That's all you need to know, honestly, but if you're in the mood for a few paragraphs of effusive praise, then by all means, read on. As ever, Bowser is causing trouble, but in a refreshing change of pace, he has not kidnapped Princess Peach. Instead, Nintendo's iconic villain has absconded with a group of darling little fairies, and it's up to Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad to save them. In a nod to Super Mario Bros. 2, each of these characters has slightly different abilities. Mario runs and jumps with equal skill, Luigi jumps the highest and Peach can float briefly in the air (it's gotta be the petticoats). I think Toad might be a little bit faster than everyone else, but he is a least the smallest target. You won't need any specific ability to overcome Super Mario 3D World's many challenges, but they can help take the edge off of the tougher ones.
Once you choose a character and dive into the game proper, the first thing you'll notice is that Super Mario 3D World is gorgeous. This is hands-down the most beautiful world Mario has ever explored, even after New Super Mario Bros. U set a new standard for the series last year. Everything, from the lowliest puff of smoke to Bowser himself, looks perfect. In fact, despite the world's cartoon appearance, everything looks eerily real, as if one of the Piranha Plants could stretch right out of the TV and take off your hand. The level of craftsmanship is astounding. There isn't one seam showing, not one jagged edge on display, and all of it runs at an unflinching 60 frames per second. An excellent soundtrack is the final touch, filled with fully-orchestrated pieces that use a variety of instruments. Bowser's theme is infused with growling electric guitar, and the haunting ghost house theme has become one of my favorite game compositions of all time.
There are always nasty falls, of course, but these are only the most basic of Super Mario 3D World's bag of tricks. The game dispenses new mechanics and platforming gadgets at an alarming pace, and many of them are unique to specific levels. One level may see you screaming down a river on the back of a friendly dinosaur, while the next will have you contend with a thorny new breed of slithering Piranha Plants. Depending on the level, you could be swinging on a trapeze, timing your jumps on rhythmically disappearing blocks or riding through a wintry world on a giant ice skate.
Favorite power-ups return, including the Raccoon Suit, Fire Flower and Boomerang Suit. The headlining new power-up is the Cat Suit, which allows Mario and friends to transform into cats that can scratch enemies and climb walls. Much like the Squirrel Suit in New Super Mario Bros. U, you'll see plenty of enemies sporting a cat motif, including Goombas and even Bullet Bills. It's clear that the Cat Suit was intended as 3D World's new, big-ticket power-up, but my favorite is easily the Double Cherry.
This kind of artful, purposeful design defines Super Mario 3D World. The sheer variety of fanciful ideas manages to keeps things fresh without cluttering your objectives. The level design itself communicates goals with complete clarity and, with a few exceptions like the aforementioned dinosaur, without the need for tutorials or explanatory text.
This is appreciated when playing on your own, but it's essential when playing with friends. Like New Super Mario Bros. U, up to four people can play Super Mario 3D World simultaneously and, in much the same vein, it is equal parts chaos and pure joy. If five identical Luigis are manic, imagine what it's like when they're joined by an additional squadron of Peaches. In some ways, multiple players undermine the meticulous, self-contained design of each level, but it's all carried off in such a lighthearted way that even failing is fun (as is "accidentally" sending one of your friends off a cliff).
After all of this, I've barely even touched on all of Super Mario 3D World's well-crafted, lovable details. I love Luigi's adorable cat butt. I love that Pokeys become snowmen in winter levels. I love finally getting to see what Princess Peach looks like after picking up a Fire Flower.
Put simply, Super Mario 3D World is stunning. Its world is beautiful, its design is impeccable, and its fun is infectious. I'm running out of superlatives here, so let me finish where I started: Go play it.
This review is based on a retail copy of Super Mario 3D World, provided by Nintendo.
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