I’ll whisper it, but I’ve never actually been the biggest fan of Mario.
No one can possibly deny how important the plumber has been to a game industry that was more on its face than its knees, or how he has transcended “iconic” into the stuff of pure pop culture legend. However, that alone doesn’t give the moustached man a free pass into my heart, I’m afraid. I could go on about how the original Super Mario World’s controls are too fickle, or how Super Mario 64 has aged so poorly that I’m pretty sure it’s growing mould, but I’m fairly certain it would render the rest of this piece moot and minds made up. So let me just be bold, and let me be up front:
Super Mario 3D World is one of the greatest video games ever created.
But, I wouldn’t imagine that having seen it.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t very excited at the thought of playing Super Mario 3D World (or SM3DW, if you want to be confusing and make people think you’re talking about a licence plate). Having played the majority of the Mario library, I couldn’t imagine Nintendo really had much left to capture me with. From dreams and Delfino, to the depths of space; it felt as though there was nowhere really left to go – the Mushroom Kingdom had grown a bit tired.
And yet, my wallet was feeling extra loose one evening. Mario Kart 8 had (no pun intended) run its course, and playing Smash alone is a bit like playing jump rope with a stick and an old shoe. And there, in the eShop, it sat. Muted, modest and – most importantly – on sale. It isn’t so much that I “didn’t know why” I bought it, because I did. It’s a Mario game (I didn’t say the games were bad, did I?). Although, it was a rash decision, and the kind I hope to not be making too often or risk haemorrhaging money.
But there was no such risk here. Open-minded, yet far too naive to estimate what I was in store for. Now, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The game begins with Mario, Luigi, Peach and Player 4 sauntering along when, in a truly unexpected twist, Bowser of all people appears and captures the blah, blah, blah, press B to jump. I’m going to give this a free pass from criticism, because you know exactly what you’re getting into when you purchase a game with Mario slapped on the front. Obviously, you don’t buy this for its story, you buy it to be charmed and delighted in a manner only Nintendo can provide, and what they do provide is something that melts away the television screen and transcends the realms of your imagination.
I have never – in all my time playing video games – experienced such wonderment and absolute joy as I have playing Super Mario 3D World. The game itself is crafted with an indescribable elegance, the kind that only those in love with what they do could possibly hope to achieve. SM3DW does not appear in front of your eyes, it explodes and envelopes you in a world of colour, where time melts away to a fine stream that carries you along for an instantaneous forever.
I don’t know how they’ve done it, but Nintendo have made the linear feel vast, with every single world completely unique and free to explore as you choose, feeling like an adventure and with the player never left to believe as though they were guided along a certain path but merely chose to go the way they did. I’ve had complex emotional bonds with Pokémon I’ve had throughout the years, characters I’ve created and worlds I’ve explored, and I’m fairly certain we all have. Though I can proclaim that I have never wanted something to be more real than the world of Mario portrayed in this game. The music, the colours, the design: it is an absolute smile factory.
Playing the game with three of my friends made for what is surely the most rewarding local multiplayer I’ve had since the days of the Nintendo 64. And the sheer amount of content available is staggering; they could not possibly squeeze more game into this. I left no inch unexplored and no secret undiscovered in some vain attempt to gain more out of this game than actually possible. Nintendo had provided a detox for the modern day gamer, the antidote to a poisoned bloodstream.
Fun is a thing that’s hard to come by in video games these days. A dull landscape, terminally diseased with military shooters and despicable free-to-play machines: that is what we have come to know. Lazy developers and tired tropes have made gaming today more about what is wrong rather than right. Fun isn’t expectant, fun is a surprise. And that should deeply trouble us. We expect something unfinished, we expect to be fed games in pathetic chunks for 9.99 a piece, and we expect pre-orders over promises. But just because we expect, doesn’t mean we need to accept.
Quite frankly, Nintendo is putting the rest of this industry to shame. It’s almost funny that the company we associated with abandoning its core and what made it special a few years back are the same company that comes along to remind us of what we, as consumers, deserve. What’s stopping Nintendo forking out Mario Kart 2k15? Or The Legend of Zelda: Brotherhood? Nothing. What benefit is there to Nintendo for them to cram their games with an obscene amount of surplus content, secrets and bonus levels on disc, when other companies strip back further on their already non-existence of anything substantial in favour of “Season Passes?” None. And yet, what are Nintendo saying to the industry? No.
Nintendo aren’t the Beatles of video games any longer, they’re the Beethoven. And I was terrified. Terrified they were losing relevance, sinking in amongst the sea of yearly releases, of “cinematic” experiences, and puncturing their own platform with a shift in focus, leaving those that adored it adrift.
When I said that Super Mario 3D World was one of the greatest video games ever created, I meant for more than simply what it was, but what it embodied. Not just one of the greatest, but perhaps, one of the most important. The industry does not learn from history, and such the history shall repeat. Yet, looking back now to the year the WiiU and Nintendo has had, it’s clear to see that this game has been the start of something. And, while it has yet to be seen, that something could be the very thing that saves this industry once again – an Italian plumber.
And there’s no need to whisper about that.