Super Mario 3D World review: Just Peachy

Super Mario 3D World is excellent. If you have access to a Wii U, you absolutely have to play it. If you don't have access to a Wii U, you should consider either picking one up or making some new friends. The game is utterly delightful from top to bottom.

That's all you need to know, honestly, but if you're in the mood for a few paragraphs of effusive praise, then by all means, read on.

As ever, Bowser is causing trouble, but in a refreshing change of pace, he has not kidnapped Princess Peach. Instead, Nintendo's iconic villain has absconded with a group of darling little fairies, and it's up to Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad to save them. In a nod to Super Mario Bros. 2, each of these characters has slightly different abilities. Mario runs and jumps with equal skill, Luigi jumps the highest and Peach can float briefly in the air (it's gotta be the petticoats). I think Toad might be a little bit faster than everyone else, but he is a least the smallest target. You won't need any specific ability to overcome Super Mario 3D World's many challenges, but they can help take the edge off of the tougher ones.

Once you choose a character and dive into the game proper, the first thing you'll notice is that Super Mario 3D World is gorgeous. This is hands-down the most beautiful world Mario has ever explored, even after New Super Mario Bros. U set a new standard for the series last year. Everything, from the lowliest puff of smoke to Bowser himself, looks perfect. In fact, despite the world's cartoon appearance, everything looks eerily real, as if one of the Piranha Plants could stretch right out of the TV and take off your hand. The level of craftsmanship is astounding. There isn't one seam showing, not one jagged edge on display, and all of it runs at an unflinching 60 frames per second. An excellent soundtrack is the final touch, filled with fully-orchestrated pieces that use a variety of instruments. Bowser's theme is infused with growling electric guitar, and the haunting ghost house theme has become one of my favorite game compositions of all time.

Running through this world is effortless, with Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad responding to the slightest touch and jumping with just enough momentum to make your decisions matter. Super Mario 3D World supports all of the Wii U's control schemes, including the GamePad, Pro Controller and Wii Remote by itself. The only one I wouldn't recommend is the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, as I found it difficult to play without having both the run and jump buttons under a single thumb. The camera works well, with adjustable isometric views making it easy to judge distances, which is vital for both stomping Goombas and avoiding nasty falls.

There are always nasty falls, of course, but these are only the most basic of Super Mario 3D World's bag of tricks. The game dispenses new mechanics and platforming gadgets at an alarming pace, and many of them are unique to specific levels. One level may see you screaming down a river on the back of a friendly dinosaur, while the next will have you contend with a thorny new breed of slithering Piranha Plants. Depending on the level, you could be swinging on a trapeze, timing your jumps on rhythmically disappearing blocks or riding through a wintry world on a giant ice skate.

Favorite power-ups return, including the Raccoon Suit, Fire Flower and Boomerang Suit. The headlining new power-up is the Cat Suit, which allows Mario and friends to transform into cats that can scratch enemies and climb walls. Much like the Squirrel Suit in New Super Mario Bros. U, you'll see plenty of enemies sporting a cat motif, including Goombas and even Bullet Bills. It's clear that the Cat Suit was intended as 3D World's new, big-ticket power-up, but my favorite is easily the Double Cherry.

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Pick one of these up and your character is instantaneously cloned, creating an identical twin. Pick up another Double Cherry and suddenly you're triplets. Eventually, there can be five of any single character running around at once. If you're staring at five identical Luigis, you might be wondering which one you're actually controlling. The answer is all of them – each of them will do whatever you command. It sounds absolutely manic, and it is, but it's also strangely intuitive. Levels that use the Double Cherry let you spread yourself – yourselves – out for maximum effectiveness, and they also make use of clever obstructions to help you corral yourselves for areas that demand more tight-knit precision.

This kind of artful, purposeful design defines Super Mario 3D World. The sheer variety of fanciful ideas manages to keeps things fresh without cluttering your objectives. The level design itself communicates goals with complete clarity and, with a few exceptions like the aforementioned dinosaur, without the need for tutorials or explanatory text.

This is appreciated when playing on your own, but it's essential when playing with friends. Like New Super Mario Bros. U, up to four people can play Super Mario 3D World simultaneously and, in much the same vein, it is equal parts chaos and pure joy. If five identical Luigis are manic, imagine what it's like when they're joined by an additional squadron of Peaches. In some ways, multiple players undermine the meticulous, self-contained design of each level, but it's all carried off in such a lighthearted way that even failing is fun (as is "accidentally" sending one of your friends off a cliff).

As in NSMB, players who die will come back in protective bubbles, allowing them to rejoin the party whenever it's safe to do so, which helps leaven any frustration that might be caused by the inherent madness of multiplayer. And, of course, additional players can make certain parts much easier, like Super Mario 3D World's wonderful boss battles.

After all of this, I've barely even touched on all of Super Mario 3D World's well-crafted, lovable details. I love Luigi's adorable cat butt. I love that Pokeys become snowmen in winter levels. I love finally getting to see what Princess Peach looks like after picking up a Fire Flower.

Put simply, Super Mario 3D World is stunning. Its world is beautiful, its design is impeccable, and its fun is infectious. I'm running out of superlatives here, so let me finish where I started: Go play it.

This review is based on a retail copy of Super Mario 3D World, provided by Nintendo.

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