Updated: Feb 21
Super Mario 3D World is the latest in a long line of games ported from the Wii U to the Switch, where they can get a sizable audience for the first time. It's a little surprising that Nintendo waited so long to bring a well-received title from the biggest franchise over, but I'd guess that was done to avoid cannibalizing Odyssey sales. It also gave them time to develop Bowser's Fury, an entirely separate title shipped together with SM3DW that I have not yet played and that has no bearing on this review.
SM3DW plays like a fusion of New Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Odyssey. The level design is classic NSMB with a third dimension, and it's easy to draw a line straight from SM3DW's Green Stars hiding in each level to SMO's Moons rewarding exploring the environment as much as completing objectives. There are some powers, like the Cat Suit, that weren't in either of those games, but I don't think those shake things up so much that the game won't be familiar if you've played one or both of them. In particular, the difficulty takes from a slightly toned-down version of NSMB. I am not a Mario pro and was able to get through without any game overs, but I got down to 4 or fewer lives a handful of times.
Let's start with the positives. SM3DW has fantastic level variety and effectively builds on its ideas. You'll see most of the level archetypes in the first half of the game, but then the second half starts smashing them together to create new challenges or simply making the same idea more complex. The soundtrack is, as always, phenomenal. Co-op is less punishing than in some other platformers because surviving players basically act like a life ring for everyone else. You'll appear in a bubble a few seconds after dying, and another player can pop it to bring you back right there.
Unfortunately, SM3DW also comes with a host of minor flaws that add up to a fair bit of frustration. The most egregious is the baffling decision to map jump to A/B and then practically every other action to X/Y. Want to run? Y. Attack? Y. Grab? Y. This is aggravating in boss fights where you need to pick something up, and it's often easier to deliberately take damage and lose your attack ability than to fight with the controls. In a similar vein, the camera usually doesn't rotate freely for no obvious reason, meaning it's sometimes just trapped at a bad angle and the game won't let you fix it. But as obnoxious as both of those are, I think most of my deaths came from the Cat Suit automatically starting a wall climb when you jump and then not allowing any way off the wall except jumping backwards off of it and sliding down. It should be minor, but accidental wall climbs happen constantly and they result in death way too often.
That said, even though my negatives paragraph is twice as long as the positives, it's the good parts that win out. This is still a Mario title, after all. You know what you're getting by now. I think another pass at the controls and camera for the port could've made this an exceptional game, but even with those problems it's still a very good one. Give it a chance if, like me, you missed it the first time around.
Time to finish: Probably a bit under 10 hours to see the credits. Much more for 100%.
MSRP: $60, but Bowser's Fury comes with