After decades of running and jumping, haven't we seen everything Super Mario has to offer? Nintendo's mascot's been at the forefront of platforming games since the era of the NES - surely he's run out of ideas by now?
Not a chance. Ideas, in fact, are the one thing he seems to have more of than ever. That's so far as Super Mario 3D World is concerned, anyway - a bona fide gaming masterpiece and the best reason to pick up a brand new Wii U that you're ever likely to get.
Taking its major cues from the 3DS's wonderful Super Mario 3D Land, 3D World sees you moving through colourful, pinwheeling levels, stomping on Goombas, side-stepping Koopas and eventually showing bad old Bowser who's boss. The biggest change to the formula - or at least the most obvious - comes in the form of some new power-ups. Boy, are they special.
Paws For Applause.
Cat Mario's the stand-out: a magical bell pick-up that sees a furry Mario scampering around, claws out, climbing walls and swiping at foes. Cat Mario's a joy to behold, and he's just as good to control, too, giving you an easy mastery of the terrain and ensuring that low-level enemies can be batted away in seconds. That wall climbing trick isn't bad, either: it allows the roomy levels to hide plenty of secrets up at the top of the screen, and ensures that every mountain you come across as you run and jump around is worth a second, closer look.
That's not the only new trick, though. A few levels into the huge new game you'll find yourself racing to collect the double cherry power-up, a trinket that adds another Mario to control each time you nab it. It's amazing stuff, and by the end of the first double cherry level you may well find yourself in charge of five of the dinky little plumbers - five guys running and jumping around instead of just one - and it's even more fun than it sounds.
Of course, as with New Super Mario Bros U, there are other ways to fill the screen with characters. Multiplayer's back, and with gorgeous 3D environments it's even more hectic and insane than normal. Players can choose from Mario, Luigi, Toad and the Princess - although there might be another character hidden away somewhere - and the game gets better with each new player. You'll help each other out tackling foes and leaping across the environment, but there's a competitive element, too, since the highest scoring player for each level gets to wear a crown in the next - and who doesn't want to wear a crown?
That's not all. Alongside multiplayer, you'll also get to explore some Wii U-specific features that see you prodding at the GamePad or blowing into the microphone to move platforms around, while online features allow you to share ghosts of your best performances - or play through levels accompanied by the ghostly Miis of other Mario fanatics.
What really marks this game out, though, is the relentless invention of the level design: each course throws in handfuls of new ideas, every corner you turn takes you somewhere different. Mario games have always been about mixing the traditional and the surprising, and none have achieved quite as sweet a balance as this one, offering you glimpses of old friends and old foes drawn from three decades of games while simultaneously warping your brain into new shapes with ideas so fresh you'll find yourself giggling with delight when you first see them.
Getting you giggling is what Super Mario 3D World does best of all, really. This is a high colour, all-action platformer that should provide the perfect antidote to anybody who's got the winter blues, or who wants something a little more up-beat than gritty fantasy RPGs or chilly space shooters in the living room this Christmas. With a huge campaign that will take you hours and hours to clear, a wonderful range of surprises that are far too good to spoil, and the promise of whole days spent fighting through the carnage with three good friends, Mario is back and better than ever. This is as good as platforming gets - and it's probably as good as gaming gets, too.
GAME's Verdict - 10/10
- Brilliant power-ups
- Crazy multiplayer
- Amazing level design
- Nope, it's pretty much perfect.