I never played Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U. I’ve historically been a big fan of the mainline Mario games, but I don’t like them quite as much as I used to, and in particular the more linear outings don’t grab me as much as the more open ones. I think they’re very well done for what they are, I’m just not sure how much I want what they are?

But when the game was rereleased on the Switch, along with a new game that, while short, was getting surprisingly good buzz, I figured I’d give Super Mario 3D World a try. And, well, it’s very well done for what it is, though I’m not sure how much I want what it is?


So yeah, there are linear levels, and they’re very good. Which I loved back in the NES days: going through Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario Bros. 3, enjoying the jumping, the wondering what would happen when I broke as many blocks as I could, enjoying watching my skill level increase. And, sure, I’d die periodically; but then I’d start over again, enjoying the fact that I was better than last time.

But it was one thing to play those games a few decades back; it’s another thing to play a game like that now. And, of course, Super Mario 3D World isn’t a game like that, any more than, say, Super Mario Galaxy was: if you run out of lives, you don’t get kicked back to the beginning, you’re just kicked out to the overworld where you can go right back to the level that you died on.

This is the right choice, but there’s the potential for something to be lost: the familiarity that comes with enforced repetition, the consequences of not having your skill level ramp up in parallel with the difficulty of the game’s levels. The game attacks the former by giving you four optional extras to find in each level; the game doesn’t really attack the latter, and in fact it backs off further, by giving you an invincibility powerup if you fail too many times at a given level.

Again, probably the right choice. And sure, it was fun while playing through the level to wonder where the green stars were, and to try to collect them if I did end up locating them. If I failed, I didn’t go back right after finishing that level to try to collect them, but I figured I’d probably give some of those a try later on? Still, part of my brain was preparing me to be disappointed: I figured the game as a whole would be kind of short (because of the lack of enforced repetition), that I’d try to make up for that by going back and trying to get more green stars, and that I ultimately wouldn’t find that super satisfying?


The thing is, the game just kept on going. I mean, it’s not the longest game in the world, we’re not talking traditional RPG length here or anything, but it’s long enough to be a satisfying length for an action game. Also, while Super Mario 3D World doesn’t have a lot of gates, some of the levels don’t open up until you’ve collected a certain number of green stars. I’d been collecting a decent number of green stars, so those gates didn’t affect me for a while, but when I got to the second half of the game, I first hit a couple of isolated levels that didn’t unlock for me, and then the final level of, I think, World 7 was locked, so I couldn’t progress further until I went back and collected more green stars.

Which was, actually, kind of nice: I’d been thinking that I’d go back and try to get more green stars once I’d finished the game, but having me hit a hard gate on that before the end actually worked a little better, I think, because of the enforced consequences. So I went back to the beginning, and started going through the levels again, getting all the green stars in each level. (And trying to get the stamps, but not worrying if I missed those.)

And that was a quite pleasant experience: it was nice to be in a more exploratory mode, it was nice to have isolated challenges to bang my head against for a bit, and it was nice to feel like I was more skilled than I had been the first time I tackled those levels.

So I got every green star in the first three worlds, and enjoyed doing that. And then I hit a level on the fourth world where I just couldn’t find one of the green stars? But, honestly, that was totally fine: I wasn’t in a “must find everything” mood, I already had the game pegged as one that I wasn’t going to 100%, and I had more than enough stars to make it through all of the levels where I’d hit gates before. So it was time to go back to a linear mode of engaging with the game.


Which is what I did: I went through the rest of the levels (not too many, just one more world after the gate that I’d been blocked on), I didn’t hit any more gates that I didn’t have enough stars for, and I enjoyed the challenges.

Like I said at the top: Super Mario 3D World is a very well done game. At the start of playing the game, that’s what I expected, but I also kind of expected that I wouldn’t enjoy it so much? At the end of the game, though, my feeling is rather more positive.

It’s not a 100% match for what I want, but there were more than enough points of consonance for me to enjoy my time, both from the point of view of the minute-to-minute gameplay and from the point of view of my broader arc with the game, switching back and for between straightforward linear modes, more challenging linear modes, more investigative modes, and isolated challenges.

So: yay Nintendo. They know how to make good games.


I was going to write about Bowser’s Fury here as well, but it turns out that I had a little more to say about 3D World than I thought. So I’ll put that one in a separate post.

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