One of the most advertised features of Super Mario 3D World is the cooperative gameplay calling back to Super Mario Bros. 2. Obvious content differences aside, this is also the feature that most differentiates Mario 3D World from Mario 3D Land. I was excited to take this new mode for a spin and it’s my pleasure to report that it’s okay.
That’s better than it sounds, though. The thing is, I’ve personally never been a huge fan of Super Mario platforming multiplayer.
I’ve always felt that to play a Mario platformer is to have a dialogue with the men and women who created the levels. At times, these faceless Nintendo employees are playful, and other times cruel. Mario levels tease the player with secrets, challenge them to better master the game’s mechanics, and ultimately lead them to success. This interplay between designer and player is what has made so many Super Mario games timeless. That dialogue has never translated very well to multiplayer experiences, however.
The silly dancing flower you notice; wasting your time running around the same tree again and again because you’re SURE you saw a secret there; finding yourself laughing in delight as even as you fall off the edge of the world just because that next platform surprised you… those are not the experiences of a multiplayer game. To put another player into the game with you (let alone two or three) creates a fundamentally different dynamic.
I feel like bouncing around and off of other humans makes the game more about playing with the people in the room and less about interacting with those delightful designers at Nintendo. At times, the chaos in a New Super Mario Bros. game can cause me to lose track of my character entirely, and when that’s happening there’s no chance at all of appreciating those unnecessary but amazing little details Mario games all seem to have.
Mario Galaxy didn’t want to deal with the issue at all, they left player two as an empowered cursor on the screen. By comparison, Super Mario 3D World lets every player play the full game and yet, confusion is uncommon. It’s a clear step forward.
So, how does this game achieve these better results? First of all, having four distinct characters makes a huge difference huge. Players quickly develop favorites and different characters are subtly more suited to different skill levels. I’ve always been a Luigi guy in the past but I’ve found myself drawn to Toad playing this game. Yes, this is partially because cat suit Toad is adorable, but I also really enjoy his snappy speed once he gets going. Meanwhile, when playing with someone who hasn’t played a Mario game since Sunshine, it was great to have no nonsense Mario available. And when playing with a youngster, Peach’s floating jumps were critical. (Although, appearances may have influenced this choice too… I have a hunch she just wanted to be a princess).
Another big improvement is in how the levels are designed. Super Mario 3D Land didn’t have nearly as many alternate paths as are found here, and the camera does a remarkably good job of tracking players whichever course they may pursue. These split paths start right away in world 1-1 and they do a lot to give multiple characters space to move unimpeded. A lot of these paths are gated by certain power up requirements, and you can store backups either to get to blocked spots or just to help keep your partners up and in the game.
Given that the characters are wonderfully distinct and the stages give multiplayer room to breathe, why am I only saying my experience was “okay”? Unfortunately, multiplayer makes it an awful lot harder to hunt for secrets. Those precious hidden goodies only reveal themselves to the thorough and observant… which is a whole lot harder to manage when the camera is zooming in and out to accommodate another player or three who you need to keep up with. My single player secret collection rate is about double what groups of two, three, or even four have been able to achieve.
I’m also not a fan of how the game assigns a crown to the top point earner at the end of a level. It’s been my experience that the most experienced Mario player always gets crowned (don’t’ worry, it was me—you are getting the playtest of an expert!) and the scoring screen quickly becomes an awkward divide between the adept and those just jumping in for a few levels of fun. Mario has never much been a score attack game anyway, so why make such a big deal out of it now? Or maybe I’ve just played way too much Mario? I feel like these are the sorts of questions the end of level screen wasn’t intended to leave me asking.
This has just been my takeaway from the multiplayer mode, though, and it’s worth remembering that it takes two to enjoy a multiplayer mode. Those who have played Super Mario 3D World with me have all had a blast and, without exception, have wanted to play again. Controller rotation when more than four players are present is fierce, too, in my experiences.
So, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just too set in my ways. Too fixated on the methodical level-scouring I’ve enjoyed in Mario games for so long. That said, while multiplayer still isn’t what I come to Mario for, it’s been improved since the days of New Super Mario Bros. and it’s an awful lot of fun for an awful lot of people.
Look forward to more Super Mario 3D World coverage on Siliconera soon.