I've played video games since I was young enough to believe that the enemies in the original Super Mario Bros. were being controlled by the employees at Toys 'R' Us. I was four when we got the NES and my parents and their friends loved Tetris; we would all laugh at how quickly my two-year-old brother lost, stacking his blocks rather than trying to fit them together. I grew up on my dad playing the Legend of Zelda until the wee hours of the morning and almost missing work the next day because of it.
With that framework set, let me say that Nintendo has disappointed me at least a time or two in the past few decades. I've never failed to purchase and play the hell out of any Mario title (or Legend of Zelda, for that matter) and while I've never regretted my purchase, I've certainly felt some regret over a few of Nintendo's decisions. The low number of dungeons in Wind Waker is one. The choice to make it so easy to pick other players up and throw them to their doom in Super Mario Bros. Wii is another. None of these are game-ruining choices, but they've definitely lowered the bar regarding the level of originality and variety in some of Nintendo's most winning franchises.
Then came Super Mario 3D World. I played more than my fair share of Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS, and this one is most certainly its spiritual successor, but Nintendo made a top-notch choice when it comes to incorporating elements from arguably the most unique Mario game ever, Super Mario Bros. 2 for the NES. In Super Mario 3D World, players can choose to play as Mario, Luigi, Toad or Princess, and each character has unique abilities and statistics (i.e. speed, jump height, ability to hover). On top of that, the double cherry makes a return, but is an actual item that clones your character and can be used more than once. An entire retinue of Luigis is quite a sight to behold. Other elements that have made a comeback from that original trippy sequel are the slot machine game for acquiring lives in between levels (complete with the original song) and a certain multi-headed boss enemy. As a huge fan of SMB 2, these little throwbacks have definitely helped make the game for me.
I'll touch on the negatives (they're mostly involving game mechanics) before I continue to praise this fantastic installment in the Mario series. Playing the game multiplayer is frustrating at best, which can be said for every SMB game since Super Mario Bros. Wii. Instead of splitting the screen into separate views for separate characters when they stray too far from each other, the game seems to simply follow whichever character is "in first place" and kills off anybody left behind (or places them in a bubble that carries them back to the action). This can get very annoying when you're playing with a group of people that aren't like-minded, and even more so when you're playing with a youngster who thinks the whole game is a race to the finish. On top of that, even when the group sticks together it seems that the camera (Lakitu?) makes some interesting choices when it comes to optimizing the view. It gets cramped and difficult to maneuver at times because of this issue.
Another problem is one that I've mentioned earlier, when two characters are near one another and one of them presses the "run" button, it tends to be a little trigger-happy about having one character pick the other one up. This usually leads to panicked or angry players trying to quickly put each other back down by pressing the "run" button again, which actually causes you to throw the other player. This fun series of events generally ends in one player being tossed into a chasm of lava or onto a patch of spikes which then leads to arguing, lost friendships and broken personal items.
I'm also a little peeved at Nintendo for the Television Commercial's implication that I could play online with others, when in fact I can only see the "ghosts" of other players, something that's helpful a fraction of the time and a bit annoying the rest of the time.
Now that's out of the way, I am free to sing this game's praises to the heavens. I can't tell you how many times I've been sure a stage was nearly over only to wander onto the halfway flag and find out I'm in for more fun before hitting the flagpole at the end. Let's also not forget the difficulty level: the learning curve is great, with simple and fun levels near the beginning and excruciatingly difficult lava-filled ones in the later worlds. Rather than having new power-up items that seem engineered only for the specific level they inhabit, the items in this game are more closely related to those in Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World - they're useful anywhere and fun as hell to use. The Tanooki Suit is back, as is the Fireflower, but the Bell item that turns Mario and his buddies into a cat introduces a new climbing mechanic that opens up a new dimension (no pun intended) for the Mario gang. I've already mentioned the Double Cherry item so I won't run it into the ground but it plays a bigger role than I expected and is a lot of fun to mess around with.
Another element that I feel the video game industry as a whole misses out on is length of playability and a reward system for "completing" the game. My brother and I sat up until 3 a.m. one night getting all the Star Coins in Super Mario Bros Wii only to get a text message pop up on the screen that said, "Congratulations, you've acquired every Star Coin in Super Mario Bros. Wii!" No secret item, no hidden level, not even a different skin or costume for Mario to wear; just a pat on the back in text-box form. To avoid spoiling anything, I'll simply say that when I started Super Mario 3D World the map showed only 5 worlds and I was disappointed. After having "beat the game," I am anything but disappointed in its reward systems and late-game surprises...and I still don't think I've found them all as of writing this.
While the game is devoid of Yoshi, it's full of plenty of other benefits. The HD graphics are beautiful and the music is more mature than previous games in the series (wait for the Ghost Houses!) so while the game's plot line may not be anything revolutionary, it is totally worth the price tag - it'll keep you playing for quite some time and continue throwing curve-balls at you throughout the experience. I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5, with points lost purely for game camera mechanics and multiplayer frustration.