After my brief gameplay session with Super Mario 3D World at E3 this year, I came away having enjoyed my time, but not blown away by the presentation. It seemed like another typical entry to the series, one that would likely garner high critic scores while still feeling like a rehash of old features. Now that I've seen the incredible new trailer for the game showcased in the most recent Nintendo Direct, I have thrown that preconception right out the window. Yes, it may look like a conglomeration of past Mario platformers, but there's enough new features, as well as tweaks to old conventions, that I'll go out on a limb and forecast Super Mario 3D World as the best game of the longstanding series.
The only doubt I have with that prediction is that it's not revolutionary like past titles. Super Mario 64 ushered in the age of 3D gaming. Super Mario Galaxy took the series out of this world and became the new standard for modern platforming. With Super Mario 3D World, there is a very familiar appearance that some would say lacks originality. Like Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS, the home-console version is filled with bite-sized levels that are navigated in a 3D environment; most of which are suspended in midair, with the ultimate goal being to reach the flag pole at the end of the stage. A glance at the two-and-a-half minute long trailer, however, shows just how many new obstacles will hinder your progress.
Giant ostriches in a half-shell try to beat you down with their beaks as you pass by them, and lava blobs fly out of the magma and slowly give chase, trying to sear your rear. Then there are familiar foes like the Piranha Plant, although manipulated in new ways. For example, certain encounters with these man-eating plants have them hidden in the shadows or slithering around with elongated, thorny stems. Goombas are still casually loafing about, but you may also find them lounging in spiky water tubes, or pretending to be Pokey by creating a pillar of several Goombas standing on each other's head. Bullet Bills will blast from their cannons and home in on your location, but some of them are sporting mouse ears to play off of the game's signature new power-up, the Cat Suit.
This brings me to the upgrades that, after watching the trailer, substantiate how absolutely packed Super Mario 3D World is with them. Old favorites like the Fire Flower, Tanooki Suit, and Boomerang Flower are present, with the Cat Suit providing new ways to tackle each board. Donned in the feline duds, you can glide through the air to cross large gaps and kamikaze opponents, scurry quickly up wall faces, and even scale to the top of the goal pole for maximum points. This also marks the first time in a Mario platformer where you can attack with your hands, well paws and claws in this case.
But there are so many more pickups, such as all the boxes that can be put over your head. The Propeller Box gives you an extra jump and floats you back to the ground. A cannon-like box (official name yet to be announced) lets you shoot out cannonballs to your heart's content. A Coin Box spits out coins every step you take, awesome for racking up 1-Ups. Finally, there's a rather disturbing decapitated Goomba head that you can wear to sneak by enemies. Then there are all the items you can hold onto and use, such as baseballs and soccer balls that can be launched at enemies, bombs that can be hurled for major destruction, and best of all, a portable Piranha Plant that will devour any unfortunate enemy you approach. Oh, and remember the Goomba Shoe? Well how about strapping on a giant ice skate and tearing up the frozen levels?
But the most exciting power-up by far has to be the Double Cherry. Picking up one of these beauties will create a clone of your character, who mimics your every move. But why stop at two? Pick up another Double Cherry and poof, three Marios. How about four, or five? Yup, it can happen. Imagine having five clones with a Fire Flower, tossing fireballs out like it's Armageddon.
Another nod to a previous title can be found at the character-selection screen. Instead of just taking the role of Mario, you can choose between the well-balanced portly plumber, Luigi and his high-jumping acrobatics, Peach and her extended hang time, or the small but speedy Toad.
And if you want to test each character's abilities against each other, that's a piece of cake with the game's multiplayer mode. This is actually the first 3D Mario platformer to allow multiplayer action in every stage. Unlike the New Super Mario Bros. multiplayer that was too chaotic within the confines of the 2D plane, Super Mario 3D World gives each player some breathing room to attack each course a different way. The action is limited to one screen, however, so dawdlers will find themselves off-screen, and carried back to the action via a bubble. Each player's score is tallied individually, based on the coins collected, monsters defeated, and first to the goal pole. The winner then gets crowned for the next board, giving them bragging rights but also making them the target for the other players. It's fast-paced and full of cheap shots, but creates a wonderful distinction between the methodical exploration in the single-player mode.
Speaking of exploration, the world map has crushed the barriers of linear progression. Though the overworld may look like Super Mario World or New Super Mario Bros. U, you are not confined to a set path to the next stage. Instead, you can free roam, tackling stages as you see fit. Plus, there are plenty of secrets for those eager to go off the beaten path.
The newest trailer for Super Mario 3D World is absolutely brimming with teases on the depth of content in Super Mario 3D World. It showcases not only a plethora of exciting power-ups, but also snippets of the flawless level design that Mario platformers are famous for. There are plenty of Mario naysayers out there who are baffled by why Mario hasn't hung up his hat. This trailer is the perfect argument for that negative perception. It shows that although Mario games follow certain gameplay conventions, they are always rethinking how to approach them. What new innovations can be integrated? How can the experience be enhanced? And most importantly, how can it be made more fun? Nintendo thinks about all these questions when creating a new Mario masterpiece, and that is why Mario will always have a place in the gaming world, and always be welcomed by faithful fans.
Senior Contributing Writer