maanantai 12. syyskuuta 2016

REVIEW - Super Mario 3D World

GENRE(S): Platformer
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo, Brownie Brown
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: November 21, 2013

Let's imagine it's 1990. You have a handheld game out, called Super Mario Land. You have a series of previous major console titles called Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2 (two of them, actually), and Super Mario Bros. 3. What should you call a game that would sound significantly "bigger" in name than a game called "Land", and a far departure from the previous series of games as well? The answer: Super Mario World. The year 2013 - same question. You have a handheld game out, called Super Mario 3D Land. You also have a series of games called New Super Mario Bros., New Super Mario Bros. Wii, New Super Mario Bros. 2 and New Super Mario Bros. U. What should you call a direct, major sequel to Super Mario 3D Land, all exclusive to your superconsole that is still (arguably) missing its definitive Mario title? The answer: Super Mario 3D World - of course. As expected, Super Mario 3D World is just as superficially attractive as its 3DS predecessor. It's exciting, beautiful, and fun, through and through - and undoubtedly a great multiplayer game, a partial throwback to the Western version of the classic Super Mario Bros. 2 and a partial 3D adaptation of the New Super Mario Bros. multiplayer scheme. Perhaps a tiny bit of Super Mario 3D's most basic magic is lost on the big screen. In good news, Super Mario 3D World has more than a few tricks of its own to almost immediately compensate for the vaguely lingering lack of passion, and finally prevail over its predecessor.

The greatest pipe dream you've had in a long time

Mario, Luigi, Toad and the Princess find a broken glass pipe from somewhere near the castle (why can't any of their nice little walks be just NICE LITTLE WALKS?). Mario and Luigi do quick work on the pipe and a faerie called a Sprixie appears, to inform them of a situation at Sprixie Kingdom; apparently Bowser has finally given up on the thought of conquering Mushroom Kingdom and moved on to this beautiful, but mild and meek world to enslave its citizens and rule as its tyrant king. Mario and Luigi join forces with Toad and the Princess for the first time since their journey to Subcon, and head to this wonderful new kingdom to give their long-pestering arch nemesis the boot - in a-3-a-D-a!

Super Mario 3D Land was a really, really, really good game - but everyone didn't like it. Many high-profile critics questioned the game and its importance to the Mario franchise, or platformer gaming in general. It would seem that the necessity of its fancy 3D effects was under the heaviest fire, which is where I give up on understanding some people - Super Mario 3D Land was not only a fucking great looking game, the 3D effects were awesome and fun, the controls were no less than perfect, the game was an early milestone of all things the Nintendo 3DS could do, and most importantly, it was such a refreshing game after the couple of stale (still good) New Super Mario Bros. titles. Those critics spent all the praises they had in store on the New Super Mario Bros. series, and went all "meh" on Super Mario 3D Land. I don't get it, I simply don't. Then came Super Mario 3D World. A few of those same critics loved this game, they said that now the 3D thing truly shines, and the core gameplay is so much better on the Wii U. Again, I don't get it - of course I had to get this game to see if there was any truth to the game being notably better than Super Mario 3D Land. Well, it's not a NOTABLY better game (I will defend that first one to the end), but then again, it's not any worse either. Actually, it's a pretty damn good game, to put it blunt it's one of the greatest Mario games ever made. It's basically Super Mario 3D Land on the big screen, with a very strong emphasis on multiplayer, something the original game didn't have at all, plus some other fine treats that never could've been accomplished with the original game, including one special level design which even made it into its own spin-off game! I'm once again leaving the multiplayer mode's greatness for someone else to figure out; I'm in for the single-player experience. Which is both everything and nothing like everything you've ever experienced before - and it's fucking grand.

The look of the game is a bit of a hitch if you start to reflect on it too deeply. The stomach-turning, semi-set-piece 3D effects of the previous game are omitted from the way of a more straightforward 3D game - but, with more levels primarily viewed from your character's back (including "racing" levels) and a "free" camera to compensate; at any time, you're allowed to change the camera angle to the left or right by one tick, and there are certain levels where you can rotate it into any direction you wish. It's no less than the whole idea in those levels; I'll talk about 'em later, 'cause they're kinda awesome. The basic gamepad's special features such as touch screen controls and the microphone are utilized, thankfully in the least possible amount. (I'm old school.) The soundtrack is a gigantic mix of the brand new stuff, and stuff heavily remixed from ages past, as far back as Super Mario Bros., and our version of Super Mario Bros. 2, to which a lot of the game's core gameplay owes to. All of it's in the exact right spirit, it's awesome. Even the New Super Mario Bros. theme song in its few appearances stays fresh here, despite sounding like a broken record in its original habitat.

Super Mario 3D World is much lengthier and richer in content than Super Mario 3D Land. While that doesn't exactly come as a surprise, the cynical expectation is that the game recycles a lot of the 3DS game to gain more berth. Not at all - while almost all level design elements from the previous game are carried over, the levels are all new. They're fun - for the absolute most part - and full of all new stipulations, ideas and concepts that'll make you giggle like a little girl. (Assuming you're not actually a little girl. If you are, stop reading. Lots of gratuitous f-words coming. Oops, might've slipped some in already. My bad.) Unlike the previous game, the game is also NOT linear. There are lots of secret sub-bosses and even whole levels "hidden" (not very well) within the worlds, that you aren't required to beat for a simple completion of the game. Completionists will get their chow with eight worlds for the normal round, and a whopping total of FOUR secret worlds, all of their unevenly divided levels spammed with three Stars and a Stamp - kind of like Nintendo's answer to Trophies and Achievements - to collect. Plus, of course, a true completionist will go for the best flagpole score in each and every level. The completionist who's so awesome he's kinda awkward goes for completing each and every level with each and every playable character in the game. Oh yes, hah-hah: Super Mario 3D World is fucking huge.

The return of the awesome foursome, plus one

The special talents of each player in the field are exactly the same as they were in Super Mario Bros. 2. Mario is an all-around character with good basic talents, Luigi can jump higher than everyone else and has good (and sometimes very useful) hangtime, Toad runs the fastest, and Peach (Toadstool.) can use her skirt to float for a short (and sometimes VERY USEFUL) period of time. After you've conquered the main game, as well as a few levels in the first extra world - a Star World based on Super Mario Galaxy, so you probably know what's coming - Rosalina is added in as a fifth playable character. She can spin around without the help of any power-ups to defeat enemies.

Oh shit. Back in Limbo.
All the power-ups from the previous game are there, and Mega-Mario/Luigi/Toad/Peach from the New Super Mario Bros. series makes a few appearances. The new prominent power-up of the year is the Super Bell, which morphs the character into a cat, capable of climbing walls and executing two different lunge attacks from the ground and from the air. It's a quite cool power-up once you learn to use it, and you'd better, since it's so frontline stuff for this game. The game isn't complete without a whole series of strange, gimmicky power-ups we've grown to expect in the times of New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy. You'd best see the bulk of 'em for yourselves, but I've just got to mention the double cherry from Super Mario Bros. 2, which creates up to five clones of your character. While the game sometimes borrows level designs even from Mario Kart and Luigi's Mansion (I just can't bear to play the Ghost House levels with anyone else but Luigi, since they're clearly designed with him in mind), you'd not expect it to borrow from Mario vs. Donkey Kong. You can beat the clone levels without being able to bring the clones to the goal, but very often you need to do your best to keep them alive throughout the ordeal to be able to collect all the hidden stuff. It's a neat gimmick, but very often hellishly frustrating.

The Mystery Houses are no longer just sporadically respawning blocks for you to gain a lousy extra Star every once in a while, but challenge rooms with as many as five to ten Stars for you to collect in gradually toughening speedrun challenges, related to some core element of gameplay. Nothing too merciless, but properly challenging fun. The boss fights are so much better and there's more diversity to them than on the handheld. Boom-Boom and Pom-Pom make a few appearances, yes, but they're accompanied by several sub-bosses including new ones such as Brolder and old favourites such as the Hammer Bros., a strange being calling himself King Ka-Thunk, Bowser's new henchmen Hisstocrat and Motley Bossblob, and of course, the big man himself, who you'll be facing a total of three times. Bowser won't show up in flesh after the main world campaign, probably because the final fight with him is kinda hard to outdo. It's quite possibly the best Bowser brawl we've witnessed in any game since Yoshi's Island, or at least shares the top spot with New Super Mario Bros. U. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Speaking of Bowser, you need 170 Stars to enter the final level of the campaign; although that sounds like a lot, it's not nearly as brutal as some of the requirements in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Even on my first round of the game, I had 192 Stars in tow by that point.

One of Captain Toad's easier exploits.
Now for the most special level design of the game, which went on to become its very own spin-off title due to the popularity of these levels. Remember the cowardly and borderline narcissistic Captain Toad from Super Mario Galaxy? Well, he's back for adventure in puzzle levels that (allegedly) haven't been influenced by Fez at all, but they sure do look like it. Here you are stripped of all the basic elements of a platformer; there are enemies, but you cannot hurt them. You cannot even jump. You need to find a way to each of the levels' Stars doing nothing but move around in a limited 3D space you can freely rotate up, down, left or right, sometimes taking advantage of the enemies' M.O. to get to your goal. These levels are really hard to explain beyond the simple fact that they're absolutely magnificent, great changes of pace at the exact right places - challenging enough for those who aren't that good with puzzles, and at the very least relaxing for those who are. I might dig up the actual spin-off some day, not sure if I'd pay for a whole retail of this schtick, but I'd sure like to give it a go.

Super Mario 3D World is pretty much a perfect Mario game, but it has some bumps. The controls are not, relatively speaking of course, quite as perfect as 3D Land would allow us to expect. Many levels do not only support the use of certain characters, they are lingering on the border of being absolutely impossible to beat without the use of certain characters - not really common in the main campaign, thankfully so. The game only saves single Stars and Stamps when you actually complete the level they're found from, which basically means you'll have to grind a ton of levels, including boss levels, from the beginning to the end, several times before you're sure to have found everything, whether it depends on a mandatory character or a mandatory power-up. There are even some random cases where the game practically finishes the level for you before you've even noticed you're missing something. Grinding is always a fucking chore, imagine having to play every Star World level AT LEAST twice, all the while remembering that there's far worse shit coming up after you've conquered that world.


I was making excuses there. The truth is, I've not left a Mario game this happy since I played Super Mario 64 for the very first time 20 years ago. Super Mario 3D Land restored my faith in the Mario franchise, Super Mario 3D World capitalized on it after a briefly bland start, and then some. While the game does at first look a little too ordinary in contrast to what we expected from a major adaptation of Super Mario 3D, it begins throwing hard punches at us at a rapid pace in about 20 to 30 minutes, and doesn't let up 'til the fat turtle burns. It's been too long since I said this about any game, let alone a Mario title; Super Mario 3D World is one of the best video games ever made.

+ The level design is all about one surprise hit after another
+ Having multiple characters to play (around) with in a Super Mario Bros. 2 kind of set-up is a hoot
+ Having us dig for secrets is truly the game's greatest strength for a change (although grinding's not that fun, see below)
+ The Captain Toad puzzles
+ The Mystery House challenges
+ The boss fights - including a very different, but mega-epic Bowser brawl

- Feels a little flat at first, but grows stronger by the minute
- Lots of forced grinding and backtracking, especially for completionists
- A few control issues, nothing too notable

< 9.6 >

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