The lifecycle of the Nintendo 3DS has been remarkable to behold. The little portable debuted at E3 2010 to rabid praise, with everyone hailing its glasses free screen as the hottest thing since capacitive touch technology. By 2011 when the handheld was released, no one would give the Nintendo 3DS the time of day. It was too expensive, too dated, and had too few games. A dead portable walking, they said. A price drop helped turn its fate around, but the big booster shot that helped the Nintendo 3DS pick up momentum was a little game called Super Mario 3D Land. The blend of linear level-design, with a simple beginning and a flag waiting at the end, with the go-anywhere freedom of Super Mario 64 charmed players. Now there’s Super Mario 3D World for Nintendo Wii U, a home console that’s in even more dire straits than the 3DS was. Can the series play savior a second time?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A giant turtle monster named Bowser kidnaps a hot blonde royale and two Italian brothers in overalls have to go save her. It’s an old story, and the base of at least 75 percent of Mario games, but Super Mario 3D World shakes things up. Now Mario, Luigi, the mushroom hat-wearing Toad and even Princess Peach herself are the stars of the game. Where they’re going, what they’re doing, and whether Bowser’s back to keep it real is still up in the air, but it’s nice to see a change of pace in the premise of a Mario game.
Retro-minded players will recognize that line up of characters immediately. The same selection of faces were on tap in Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES, and as in that game they all have different abilities. Princess Peach can float, Luigi can jump high, etc. The rules of the game, though, are the same as in Super Mario 3D Land. Each level is a race to the flagpole at the end, with each section presented from a slightly limited perspective, like from above or at an angle. The constraints compared to a more open game like Super Mario 64 feel limiting but it’s also what keeps the four players close to one another.
That’s the big trick this time out: Multiplayer. It’s the first 3D Mario game to let people hang together.
There are also cat suit power ups. That’s right. Mario and Peach can be little kitties. The suit lets you wall crawl and scratch. Your mileage may vary.
Gorgeous. Super Mario 3D Land was nicely abstract compared to the sensory blitz of Super Mario Galaxy’s swirling light and lush plentoids, and 3D World carries the tradition in HD on the very capable Wii U. The trade off for that clean simplicity, though, is that World feels sterile, more like a toy box than a living place. Mario is usually at its best when it’s also at its most otherworldly. As seems to be common, the game isn’t particularly good looking on the Wii U gamepad screen.
Super Mario 3D Land may have helped breathe life into the Nintendo 3DS, but it seems like the world may finally be getting a little weary of the plumber. New Super Mario Bros. Wii U for example has sold approximately 2 million copies over the past eight months. New Super Mario Bros. Wii sold nearly one million in its first four days on sale in Japan alone. This game is cute enough, but it’s not the game to save Wii U.