This past week saw the release of Super Mario 3D World on the Nintendo Switch. Yet another one of the Wii U's excellent, underrated classics was getting its time to shine on a new, more popular platform. Better yet, it includes an experimental take on Super Mario level design with Bowser's Fury. It all looks and sounds like a perfect deal to play something everyone slept on. But as someone who played the original version when it released in 2013, experiencing it again on the Switch in 2021 didn't feel right. This is because Super Mario 3D World was more closely tied to the Wii U's hardware than you might expect.
In the context of its original release, Nintendo was clearly turning their first major HD 3D Mario adventure into a giant exercise in nostalgia. The level design is this near-perfect synthesis of enemies and ideas from the classic 2D and 3D games, all the way down to classic staples like time limits and goalposts at the end of each course. This was also the first game Princess Peach has been playable in a main installment since the U.S. release of Super Mario Bros 2 back in 1988.
It was also the most blatant case of Nintendo throwing gameplay gimmicks at the well with the Wii U Gamepad controller and seeing what stuck. Everything from the gamepad's touch screen to its built-in microphone was messed around in various levels and interludes throughout the game. This was also the most in-depth application of the Wii U's Miiverse online service. Players could leave behind messages on the world map, and there were even collectible stamps where you could pepper your messages with classic Super Mario characters. If it showed off what the Wii U could do as a console, it was in Super Mario 3D World.
In contrast, the Nintendo Switch doesn't have a lot to prove. It's one of Nintendo's best-selling pieces of hardware ever. The only reason why most of the Wii U's first-party darlings got a second chance is because of them getting ported to this machine. In the case of Super Mario 3D World, this has lead to some of its semi-toyetic charm to be lost in the translation.
The most minor of these changes in adaptation are the stamps and Miiverse stuff. Since there's no Miiverse infrastructure on the Switch, there is no ability to post messages. It's a curious omission since both Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Maker 2 essentially recreated these social ecosystems for those games to keep its online community engaged. This leaves the stamps as just another collectible doodad to snap up in each level.
As for those experimental gamepad flourishes, they might as well have never existed. There are multiple levels that had special blocks that would moved if you tapped them with the gamepad controller. But since the Switch can't be played with the tablet controller, this new port gives you a mouse pointer. With a click of a button and using your controller of choice's gyroscope, you can move the cursor and “touch” the blocks in question. It's not the best compromise since it raises a lot of accessibility issues and just feels awkward.
This mouse pointer compromise even overtakes gameplay involving the Wii U's microphone. There was a standout level in the original game where blowing into the mic would stun enemies, make certain platforms rise and fall, and would blow ice and snow off certain objects. All in all, it was just another quirky interlude in a game full of them, but even that novelty is worn down by it being relegated to the stopgap mouse pointer. There are more examples of this, too many to count, but it all just highlights how much the game has changed by it changing platforms.
All of this doesn't make this version of Super Mario 3D World a bad game. It is still one of the best games Nintendo has made in recent memory. But a lot of that creative spark was out of a desperate need to help the struggling Wii U find a greater audience. Now on the Switch, the game doesn't have to prop up any esoteric hardware features—and in a way, it's now missing a certain spark it had eight years ago.