Super Mario 3D World: too small to fail

Tom: Love the driveable ice skate! Just when you’re on the verge of saying, “okay, enough with the damn ice”, the ice skate comes along and you’re a little sad there isn’t actually more ice.

Scott: The ice skate is a great example of how creatively rich Mario games can be. As far as I can tell the ice skate is confined to one level. The skate is a great nod to Mario fans. I remember a similar level in Super Mario Bros. 3 where you get inside a big boot and stomp around. It only appears in that one level. Bad examples of this are the levels where you ride that seamonster around. Is it supposed to be some Yoshi stand in? Is Yoshi too big time to show up in a Mario game?

After the jump, size matters

Tom: One of the things I’m really appreciating is how bite-sized these levels are. They know how to be the right length not to wear out their welcome, and there’s a checkpoint in the middle of each one that lets you know how much farther you have to go. Nearly every time I’ve come to the flagpole at the end, I’ve thought, “Oh, I’m here already?” Some of the levels are actually too short, which you almost never see in a videogame. I could have done with Mount Must Dash being about two or three times as long. And it’s not even a “main” level. As far as I can tell, you can skip it entirely if you just want to power through World Three.

Wait, who would ever want to “just power through” a Mario game?

Scott: Who would want to power through a Mario game indeed! I like that to access special levels you need a certain amount of green stars. In the beginning this isn’t much of a challenge. But once you get to the later worlds and the levels get harder and the stars are a lot more scarce you really have to earn the price of admission. In World 3 there were multiple levels where I didn’t find any stars. This encourages backtracking over levels you’ve already completed to find as many stars as possible.

I really like how things start to open up as you go from world to world. Hidden levels like Mount Must Dash are great discoveries. That’s one of the best levels I’ve played and like you said some folks might just skip it. Who makes games like this anymore?

Tom: Of course, then I get to Bullet Bill’s Express, a train boss level. Homing bullets, helicopter dudes coming down at me, now massive homing bullets, now some vanishing ninja turtle. I’m losing lives left and right. Okay, this is verging on awful. And then Super Mario 3D World drops a power-up at the start of the level I hadn’t seen before. Did it just put it there because I only have two lives left? Because I’m dying a lot? Is it a pity power-up? Whatever the reason, it’s some sort of holy avenging white racoon supersuit of kicking ass and taking names and not putting up with any sass. I spam the attack button and power my way along the train, ruthlessly destroying everything in my path. I am William Tecumseh Sherman, this train is the Confederate State of America, and the locomotive is Atlanta. I get to the vanishing ninja turtle guy and it turns out he’s the actual boss and now he’s dead and the level’s over and I’m on my way to world four where I suspect — hey, wait a minute, now I’m fighting a crazy stealth boss! It’s cat vs snakes! You crazy Super Mario 3D World.

Scott: What do you get when you cross a panda with a raccoon? The avenging white Tanooki suit of doom! That suit does indeed represent Nintendo taking pity on you, Tom. Fail enough and you’re rewarded with a suit that grants a form of invulnerability. Enemies can’t kill you but jumps and falls can.

Tom: Ah, I didn’t realize I was invulnerable. I just thought I was really good.

Scott: You still have to execute all the platform stuff but you get a powerup to help make the level a bit more forgiving. Most games would just give you the option of skipping the level if you fail enough times, like Grand Theft Auto 5. Super Mario 3D World will never do that. You have to earn that “complete” screen.

It’s a great example of the interplay between surprisingly harsh old school mechanics and tempering the game for a modern audience. It’s a fine line and the difficulty starts to ramp up pretty significantly. World 3 has level after level of awesome. I also had more than a few moments of wanting to throw my controller out the window. A feeling I haven’t had in ages.

Tom: So far Super Mario 3D World hasn’t really pushed back. We’ll see how I feel when I actually run out of lives, or when I don’t have enough green stars to move forward, or when I don’t get a free white racoon of invulnerability.

Scott: It’s a little scary you got down to two lives. Can you believe there’s a life counter? Are they really going to give us a GAME OVER screen if we run out of lives? In a game this big? I don’t want to take that chance. I try and stay above ten lives at all times. And see, that’s actually a great mechanic! If lives meant nothing then coins would mean nothing. Sucking the meaning out of coins kills a huge part of the game’s economy.

Why else would I try and complete the red and green coin challenges? Or chase a 1up dangerously close to an edge? The game is constantly pushing you to increase the pace, take chances, and explore. When you realize every damn level accommodates this variety of play you understand the genius of Nintendo. And we’re only on World 3! So you best get more lives Mr. Chick. Things will only get weirder and tougher from here on out.

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Up next: World Four