Mario’s first jump to 3D might still be my favorite if I take into account the initial impact. I was a teenager and the evolution from SNES to 64 was spellbinding. I loved existing in that first castle hub and exploring every nook and cranny of those magical paintings. Sunshine and Galaxy never captured my imagination as much as 64 but I wonder how much of that comes down to age and time. Although I love 64 and have enjoyed the plumber’s forays into the third dimension, I still feel 2D is the peak of the franchise.
Super Mario World 3D World is a hybrid of sorts. It’s three-dimensional but often forces the perspective to sideways, barely requiring 3D movements. It ditches the large levels and sandbox feel for linear pathways, even incorporating a time limit! The countdown may seem needlessly oppressive, but I only noticed it once, and that was on a short level with a shorter timer, designed to be raced through. I found the added tension enjoyable. Youtuber Matthewmatosis (his Mario/Zelda/MGS reviews are phenomenal) cleverly noted the timer could also be used to discourage dawdling or exploration during multiplayer without having to crack the whip on your friends.
Speaking of momentum
A huge part of Galaxy criticized was the constant loss of momentum. Run off a ledge in Galaxy and Mario slows down. This may be realistic, but I don’t play as a mushroom-chomping dragon-slayer for realism. Super Mario 3D World not only maintains the speed but offers a tiered speed burt instead of a gradual increase in speed. Puffs of smoke signify the boost and your character will motor at a pleasing speed until you stop or hit an obstruction. This turns every run into a mini-game of maintaining top velocity and I love it.
A large change to Mario’s controls in Super Mario 3D World is the switch from full 360 degree to 8-way directional. Like the time-limit, this might seem limiting on paper, but in practice I feel it helps the game’s momentum greatly. One of the few criticisms towards Mario 64 were about the slippery controls and camera, particularly when navigating across a narrow path. Reducing the possible directions to eight and fixing the camera to a static perspective means the player has far more leeway when directing Mario. The pathways can now be challenging because of timing, NOT unresponsive controls. This plays very well with the speedier Mario, as turning on a dime to zigzag through even very narrow ledges has never been easier.
Let’s get shallow for a minute
After the disappointing SD of Galaxy in an HD gen, damn it feels good to see Mario get the gorgeous makeover he deserves. Visuals are never more important than gameplay, but given the choice, I’d rather look at something beautiful. Mario was fashionably late to the HD coming out party, but it was worth the wait, and has me properly excited for what they’ll accomplish with Mario Odyssey.
The mix of old and new
Mario games are like Jerry Seinfeld comedy routines, a mix of old and new. There are plenty of new ideas on display here (I especially love the Mario Kart levels (…does that make it an old idea?)). But – similar to the New Super Mario series – there’s a large amount of old ideas remixed in a somewhat fresh way. This can make part of the experience feel a bit hollow as a Mario franchise veteran (wow how distinguished). The previously mentioned New Super Mario series is far more guilty of rehashing old tropes however, as Super Mario 3D World has more than enough creativity to stand on its own as a proud addition to the family.
Playing both in 2017, I had a ton more fun with 3D World than Galaxy. While I see how comparing games from different console generations could be construed as unfair, I’ll counter by putting SMB3 and World above both by a longshot.
Super Mario 3D World is a gorgeous collection of rock solid Mario platforming, creative additions, and a seamless multiplayer experience. My fourth favorite Mario behind 3, World, and New Super Mario Bros Wii U.