Super Mario 3D World Review
In some ways, Super Mario 3D World is the Mario game to end all Mario games. Each stage is a linear strip where you'll hop on enemies, collect fun powerups, and uncover nifty secrets. Each world has a boatload of levels featuring a wide variety of level settings—not every world concludes with a castle, for instance. Plus, you'll start with four playable characters, each with their own varying speeds and jumps, granting each stage a slightly unique feel. Don't forget that up to four players can participate at once. Altogether, there's a huge amount of gameplay, a great deal of variety to it, and many different ways to approach it.
And it's well honed, too. In Spike's Lost City, Spikes (a variety of enemy) hurl rolling spiked bars down hills. The first hill contains just one Spike, making it easy to learn how they work; just jump over one at a time. Three Spikes sit atop the second hill, providing a slightly more complicated network of bars to dodge. Interesting variations work their way into the level, as well. Some floating platforms tilt back and forth, shifting the spiked bars that rest atop them. Other platforms feature spiked bars rolling in circles.
The rhythm of gameplay is maintained by a buildup in difficulty. For instance, that move from one rolling bar to three near the beginning. You'll also get a relax in difficulty when a new variation on the idea is introduced, such as the tilting platforms. So, levels are built with great care taken to pacing.
But all the while, the Spikes and their rolling bars pay you no mind. Spikes throw infinite bars at a regular pace, and the bars move at the same speed throughout. It's a level that operates entirely on its own, and it's merely your job to work around its hazards. This leads to fast, clean, thrilling gameplay, but there's not much depth to it.
While that's typical of many levels in Super Mario 3D World, there are exceptions. In Searchlight Sneak, getting caught in a searchlight will trigger a barrage of enemy Bullet Bills--something that depends on what you do. You can try to worm your way through the level without getting caught, or you can brave the spotlight and take on the challenge of dodging enemy fire. On top of that, the Bullet Bills will follow you until they hit a wall; these are enemies that care about your presence. If you don't get hit, and you're smart, you can lead them around to your advantage and even solve a puzzle this way. Quite a few levels do feature hazards that react to your actions, and I found their gameplay more satisfying and memorable.
Although all levels make smart use of their hazards, there's little progression from one level to the next. For instance, world 5 opens with a wide beach where you collect keys to progress, moves to a level fraught with swinging ropes and platforms that give under your weight, and then goes to a level featuring a number of paths based on how well you use the Double Cherry powerup. Worlds certainly build in difficulty and skill, but aside from that, there's little giving the gameplay any cohesion.
That is, aside from powerups. For instance, you'll see Double Cherries in a few stages throughout the game. Eating one of these will give you a copy of your character that mimics your movement. In each stage that uses a Double Cherry, you'll need to be more skilled with it than before.
Early on, in world 2, one challenge will ask you to bring three copies through the level unscathed; get hit, and your copy is eliminated. Pull it off properly, and you'll be rewarded with a collectible but optional Green Star. In a later stage, you'll need to lead a copy over platforms that blink in and out for a Green Star—it's hard enough just to maintain your own footing when the platforms blink, but this challenge asks you to watch yourself and your copy. It's a satisfying buildup of difficulty that taught me how to play with Double Cherries over the course of multiple levels.
Other powerups such as the Cat Suit and Boomerang Suit receive buildup, as well. For instance, a sharp eye will spot key shortcuts made possible by the Cat Suit's climbing ability. In later levels, these shortcuts can be harder to recognize and lend greater help in bypassing challenges. While no powerup is ever required to clear a level, smart use of one can save you a fair amount of hassle. So, while there may not be a level-to-level progression of ideas, there are threads that develop in the background.
On the surface, Super Mario 3D World features a large amount of gameplay with well paced levels. Those looking for a batch of fun levels won't be disappointed, but those seeking more depth might have trouble finding it.
+ Many levels with great variety and fun mechanics
+ Multiple playable characters
+ Wide variety of new and old enemies
+ Great selection of new and old powerups
- Even if they are fun in passing, such levels feature shallow, forgettable mechanics
- Mario levels follow the same structure they always have
Between its focus on shallow mechanics and its reuse of the tried and true sense of Mario stage pacing, I had trouble getting into this one. Super Mario 3D World uses its assets well, but for anyone familiar with Mario, it also uses them predictably.