In “Super Mario 3D World,” Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad go for a night stroll on the castle grounds to catch some fireworks. Out of nowhere, a clear pipe busts out of the ground and a small fairy creature pleads for them to rescue her friends. Bowser pops out of the pipe, grabs her and leaves with the team in hot pursuit.
After 25 years as a damsel in distress, Princess Peach finally rejoins the playable cast of a mainline Mario title for the first time since “Super Mario Bros. 2.” This refreshing change of the formula gets things off to a great start and teases Nintendo’s willingness to tweak tradition throughout the rest of the new Wii U game.
While “3D World” shines in single-player mode, the fun multiplies with others. This merges clever and flexible 3-D maps with wild four-player game play. Everyone fights over favorite characters not just for looks, but also for their unique traits. Will you go for Luigi’s high jump, Toad’s speed, Peach’s midair float or Mario’s balanced skills? Players can jump in and out at practically any time — and use almost any controller setup. It’s as versatile a system as you could ask for.
So many great co-op memories abound: zipping around in Go Kart-sized ice skates, protecting your pals from ghosts with head-mounted lights, clinging to life together on top of a giant angry-faced gemstone and riding on the back of a friendly dinosaur named Plessie. But working together is only half of the fun. Tossing friends off a cliff, scrambling past them to get power-ups and doing whatever it takes to get higher on the end-of-stage flagpole always gets everyone hollering.
Nintendo never encouraged or discouraged this behavior before, but now players watch their points tally up at the end of each level. The best performer gets to wear an ornate crown. It’s a subtle-yet-effective system that keeps you looking out for No. 1 even when you’re supposed to be working together.
The new power-up is a fuzzy cat suit. (Favorites like the fire suit, tanooki suit and boomerang suit return.) What could have been a creepy getup turns out to be unbelievably adorable thanks to spot-on cat animations. This upgrade also allows Mario and company to scale walls, helping them get out of jams and find hidden paths, and the scratch attacks and dive bombs add valuable offensive options.
A new double cherry item allows you to control several duplicates of your character. New green stars replace traditional star coins, providing incentive to search for secret paths. Bonus stages abound after you see the credits, encouraging you to run back and clean up on stars. It’s satisfying to revisit levels and clear them completely and in turn receive a new cluster of levels to enjoy. You also unlock an awesome, recognizable bonus character with several unique powers.
My only big complaint stems from the item grab button being the same as the run button. This leads to players picking up co-op partners constantly when they don’t intend to. What makes it worse is that there are several unused or redundant buttons on most of the compatible controllers that could have easily taken on this function.
Despite this annoyance, I loved Bowser’s egocentric concept for the final world in the main campaign, and the last boss battle is plenty entertaining. Any Mario game runs the risk of the final encounter being too traditional or featuring a frustrating gimmick, but this one brought a smile to everyone’s faces on my co-op team from beginning to end.
While it’s not the most difficult challenge, it is suitably epic and entertaining — an exceptional finisher to an excellent entry in the series.
Game Informer (www.gameinformer.com) is a Minneapolis-based magazine.
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