Hands-on with Super Mario 3D World for Wii U

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Though I had already played one level of Super Mario 3D World at Best Buy’s Nintendo Experience, it was still the first game I gravitated towards at Nintendo of Canada’s post-E3 preview event last week. Fortunately, thanks to the ability to drop in and out at any time, the fact someone was already in the middle of playing posed no problem at all (and I did ask if it was okay first, so no worries there).

In total, there were five levels to play through, including the grassy fields and underground tunnels of 2-1 (which I spoke of previously), which introduced Mario and friends’ newest power-up, the Cat Suit. Others included 4-1 (an obstacle course of clear pipes with tons of Fuzzies and Piranha Plants), 6-3 (an outdoor fortress of sorts, with Bullet Bills aplenty), 1-5 (a river ride atop the orange dinosaur seen in pictures and trailers), and the sandworm-like boss of World 4. I gave each a try, as well as each of the different playable characters.

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My first was in World 4-1, where the big gimmick is the new transparent pipes, which allow you to see your characters (among other things) moving through them. At certain junctions, you have to press in the direction you need to go, or else you’ll circle back to where you began… or worse.

To be honest, I’m iffy on these pipes. For one, they suck you in as soon as you get close, rather than allowing you to press on them as per normal. It can throw off your timing when needed, and will probably take some getting used to. Similarly, I had some trouble with the “steering” to get where I wanted to be through the pipes, at least at first. I might be remembering it incorrectly, but I think simply holding the direction you want to go won’t do, so you have to time your press of the Dpad/analog stick to go where you need to.

Additionally, when a pipe spits you upward, you have no control over your direction; you can only fall back into the same one you came out of. This comes into play in a few parts where there are multiple such outlets, each with items you’re supposed to grab. It would have been nice to allow the more daring or skilled players to try to grab two in one go; maybe in the final version?

One neat part which came midway through the level was a bonus area in the sky, accessed by jumping into a cloud with a white pipe which shoots you skyward like a cannon. Once there, you can run through it with the help of some speed pads and grab a potted Piranha Plant that will eat enemies in your way. It’s pretty cool, but unfortunately, you can’t bring it back with you.

The level ends with another multi-route pipe in front of a flagpole, and this is where the timing thing really comes into play; if you don’t exit in one of the first two tiers, then you’ll be spit out a forward-facing pipe end at the top, which drops you back at the start of this particular set of pipes. It seems to thwart groups more than anyone, as one player can hit the flagpole, and the rest have no chance to try again.

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Next up was the river racing in 1-5. There were four of us at this point, and like a canoe or bobsled team, you have to work together in order to get the most out of your Kraft-colored dino-pal. Steering felt smooth and responsive, and less chaotic than I remember the ray racing in Super Mario Galaxy being, though with up to four people working together, perhaps it was a necessity.

As you race through, you’ll hit ramps and speed pads while jumping over pits and enemies– or onto them, to get some extra points. Gold rings line the course, and getting them turns them into coins.

The main thing in this stage is working together. Each player can make the dino jump or move, but do so without coordination, and he basically flops about like a giant fish on land. Work together, though, and you can pull off some impressive stunts. And this becomes crucial later along a winding path, where everyone needs to pull together to get through. Here, unlike other stages, you live or die as a team– there’s no playing catch-up for stragglers. Either you all make it, or none of you do.

While this didn’t seem to be a favorite course of anyone there among those featured in the demo, it was still fun, and will probably be a good way to break up the norm when the full game hits. Hopefully Nintendo has some other team-based exercises in mind (but don’t worry; one player can get through, if need be).

Oh, and for those wondering: The little Subcon faerie-looking creature doesn’t seem to do anything… yet.

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6-3 has you scaling what seems to be a fortress of some sort. The main obstacles here are conveyor belts placed along the walls throughout, cloud-like platforms which move around, and Bullet Bills coming from every direction– all against a marvelous sunset!

A few of the Super Mario World-styled Goombas are here, too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like you can pick them up– instead, it simply takes two hits to take them out of the picture.

There isn’t too much to say here, other than it’s a platforming-heavy level, though this really gives the Cat Suit a chance to shine– especially on the conveyor belts moving along the walls. More fun is the way that unlike a lot of Mario items, it really allows you to recover and continue along your way.

For instance, you can only climb so far before your character begins to slide back down, but in most cases, you can jump away from the wall, land back on it, and continue further. It’s a lot of fun to do, and really lets you get around.

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Fighting the World 4 boss was interesting. It contains a short mini-level to reach it beforehand, allowing you to grab a power-up along the way– in this case, a Cat Suit which proves very useful during the fight.

Once you’re in the arena, you’re confronted by a group of foes which remind me of more cartoonish versions of the sandworms from Beetlejuice, most of them wearing saucers on their heads and the leader wearing a crown. You want to get onto one of the saucer-headed ones and get to the highest one you can before they pull back into the sand.

You’ll also have to watch out for falling debris between hits, and keep an eye out for signs on the ground for when a worm is about to erupt to the surface. Do it right, and you can ride the worm’s saucer up. If you don’t, you do have another option: Use the Cat Suit (which is dropped occasionally during the fight as well) to simply climb the worms.

Once you’re at the right height, you just need to jump from there to stomp the king. Three times, and they’re all done for.

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Regarding the four different characters, Mario and Luigi feel about the way they did in Super Mario 3D Land, with Mario feeling like a pretty standard 3D-style Mario, and Luigi adding his trademark flutter jump for higher leaps, but at the cost of being a little more slippery to handle.

Near as I can tell from my short time with Princess Peach, she feels just like she did in Super Mario Bros. 2, only now in 3D. Of course, it’s different this time, as instead of harnessing Plucking Power, she can use power-ups like the Marios, such as the Fire Flower. As a result, her speed doesn’t seem to play into things as much as it did when you had to slowly lift enemies and items over her head.

Then there is Toad. Simply put: Toad is a beast.

In Super Mario Bros. 2, Toad had two main traits: His considerable strength and his rather weak jump. I don’t remember whether his jumping was impaired here, but his strength– which allowed him to lift items and enemies faster than anyone and not be slowed down at all by carrying them– is translated here into pure speed.

What’s more is when he gets a Cat Suit; that’s when you need to look out! The Cat Suit is already a surprisingly formidable power-up, but on Toad? The sky is the limit. When I used Toad, I was leaving the other players in the dust– this is like a case of absolute power corrupting absolutely, as I forged my own path, bolstered by Toad’s natural speed and his further enhancements by way of the Cat Suit. Simply put, it felt like the whole world had opened up to me in a way it didn’t for any of the other characters.

Mark my words: Toad is going to become a serious fan favorite in this game. He is going to be the one people go to, and possibly argue over when it comes to multiplayer, and odds are most speed-runs you’ll see of the game will be performed using Toad. If anyone was ever made fun of for liking this Mushroom Retainer, then they’re about to be vindicated.

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Some other notes about the game are that there shouldn’t be too much competition for power-ups. Much like in New Super Mario Bros. Wii or New Super Mario Bros. U, item blocks seem to contain more than one power-up if multiple people are playing. Unlike those, however, they do require multiple strikes of the block to get them out, so it’s possible some people might leave them behind without realizing there are still items inside– I’ve seen it happen, so consider this a tip.

Speaking of items, for what I believe is the first time ever in a 4-player Mario game (and only seen in Super Mario 3D Land, as 3D Mario titles go), you can store items to be called upon at any time. It seems you can store more than one, at that, though I don’t know all the specifics of how that works.

Finally, going back to Toad and getting away from the pack: The game basically follows Player 1 in a fashion much like Kirby’s Return to Dream Land. In this case, if the first player (whether they’re Toad or not, though I suspect he’ll be the main culprit if used as Player 1) gets ahead, then the players who are left behind will become encased in New Super Mario Bros. Wii-styled bubbles which get pulled along and need to be popped.

In other cases, such as teleporting blocks or even just riding the orange dino, if other players take too long, they’ll be beamed to where they need to be, Power Rangers-style.

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I enjoyed Super Mario 3D Land for the most part, with but a handful of minor grievances. Some of those still remain, but to me, Super Mario 3D World feels very, very much improved over that title.

The biggest thing I see posing a problem is the lack of online multiplayer. I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, I’ve only been able to pull together four people for multiplayer a whopping one time across the lifespan of both New Super Mario Bros. Wii and New Super Mario Bros. U combined. And when you have the fab foursome of Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Peach together in action again, just like in the television cartoon seasons of 1989 and 1990, it’s a shame not to have all four running at once.

Beyond that, there are still some questions to be answered, such as whether we might get a more consistent world this time (the maps in 3D Land just felt random to me), but based on what I’ve seen and played, I can’t wait to get my hands on this one when it comes out this December.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.