What you won’t like

Pointless time limits and game overs

Mario 3D World isn’t perfect. Time limits very occasionally spoil the fun, especially in multiplayer. I wanted to explore the world with my wife at our own pace, but the timer caused anxiety a couple of times. A few levels cleverly employ a 100-second timer, and I appreciate those, but other levels can feel needlessly stressful when they shouldn’t.

Likewise, getting a “game over” makes zero sense. 3D World saves after every level, and a game over does nothing but bring you back to the stage you were just at and restores all the bonus levels. The game now presents how many times you die right on the main menu. It would seem like that is a much more fun way to deal with death than the occasional game over. Again, this is mostly a problem in multiplayer where you tend to bleed lives a lot faster.

Resorting to using the Wii Remote in multiplayer

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3D World barely uses the GamePad’s extra functions. It has some very sparse touchscreen elements and some enemies you can knock over by blowing on the mic, but mostly you’re just using the sticks and buttons. This means you can use any controller to play. In multiplayer, this meant that I gave my wife the GamePad because I didn’t want her to struggle to control a character in 3D with a Wii Remote’s garbage directional pad.

I don’t have a Wii U Pro Controller, and I doubt that many people have three of them. That likely means that, like me, someone is gonna get stuck using the Wii Remote in multiplayer, and that really dampens the experience.

The tight movement controls become sloppy when using the d-pad. It’s also nearly impossible to use the crouch button (which is necessary for the long jump and back flip moves) since it sits awkwardly on the back of the controller.

I happily suffered through it because the game is so good, and I don’t think the one or two times I’ll play this game with a group of people justifies spending $50 on even one Wii U Pro Controller, let alone $150 to get three. Instead, people will just continue to fight over who gets the GamePad, just as they do with all Wii U games.

Conclusion

I love Super Mario 3D World. As a single-player experience, it’s on the same level as either Galaxy game or the memories I have of playing Super Mario 64 for the first time. In many ways, it’s a more refined game than any other 3D Mario.

It is beautiful. It sounds amazing. Its controls are perfect. It love you with its pacing and variety, and it never wants you to get bored.

The multiplayer takes all that and pushes 3D World into a category all of its own. It’s not just some gimmick; it is a whole new way to experience Mario. It feels so integral that I can’t imagine a future Mario that doesn’t include co-op play.

When taken as a whole (the single-player refinements, the visuals, the music, and the multiplayer), Super Mario 3D World is my favorite 3D Mario and the best game I’ve played in 2013.

Score: 97/100

Super Mario 3D World is out Nov. 22 for Wii U. Nintendo provided GamesBeat with a downloadable code for the purposes of this review.

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