How Super Mario 3D World masks co-op in chaos

Ludwig Kietzmann
L. Kietzmann|10.24.13

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For the meticulous player who takes pride in the unblinking, unfaltering dash through a gauntlet of precipitous drops and spinning spikes, multiplayer is probably the worst thing to happen to Mario. As with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you're often foiled by those you would call friends in Super Mario 3D World.

That jump would have been perfect, but Peach bopped me on the head and sent me to a molten death in the lava below. I would have gotten that hidden power-up and used it properly, had Toad not run off with it first. Who are these other three people and why do they torment me so?Even as someone who values 3D Mario for its clockwork platforming and gradually tightening margin of error, I saw multiplayer as an opportunity to share in failure, especially with those who might not play games much at all. It's hard not to laugh at the cluster of incompetence that results when four stars share a screen and a space that seems secretly designed for just one. As I play as Mario, with Toad, Peach and Luigi, we jostle back and forth on a tram suspended in the sky, its floor divided evenly as buttons that move it forward or backward. Three of us decide on forward, and one of us decides to be a dissident at the wrong moment. We jump in panic, the cart rolls off without us and we all die, united in descent.

Everyone laughs, and several more bungled attempts follow. In a bright casino-themed level, we have to run across a string of binary switches, turning them all from red to blue. The person behind you, of course, steps on the switch again and reverts it to red. This comical train of doing and undoing should be infuriating, but Super Mario 3D World wraps inevitable misfortune in whimsical levels and vivid exuberance.

Super Mario 3D World plays like a sensible evolution of 2011's fantastic 3DS game, Super Mario 3D Land. The graphics on Wii U are gorgeous, of course, but there's far more variety in power-ups and playful methods of traversal (and platformers are all about traversal). The mind-bending cherry power-up spits out multiple synchronized Marios, perfect for collecting coins on parallel paths. The cat suit has a useful mid-air pounce and a quick scurry up vertical walls – yet another opportunity for devious level designers to hide secrets – and, perhaps more importantly, lets the game's creators pose like this:

(Left to Right: Yoshiaki Koizumi, Shigeru Miyamoto, Kenta Motokura)

The Tanooki suit is in there too, if you're more of a raccoon dog person.

Nintendo's most prominent designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, considers Super Mario 3D World a successor to 3D Land, "taking ideas from land and raising them to the highest level imaginable." That bump in level, he says, reflects what was perhaps Mario's biggest jump: "The word 'world' has a particularly important meaning to me," he says. "There was also Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3, but it was the SNES title, Super Mario World, that first used this word."

And the world is full of people bumping into you now. Sure, you can play Super Mario 3D World alone, but you'd be missing the best spark to come along since, well, Super Mario World. The handful of levels I played appear to be of the high caliber and instantly readable ingenuity you would expect from a 3D Mario, balanced with a healthy dose of bungling and spontaneous competition (which can also manifest in ghosts from online players). The designers of Mario's world control and encourage everything in it, and have the wisdom to let four idiots create their own predicaments inside it.

Super Mario 3D World for Wii U has its debut planned for November 22.
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