Mario has become a disgusting shill. Antsy with his simple image as an 8-bit icon, he and his compatriots have no shame infiltrating nearly every child-friendly genre of video game, and adhering to any material that can be fashioned in to a lunch pail, constructable race car or wall cling. (Heard about the new, chewable Mario Valtrex? A power-up for herpes!). So why, then, after years of lackluster offshoots and self-ripoffs, did I text a picture of my copy of Super Mario 3D World to my wife with the caption, “Our weekend has just begun!”?
Whether my excitement was warranted or not, my daughter and I have eagerly completed two entire Mario 3D worlds, and aren’t looking to stop any time soon. What makes SM3DW stand out among its merely satisfying brethren is its focus on fun rather than difficulty – levels reliant upon specific power-ups are still deep and exciting, even if you’re in little person form. The newest power-up – a thoroughly uninteresting cat suit – does what so few power-ups do: it allows you to deliver an easily controlled attack, and to climb walls. That’s the innovation in SM3DW – you can climb walls. As dumb as that may sound, it’s perfect (and perfectly adorable). Awkwardly glide-jogging or shooting ice balls or farting out an endless stream of coins is gimmicky and low on function. Dude, I just want to see what’s at the top of a suspicious wall.
Then there’s the co-op. The glorious, tranquil co-op! New Super Mario Bros. Wii probably ended a lot of marriages, and for good reason – there is no way in that game to effectively work together with even the most patient of saints while trying to just get your hands on a bloody mushroom. While SM3DW may look like a carnival, its levels are relatively straight-forward. It helps, too, that levels are constructed so that items and interesting structures are clustered (although it’s not obvious), so straying isn’t a huge concern. One level actually forces you to communicate with a partner as you steer a giant reptile through rapids. While playing with my daughter, I kept calmly rationalizing with myself that I would just play through alone, going back to get anything we missed. And that prospect sounded like fun, not a chore.
Super Mario 3D World is most definitely not a cheap port of the 3DS game, nor is it an uninspired addition to the series. Nintendo seems to have created a well-thought new title on par with Super Mario Galaxy. I don’t have much spare time on my hands, and I’m already lamenting the sleep I will miss in the next few weeks while finishing this gem.