Multiplayer, Graphics, Sound
Multiplayer and Replayability
The focus of "Super Mario 3D World" is clear as soon as you boot it up: gaming in the living room with your friends and family. In that regard, this game succeeds on almost every measure. Romping around the Sprixie Kingdom with others is an absolute blast.
Part of what makes "Super Mario 3D World" compelling is the distinct capabilities of its five lead characters. For example, Princess Peach isn't very fast, but she can float for a few seconds after each jump. Toad can't jump too high or far, but he's the fastest of the four and has the tightest handling. Luigi, on the other hand, can't exactly stop on a dime, but he jumps higher than any of his friends. Finally, Mario falls somewhere in the middle of all these qualities, as expected.
What makes multiplayer so engrossing is the way "Super Mario 3D World" balances cooperative and competitive play. Nintendo manages to do this in two ways. One is the simple understanding that players need to work together to reach the end of each stage, or no one will get anywhere.
The second way is through a crown system. Once the first level of a multiplayer session is finished, players are ranked first through fourth by the number of points they earned. Points come from coins collected, enemies defeated, power-ups obtained and so on. The player on top is donned in a regal, daunting (and taunting) crown, which he or she gets to wear throughout play in the following levels. That is, of course, until it's knocked off by an enemy — or a player.
This feature instantly turns "Super Mario 3D World" into an eternal match of King of the Hill. And this is the sort of meta-game that transforms this one-off platforming adventure into a potential staple on game nights a la "Wii Sports."
Unfortunately, players might easily grow frustrated by the constant issues of depth perception. What's worse is that details (and players) quickly get lost when friends venture too far off the beaten path. Nintendo patches this sore spot somewhat with a function that throws players into a safety bubble at any time.
While it's clear that Nintendo is focused on couch co-op play here, online multiplayer is sorely lacking once again. While players can compete with random "Ghost Miis" asynchronously through Nintendo's Miiverse platform on completed stages, it doesn't stack up to real-time play with friends online. The sooner Nintendo brings its online features from the most recent "Mario Kart" games, the better.
Graphics and Art
The Wii U is in third place in the console wars as far as graphics are concerned. But Nintendo's studios are tough to beat when it comes to art style. Like most games in the series, "Super Mario 3D World" is dripping with charm, and the full-HD quality only enhances the game's cheery look and feel.
The HD treatment has been a long time coming for Nintendo, and the company takes full advantage of it. Water sparkles in the shine from the sun, and rain drips off the camera, visually warping what's underneath, just as real water should.
That kind of cheeky irreverence is found throughout "Super Mario 3D World," from its hills and clouds with beady eyes in the distance to its worlds inexplicably floating in midair.
Music and Sound
The score of "Super Mario 3D World" — or any Mario game to come, for that matter — doesn't come close to capturing the catchy tunes of the original "Super Mario Bros." What comes through in this edition are songs that range from cute interludes to grating loops that, if not for the din of friends' hoots and hollers, would cause you to press the mute button. That said, the trademark sounds of Super Mario, such as the bloops when a mushroom is used, will never get old. There's a reason these ditties have barely changed in 28 years: They instill the same feelings of excitement they've always had.
Despite some nagging issues, like a crowded screen and the problems with depth perception, "Super Mario 3D World" is one of the more engaging multiplayer games of the season. If you own a Wii U or you're thinking of picking one up, this title provides a good balance between cooperation and competition. The result is a simple yet gripping game in what would otherwise be another couch co-op distraction. And while we're still holding out for online multiplayer Mario, you'll be happy you invited your buds over for this adventure.