As soon as you start the game, it’s obvious that this isn’t your typical 3D Mario like Super Mario 64 or even Galaxy. You’re given the choice between multiple playable characters from Super Mario Bros 2: Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad, all of whom have unique gameplay attributes. This adds a lot of variety; you can randomise your character at the start of each level, which I found to be great fun.
Similar to the 2D games (and Galaxy 2), there's a world map that separates each level. However, the 3D design makes it so that you’re able to move around freely, with secrets like coins and 1-up mushrooms scattered around for those curious enough to explore. It’s a nice incentive, but I feel there was so much more potential that wasn't lived up to.
That being said, the levels themselves reflect oodles of creativity from every angle. Not only are the visuals stunning – it feels like a playable Pixar film – but there’s a lot of unique levels themes that aren’t often seen in Mario games; levels featuring Japanese dojos, levels where you can only see silhouettes and Mario Kart-inspired stages are amongst my favourites. There’s so much charm to these levels that I find endearing to this day. Each level is designed really well, and the placement of the hidden stamp and three Green Stars in each level can really test your platforming skills.
Of course, you can’t talk about a Mario game without talking about the power-ups. 3D World has some inventive ways of introducing power ups, with the most fun being the Super Bell. It turns you into a cat that can climb walls and carry out pouncing attacks, and being able to pull off an accurate pounce to save yourself from death feels fantastic. The Double Cherry is my favourite of the two new ones: it makes an exact copy of your character that moves in sync with your actions. Originally a glitch, the developers added it into the game because it was too fun to throw out, and I’m grateful that they kept it. Other than these, everything from 3D Land returns, making one of the best power-up rosters in any Mario game.
Content-wise, this game is packed to the brim. Not only are there seven initial worlds, but multiple on top of that can be unlocked after beating the main story. You can also find an additional character in the post-game, and they’re a great addition to the cast. It did give me hope of even more unlockable characters to be found, but I’m satisfied with the five we got. There’s also Captain Toad levels that were the basis for Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. These are fun little puzzles that spice up the gameplay a little and I always enjoyed them.
My main complaint with the game is the lack of difficulty in the main campaign. Some of the bosses feel like pushovers (even by Mario standards), and the final boss certainly doesn’t feel like much of a challenge. That being said, the bonus levels after this point pull no punches. Many stages are revisions of older levels with major difficulty spikes, and there are a fair few difficult levels later on. And if you think they’re bad, finding all the secret items and hitting the top of the flagpole in every level unlocks World Crown, which features Champion’s Road and two other levels. Champion’s Road is a nightmarish gauntlet that tests everything you've learned in the game. If there's a feeling of euphoria that is unmatched by anything else in this world, it’s the feeling when you beat this level.
Having played it by myself years ago, I really enjoyed 3D World. When I moved into my new flat at the start of the last academic year, I played 3D World again with a couple of my flatmates. That was an even better experience - 3D World is only enhanced by the chaos that comes with multiplayer. There’s an added competitiveness because the highest-scoring player gets a crown that they’ll wear in the next level, so you can help your friends or screw them over to ensure you get the crown. Competitiveness aside, I’d argue that this is the Mario game that does multiplayer best - there's nothing like the combination of frustration and joy that comes with working together to beat the hardest levels.
Super Mario 3D World is probably my favourite Mario game. It oozes charm and personality and has so much to offer that I always find myself coming back to it. Multiplayer is a blast, but even when playing solo there’s more than enough to keep you busy. I’d love to see this game remastered for the Switch so more people can experience it, and I’d be even happier if they made a sequel that followed in its footsteps.
Featured Image Credit: Farley Santos (Flickr)