It’s no secret that the Wii U hasn’t sold well at all. It’s been partly due to lack of new first-party titles and also because what we’ve seen so far is a small collection of recycled old games, some being no more than HD remakes of ones from older consoles. So Mario is back to try and save the day in a new adventure – well, it’s a direct sequel of the 3DS hit Super Mario 3D Land so not entirely new, but it does feel fresh enough though.
The story is the same as any other Mario title has but with one major difference; Bowser doesn’t kidnap Princess Peach. This time he’s captured seven fairy-like princesses called “sprixies”, and Peach joins Mario and friends to save the day – a somewhat refreshing change, although not much different at all.
Although this is a 3D platformer, the gameplay is much closer to the 2D games than the other 3D ones. Both Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy featured new gameplay mechanics; the first featuring a water cannon and the latter featuring tiny planets with varying gravitational forces but Super Mario 3D land sticks to the classic platforming action we’ve all experienced for years. That doesn’t mean it lacks new features of it’s own though.
Many of the power-ups featured in this game have been seen countless times before; the super mushroom, the fire flower and the super leaf are among these. However, this time there are a couple of new ones to set it apart from the others; the main one being the super bell, which transforms your chosen character into a cat.
When this was first announced by Nintendo, I must admit that I was a bit skeptical about it; the reason being, it seems that whenever they find a new transformation for Mario, they always go for a mammal with a long tail, usually giving it the ability to fly, so this didn’t really sound that new to me. However, I have to say I loved it as the abilities the cat suit provides are very different to the usual ones.
While wearing it, your character can use a both claw attack and an aerial pounce to defeat enemies as well as the ability climb walls to reach areas you wouldn’t normally be able to – resulting in the discovery of secret areas, stars and super pick-ups. Also, if you’re wearing this suit when you jump on to the flag pole at the end of the stage, you will automatically climb to the top for maximum points – it’s very cool.
Another new power-up is the double cherry. Picking this up clones your character and if you keep finding them within the same stage, you can end up with several clones at once. This ability can both help and hinder you as all clones mimic your actions and can be used to defeat multiple enemies at once, but when it comes to platforming if their formation isn’t quite right, they won’t be able to follow you through pipes and some platforms and you can easily lose them. This seems to be intentional; the idea being, it adds a puzzle element to the game-play. If you get to a certain point in the stage with enough of them left, you will be rewarded. This pick-up only features on a few stages so it’s not as big as feature as the cat suit but still a good one.
I was quite disappointed to find that Yoshi was absent from this game but standing in for him is another dinosaur, called Plessie. He is much bigger than Yoshi and only features on certain stages – water slides. This adds a bit of variety to the usual platforming and can be quite tricky to master. Due to fast-pace, the stages featuring him are very fun, even if they can be a little bit frustrating at times.
As with some of the other Mario games, you can choose between multiple characters and if you have some friends with you, you can play with up to four at once. This time though, as a single player, you can choose between any character at the start of each stage. My favourite character is Luigi and usually I can only play with him if I’m in multiplayer mode, but I played through this game from start to finish, only using him. The playable characters are Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach. Rosilina from the Super Mario Galaxy games can also be unlocked. Each character has it’s own ability E.g. Toad can run faster than the others and Peach can float after jumping. If you get stuck on a certain stage, sometimes changing character can be the key to finishing it more easily.
There’s also a good variety of enemies; all the classics with a few new ones in the mix. The bosses are more varied than usual too. The Koopa kids are still the boss of some worlds but there are also a few giant enemies like boulders and snakes as the bosses on others. To defeat them, they all require the same tactics; learning their pattern, avoiding their attacks and then either jump on them or throw something at them, repeating 3 times. It’s a classic formula used in pretty much every Mario and Zelda game and as they say, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
One thing I love is the variety in gameplay between the stages; of course, there’s the usual mix of rotating, moving and disappearing platforms, underwater stages etc, but there’s also others to mix it up, for example, a stage using shadow-play, another being a platform version of Mario Kart, complete with turbo pads and also the Plessie stages; there’s many more than just those though.
The main bonus stages on each world consist of one with a number of challenges, where you have 10 seconds to complete each one, with a star as the prize. The other is a stage featuring a tower, where you take control of Toad and need to collect all stars to complete it. The catch is that you are unable to jump so you need to find a path to each one.
There are 8 main worlds and 3 bonus worlds so there’s plenty of game-time there. For those seeking more of a challenge, there are 380 stars to collect; 3 on each standard stage and varying amounts on the bonus stages. This also gives the game some replay value but even before you finish the main worlds, you may find yourself revisiting stages purely to find the stars as you need at least 170 of them to unlock the final showdown with Bowser.
As the stars can be fairly challenging to locate or obtain, I think some less experienced players may find that too many in order to finish it; usually they’re just optional challenges. However, if you fail a stage too many times you will receive a Invincibility Super Leaf, which transforms you into White Tanooki Mario; this allows you to float while being invincible, making the game more accessible for the younger or casual players.
As with most Mario games, one of the best things for me is that it’s very easy to pick up and as the stages are quite short that makes it easy to kill short pockets of time. Also, if most games are put down for a certain length of time, they can be hard to get back into as you may have forgotten the controls or how to play in general but you’ll never have that problem with Mario – you just pick up and go!
The graphics look very nice and every inch of the game has very vibrant colours. The classic sounds you would expect are there and the soundtrack features new tunes, which will have you toe tapping as with any other Mario title.
As you would expect from Nintendo, there’s no online multiplayer but they have incorporated their newest online feature, the Miiverse, into this game. This allows you to post and receive messages relating to game, to and from other players respectively. The gamepad can be used to hand write these and there are also collectable stamps depicting Mario characters and items, which can be found while playing each and every stage. These can be used to make your own scene and posting it in a message for all to see.
Of course, being a Wii U title, this has some Gamepad features but it keeps it simple and it’s not used for gimmicky control methods. It’s just used for off-TV play and for Miiverse handwriting/drawing, so has a very practical use.
There’s also an added bonus included for fans of Mario’s early adventures, Luigi Bros; a reversion of the 8-bit title, Mario Bros; simply replacing Mario with Luigi as the main character. It’s no more than that but it’s a free game so nothing to grumble about there.
Although not the revolution Super Mario Galaxy was, this is a very solid Mario title and by far the best reason to buy a Wii U. It’s perfect for all ages and skill levels, and it proves how strong Nintendo can be as a game publisher/developer. A few months back Rayman was hot on Mario’s heels but he’s now been kicked back big time and Mario shows he’s still the King of the platformer. If you’ve been contemplating buying a Wii U, now is the time to stop thinking about it and go and buy one.