I should probably get this out of the way now: I don't particularly like 3D platformers. I don't hate them by any means. But I don't go gaga for them. I'd much rather play a 2D platformer. I'll take Super Mario World over Super Mario Galaxy any day of the week. I had a buddy in high school who was really into Mario 64. I'd always ask him if we could play Mario Kart instead. I thought Mario Sunshine was pretty fun, but I definitely preferred Luigi's Mansion.
A few years back I was binging 3DS games and played through New Super Mario Bros 2 and Super Mario 3D Land, back to back. I thought the former was pretty great and the latter was just okay. I tell you all this so you know where my head is at. I don't hate these 3D Mario games, but I don't love them either.
Anyway, just after Christmas this year I decided to use some gift cards and finally jump on that Wii U bandwagon. To my happy surprise, the refurb console that I got from Gamestop was apparently a bundle that came pre-installed with several games. One of them was Super Mario 3D World - a game that I most likely would not have bought on my own; but one I'd happily play if I were given a free copy. So, the planets had aligned.
I started playing Super Mario 3D World on New Year's Eve after we finished watching Blade Runner (hello, 2019!) and while we were waiting for Chrissy Teigen to start counting down the ball drop. Mostly, I wanted to test using the Wii U tablet as a portable console - which stupidly enough involves me lugging the actual Wii U console out of my game room and plugging it in to a spare electrical outlet close enough to where I actually want to use the tablet. It's not pretty, but it works. And the game was a fun enough way to kill some time. The little cat suit is cute, I guess.
I didn't think about the game again for weeks. But this past Saturday I found myself battling a nasty head cold and home alone one Saturday morning. What to do? Oh! I could actually play the Wii U on a TV for once! So I fired up Super Mario 3D World and poured myself some coffee. I was going along just fine. It was the usual 3D platformer experience. I didn't love it; I didn't hate it. But it was cute and everything and those Toad levels are their own little challenge and I was having a decent enough time.
And then it happened.
Y'know what I do hate in a platformer? Being blocked from starting the next level because I haven't collected enough THINGS. You see, you need to collect green stars in each level and eventually, there will be levels that you can't move on to because you don't have enough green stars. So now you've got to go back and replay older levels to find more green stars. It's stupid. I hate this kind of thing.
In fairness, maybe this was in 3D Land as well? I can't remember as it's been five or six years since I played that one. I did beat 3D Land, so if that was in it then maybe I was more patient or it wasn't as annoying or glarding? I don't know. But I wasn't in the mood for this shit. Especially given the head cold and all. So y'know what? I'm all set with 3D World. I've got a copy of New Super Mario Bros U on its way to me now... I'll probably enjoy that one a lot more.
It's really crazy to me that I last played Super Mario 3D World over two years ago now. Time... flies... wow.
In the time since, I've gone back and replayed some other 3D Mario games. It turns out that Mario 64 is actually better than I remembered, while Sunshine is actually worse.
Anyway, 3D World is kind of all the rage right now, as it has been re-released on Switch and people are talking about it again. Plus, a lot more people have Switch than had Wii U, so there's that. But because of all the re-evaluated praise for 3D World, I decided to fire up my Wii U copy (which came pre-loaded on my console). Ironically, my daughter likes to hold the Gamepad and watch the intro to this game. She laughs and yells "Mah-Oh!" which is super cute.
Now strangely, my save file has been deleted. Ugh. But actually, it's not so bad. It kind of forced me to back into 3D World with fresh eyes, and play it right from the beginning all over again. Which has been... kind of great. After a couple of hours, I'm sort of seeing 3D World as possibly/probably my favorite 3D Mario game. It looks great, and the levels are fun and - gasp - actually encourage the exploration required to find all three green stars in each.
So yeah, I'm actually having a whole lot of fun here, and I'm glad that I decided to give this one another shot. I'm only in the middle of World 2 right now, but yeah, this is good stuff.
When I had started replaying this, I was just using Mario because, y'know, it's a "mario game," but last night I started using the Random button before each level. This randomly picks between Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach - each with their own unique (and familiar) physics. And this feature really bumps the game up for me. Y'know why? Because now it feels like a secret pseudo-sequel to Super Mario Bros 2 - the good one; Doki Doki Panic.
I've never hidden my adoration for the USA version of SMB2. That game rules so hard. And now, playing this semi-3D game with the same-ish versions of those four characters, I'm loving SM3DW even more. This is a genuinely great game, full of non-stop new surprises.
I'm now in World 3, and left off at the train level that is flooded with bullet bills. I remember this level being a pain for me the first time I played the game two years ago, and it's still a pain to me now.
I've mostly been playing the game as Peach now, which again makes it feel more like Super Mario Bros 2 USA 3D World or something. Which is awesome. However, after like 12 hours with this game, I've hit a wall.
For most of my play time I've had a ball playing (and replaying) stages, to grab as many green stars as I could WITHOUT resorting to a guide. And it's gone great. Every Captain Toad level is done. Every Mystery House is done. I thought I had an abundance of stars. And when I made it to Bowser's big tower... I found out I was short by TWENTY stars. Twenty. Wow.
Going back through all the worlds hunting for lost stars does not feel appealing to me. And using a guide would just completely suck the fun of exploration out of it for me. So I feel like I'm a stand-still sitting outside Bowser's tower.
That said, twelve SOLID hours of fun with a 3D Mario game? Who would have thunk it? I don't regret any of the time I've spent playing the game. And I COULD come back to it once I feel removed from it and refreshed. But at this point, I'm ready to move on.