Kingdom has been built with more consideration to the vertical this time around to take full advantage of the wall-climbing abilities afforded to our skipping and jumping heroes, and so there's even greater licence to explore every nook and cranny, with the lenient camera allowing to to stray a fair distance from one another before placing you in a bubble and bringing you back to the group should you wander too far in multiplayer.
The Cat Suit brings with it a few extra moves as well as the ability to climb up walls and blocks and eve large boss creatures: there's a new scratch attack that can be performed on the ground and while airborne, wearing the Suit will allow for a longer dash jump, and if you manage to make it all of the way to the end with it intact, you can use it to climb the flagpole for an extra life.
Longstanding Mario tropes abound: Goombas and Piranha Plants are dotted about the lush, colourful landscapes; green pipes lead to subterranean secret chambers where literally lighting up a disco floor with your feet will earn you goodies. There are new transparent pipelines that offer multiple routes and new hazards that must be overcome with quick decision making, and a split-second junction missed can sometimes mean the differences between the ringing clink of fresh coins or the failure bloops as you collide with a plumber's nemesis.
Afforded the expansive treatment that the Wii U's power allows, this 3D world comes alive and offers a far better multiplayer experience than the sometimes-claustrophobic New Super Mario Bros. games ever could. Yes, the added exploratory opportunities mean that the competitive elements are more engrossing, but work together and you'll uncover even more secrets. One section we played had us jump on the back of a giant Yoshi with one of the reps, with us both having to work together to steer the swimming beast down a winding canyon river, jumping in tandem to avoid traps and snatch rewards.
So, to cut a long story short: Super Mario 3D World is an utter delight. It's rather conservative, but less so than New Super Mario Bros. U and frankly should have been the launch game to shift the Wii U in the first place. Whether or not it's good enough to get people to buy Wii Us as the PS4 and Xbox One hit the shelves this winter is another question entirely, though, and one that we're going to have to postpone until we get some more hands-on time with the game. I want to say that it's convinced me to pick up a Wii U in time for Christmas. That's what I want to say. But I'm not quite there just yet.