- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Nintendo’s famed plumbers and their pals return to thwart the evil plans of the King of the Koopas in the dazzling gaming event Super Mario 3D World (Nintendo, Rated Everyone, $59.99).

This addition to the Mario Brothers lore for the Wii U gaming system offers four players a colorful cooperative adventure set in the bizarre Sprixie Kingdom.

With a noble mission to save fairy-like creatures from the brothers’ archenemy Bowser and his minions, the heroes dive into three-dimensional, often platforming, levels to collect powerups, gold coins and stars while engaged in cartoony combat and environmental obstacle courses.

The appeal to young and old can be found in exploring eight worlds (with an additional quartet of bonus lands) loaded with action and variety that reminded me of the wonders of Willy Wonka, the challenge of a miniature golf course and psychedelia of H.R. Puffnstuff.

Be it a castle submerged in lava, a massive slide, shadowy alleyways (with shadows that come to life), a haunted house, underwater caverns, slippery skating rinks or a gantlet of rotating chain link fences threatening to knock a hero into oblivion, it’s a smorgasbord of playful possibilities to explore.

Players choose to control Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad and eventually Rosalina (complete the game and traverse a few more challenges to unlock her). They can also drop in and out at any time, making it a perfect way for a parent to help a child through any of the more difficult sections.

Each character has slightly different abilities such as Princess Peach floating with help of her hoop skirt or Luigi using his higher jumps.

And, all can take advantage of fun moments including riding a water toy dinosaur named Plessie, knocking sense into a slot machine to produce a maximum amount of coins, taking part in a side-scrolling race atop clouds, battling lines of Cossack-hat wearing thugs, defeating the many Bowser bosses in arenas and chasing down a Miiverse ghost (an apparition of another online player working through the action) that might offer a present.

The courses can be exhausting as players race against the clock in each to reach a flag and collect green stars to unlock more areas and mini-games popping up in the world map. Replaying courses will be a mandatory option, just to try and collect every item and find every secret area.

Thankfully, some legendary as well as new powerups exist to help traverse terrain as well as battle such odd creatures like Conkdors, Fuzzlers, Splouders and Piranha Creepers.

For example, eating certain mushrooms can cause a player’s character to grow enormous, or munching on cherries produces multiple clones of Mario and his teammates. Finding certain items gives characters the ability to shoot fireballs while finding a box with a skull on the side turns into a portable cannon for the gang.

And most intriguing of all, even the hardest-core curmudgeon of a gamer will crack a smile, is watching his character don a cat costume (find the super bells) and exhibit some aggressive feline tendencies not limited to pouncing at enemies with claws drawn and scurrying up walls.

When a character perishes (Luigi will exclaim “Oh no”), he returns to the action encased in a bubble and floats around above other players. He can simply monitor the action or pop himself back into play.

The Wii U GamePad offers the solo player additional functionally as he can blow into its microphone to propel fan-powered platforms and even knock over bands of pint-sized creatures called Galoombas, for example. He can use its touch screen to open hidden areas such as blocks to climb on, its motion sensing to change camera angles and even completely play the game away for the TV screen using the tablet’s large screen area.

Suffice to report, families who are looking for one of the best video games of the year will not be disappointed with Super Mario 3D World. This latest addition to Nintendo’s most dependable and kid-friendly franchises is a whimsical masterpiece.



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