When last month’s Nintendo Direct finally unveiled a new Wii U Mario title, this almost certainly wasn’t the 3D Mario game that most Nintendo fans were hoping for.
After the grandiose scope and masterclass in level design showcased in Super Mario Galaxy, a multiplayer sequel to last years ‘back to basics’ 3DS outing was always going to feel like a bit of a disappointment.
Now that everyone has come to terms with the harsh reality of getting the wrong Mario sequel ( high up on the list of first world problems) the question is – how does it actually play?
The answer is… exactly as you’d presume it would.
As you would expect from a Mario game, the core gameplay on offer here is undeniably fun – if not overly familiar. The main gameplay structure here remains the same as in 3D Land – you run toward the end of the level collecting coins and finding hidden stars, all whilst racing against the timer from the classic 2D Mario games. What makes the gameplay slightly more interesting here however, is the addition of 4 player local multiplayer. For the first time in a 3D Mario game you can race through levels with three friends, taking control of either Luigi, Princess Peach or Toad as well as, of course, your favourite mustached Italian plumber.
Each character offers their own quirk and unique playstyle, from Peach’s beginner friendly ability to glide mid jump, Luigi’s higher reaching jump and a nod to the more experienced players with Toad’s increased speed. As with New Super Mario Bros and Rayman Origins, this results in an enjoyable co-op experience, which more often than not turns into a game of ‘who can pick up the most powerups first’ and inevitably ends with you finding hilarious ways to ‘accidentally’ kill off your friends. While fun, the experience didn’t seem that far removed from the local multiplayer you get in the recent NSMBU, albeit now on a 3D plane. In the various levels I got to try in the demo build, it sadly didn’t seem to offer any real kind of challenge.
One level, however, hinted at the potential the game has going for it as a unique local multiplayer experience. In a Super Mario Galaxy inspired water race level, Mario and co have to ride a dinosaur, dodging obstacles and collecting coins and hidden stars as they go. So far, so Mario, I hear you mutter, but the interesting part of this level was that all players are controlling the movement of the same dinosaur – simultaneously. Initially, this saw myself and the other player struggling for control, but after a few attempts we learned to synchronise and become an effective tandem.
Jumping at exactly the same time as the other player gives you a boost, and steering a split second before the other player results in tight turns that can save you and your simple looking dinosaur chum from plummeting to a watery grave.
While it is a nice change to be able to play a 3D Mario game with friends, its very hard to shake the feeling that you’ve played this game before. The level structure and design feel very similar (a cynical person would say identical)to 3D Land; from the clouds that take you into the bonuses stages in the sky, right down to the boxes that advance you to the next section of the level. Aside from the multiplayer aspect, the biggest new change to the experience is the addition of a new cat suit powerup – which allows you to scale walls and swipe at your enemies , as well as the classic green pipes being made transparent, allowing you to actively travel through them.
While the cat suit does offer up some interesting new gameplay mechanics, it is slightly worrying that this is touted as a major new feature. A new power up and real-time traversable pipes are hardly ground breaking features for DLC, let alone a supposedly fully-fledged sequel.
Visually the game is stunning, with the mushroom kingdom oozing with colour and looking incredibly crisp and bright in HD – but sadly the environments and art direction often feel bland in comparison to the beautifully realized worlds of other console 3D Mario games. With games like Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy and even Mario 64 , you were aware that the levels you were playing were part of a greater overworld, whether it was the mushroom kingdom, the town of Delfino plaza or even the vast galaxies of space –In 3D world, however, this just doesn’t seem to be the case.
The levels operate in a very similar fashion to 3D Land, in that the levels are set in the sky with no connection to each other or to any hub or overworld. For a portable game, having each level as a separate throw away entity is fine, and while this may work perfectly for short bouts of multiplayer with friends, it is hard not to see this affecting and limiting the immersive 3D Mario single player experience fans have come to know and love from his 3D console outings.
It’s no secret that the Wii U is in trouble at the moment, and, on paper, combining the multiplayer mechanics of the mega-selling New Super Mario bros games with the feel of a 3D Mario game is a sure-fire system seller – but it remains to be seen whether the full game can retain the same level of charm and innovation that we’ve come to expect from other 3D Mario titles. Super Mario 3D World launches worldwide December 2013.