Super Mario 3D World is Nintendo’s version of Frankenstein’s monster. The developer took parts from past Mario games and pieced them together in the hope that its colorful creation will lead to a bigger, better game for the Wii U.
Out on Nov. 22, the latest platformer specifically draws from Super Mario 3D Land (for the 3DS) and the New Super Mario Bros. series (Wii and Wii U). The former combined the familiar side-scrolling gameplay with 3D levels that left more room for exploration while the latter introduced cooperative multiplayer, where you and a few friends could play together using different characters. Super Mario 3D World attempts to refine and expand on these features while also looking for its own identity in the process.
We’ll have to wait until we play the full game to see if Nintendo’s concoction worked. But in the meantime, here’s a look at the five most interesting changes Super Mario 3D World makes to the classic formula.
You’re not rescuing Princess Peach
Since Princess Peach is a playable character, Mario’s longtime nemesis, Bowser, has to deploy his kidnapping schemes elsewhere. With the help of his minions, Bowser invades a neighboring kingdom and imprisons some of its diminutive citizens (who look like princesses themselves) so he can steal their treasure. You can free them from his clutches by defeating the boss inside each castle.
Mario and friends have already dressed up as a squirrel and a raccoon, so why not as a cat? The cat suit lets you run faster, climb up certain types of walls when jumps aren’t enough, attack with your claws, and pounce on enemies. You’ll even see cat variants of the ol’ Goombas walking around … but no word yet on whether Bowser will slip into his own feline costume.
The other new power-up I saw was a red cherry: When you pick it up, it instantly clones your character. You control the clones simultaneously, and they will inherit any other power-ups (like fire flowers) you get. They run next to you at first, but obstacles like ramps, ledges, and pipes can separate them. Sometimes you want this to happen: One area I came across had two large buttons, and if I had jumped on them at the same time with my clone, I would’ve gotten a star.
Playing from different perspectives
The emphasis on 3D levels means you’re no longer stuck to a static camera — at least not all the time. You can use the right stick on the GamePad controller to adjust it from its 2D view to something resembling an isometric perspective. It’s useful for seeing around corners or looking for secret spots to net more coins. These options change depending on the level design as certain stages won’t let you move it at all.
Super Mario 3D World also has some neat tricks that ignore the 3D mantra completely. One level I played had a short section where everything turned into flat, 2D silhouettes on a wall. This visual curve ball was refreshing because the lack of depth perception forced me to reconsider, if only for a moment, the way I play a Mario game.
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Struggling for the crown
My mind was on autopilot as I played through Super Mario 3D World by myself. I knew I had to head-butt the yellow blocks, jump on the enemies’ heads, run through the coins, and try my best to reach the top of the flag pole at the end of each level. When three Nintendo representatives joined me for multiplayer, however, my mindset changed. I sat up on the couch to fix my posture and held my controller just a little tighter. If I didn’t pay attention, I was going to lose to my teammates, and I couldn’t let that happen.
Every level is open for multiplayer shenanigans after you’ve beaten it in the single-player mode. Super Mario 3D World tracks each player’s score, and the person with the highest number of points at the end gets a golden crown. If you manage to keep it on your head through the end of the next level — without the other players stealing it for themselves — the crown rewards you with bonus points on top of your regular score.
Suddenly, any pretense of cooperative multiplayer disappeared as we raced each other for both points and the crown. Since all players share a single screen (if you end up too far outside the edges, a slow, floating bubble a la New Super Mario Bros. brings you back to the front), I had a hard time keeping up with my group. One guy in particular was hell-bent on protecting his crown and sprinted through the levels at an astonishing speed. A mixture of laughter and anguish erupted in the room as the rest of us fought (and threw each other off ledges) for second place.
More multiplayer madness
The dreaded Piranha plants now come in a potted version, and you can pick them up by holding the run button. If you’re playing by yourself, these plants are useful for snapping up and eating your enemies, like the Fuzzies (floating, disembodied heads that try to block your path). In multiplayer, they’re the ultimate weapon. The bite stuns players for a second, and if they’re carrying the crown, they’ll drop it. This created a feeding frenzy as we pointed our Piranha plants at each other so no one could grab the crown.
Of course, that also meant we were too busy to realize that Luigi somehow snuck through the chaos, stole it, and ran through the exit before we could catch up. It was like some weird cosmic reminder that 2013 is still the Year of Luigi.