Super Mario 3D World is Still the Series’ Most Underappreciated Entry

by Izsak Barnette
Published: Last Updated on

Revisiting Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U

When one thinks back over the Wii U era in Nintendo’s history, there are a few stand-out titles. Typical conversations center around the heavy hitters from that era, such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8, Splatoon, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and, perhaps, New Super Mario Bros. U. One of those heavy hitters, Super Mario 3D World, the Wii U’s second-best-selling game, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. In what feels like preparation for an inevitable Switch port, it bears looking back at 3D World and analyzing what, exactly, made it such an outstanding game in an already stellar series.

2011’s Super Mario 3D Land gave the 3DS the boost it needed to pull it out of the early grave which Nintendo’s poor business decisions had cast it in. Brooding over poor sales in the first year of Wii U, no doubt Nintendo saw 3D World in much of the same vein. While, ultimately, this gambit failed to pay off, resulting in the worst commercial failure (discounting Gunpei Yokoi’s unfortunate Virtual Boy) in Nintendo’s history, it produced a spectacular game that, five years later, still delivers the definitive Mario experience.

Gameplay Goodness

Breaking from Mario series tradition and seeing the most notable inclusion of Princess Peach in a Super Mario platformer since 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 2 (Super Mario Bros. USA in Japan), Super Mario 3D World opened the way for a plethora of new gameplay experiences. From it’s game-breaking, buggy, and incredible fun Cat Suit to its inclusion of a four player mode, 3D World found ways to innovate on the classic Mario formula while keeping the core of the experience, avoiding the alienation that many gamers would find with future entries.

Super Mario 3D World

Such neat powerups, paired with an incredible movement system, makes 3D World one of the most slickly-controlled Super Mario games in existence, second only to 2017’s Super Mario Odyssey. Every character, from Mario to Toad, moves with such grace and efficacy that, when a particularly tough challenge is failed, it  never feels like it was the game’s fault. Peach’s float, Toad’s fast running, Luigi’s lack of traction, but high jump, and Mario’s boring normalcy all combine together to make an oddly balanced group of characters that are suited for different aspects of the game’s disparate challenges. The optional fifth character, which I won’t spoil here, is a fun, albeit broken addition whose incredible versatility makes them, easily, the most fun to play as.

A Lesson in Game Design

Such fun gameplay would be truly worthless without fun stages to accompany them. Luckily, 3D World is, arguably, the most well-designed platformer in Mario series history. From Super Bell Hill to Champion’s Road, each level feels carefully designed and well-tuned, a master lesson in game design. YouTuber Ceave Gaming did an analysis of what makes 3D World so successful at level design and it drives home a lot of what makes the game so outstanding: it’s diversity of ideas and ways of teaching players how to solve the game’s many puzzles without explicitly telling them.

Super Mario 3D World

While this same sense of game design is present in many of Nintendo’s platformers, from Mario to Donkey Kong, it reached its crescendo in 3D World. That it’s possible, if not necessarily easy, to find every one of the green stars and stamps by intuitively, and without a guide, says a lot about 3D World‘s accessibility. Whereas other Nintendo platformers, like Yoshi’s Wooly World, hide their collectibles in ways so devious that one would practically need a guide, 3D World makes finding Green Stars and Stamps as natural as running and jumping.

An Engaging Atmosphere

3D World compliments this excellent game design by incorporating some of the most engaging music and most original stage design in series history. The main theme is a jovial, jazz-infused jaunt that communicates the infectious joy with which the game was obviously made. Longtime Mario series composer Koji Kondo nailed 3D World’s sense of adventure, accessibility, and, most of all, its thoughtful incorporation of all things Mario. Every piece of music feels distinct, and yet familiar, a thoughtful re-imagining of what makes the Mario series special for so many different people. If Super Mario Odyssey’s soundtrack was, like its namesake, a long journey across a variety of different tastes, 3D World’s represents its namesake too, a thoughtful homage to Super Mario World and the vivacity that it brought to the series’ musical tastes. 

Super Mario 3D World

The game’s graphical polish completes the task of creating a beautiful, engaging world. If there ever was a game that put the rest the assertion that the Wii U wasn’t powerful enough to create jaw-dropping game worlds, this is the one. While it runs at a meager 720p, Super Mario 3D World’s nearly-flawless, sixty frames per second presentation (there are very, very few spots at which the game chugs) and its excellent use of environmental design (e.g. rain, snow, and purple, instant-death swamp slime) more than make up for the resolution’s shortcomings. Indeed, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that, because 3D World does not utilize the dynamic resolution of Super Mario Odyssey, the overall result is a much cleaner, clearer picture that is more consistently beautiful than even its successor.


Five years after its release, Super Mario 3D World is still criminally underappreciated. Whether it was a result of the Wii U’s untimely demise or the general blasé attitude that many in the gaming community have held against Mario platformers since the release of New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Mario Bros. 2 in 2012, it doesn’t really matter. What is important is that Super Mario 3D World deserves another chance. With the release of both Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and New Super Mario Bros. U on the Switch, it seems only logical for Nintendo to continue the trend and give Super Mario 3D World a port sooner rather than later.

If they do, gamers are in for a treat. Though five years and a console have come and gone since its release, Super Mario 3D World remains as fresh as ever, an eternal testament to Nintendo’s most disastrous console. 

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Maxwell N November 28, 2018 - 8:16 pm

Such a great game. Really wish this blend of 2D style and 3D style Mario was explored beyond just 3D Land and 3D World. I prefer the level-to-level progression of Mario games way more than things like Odyssey, or rather, have found that Nintendo has done the former better than the latter.

Izsak Barnette November 28, 2018 - 8:28 pm

I agree. That’s why I liked ‘3D World’ so much, the game felt well designed because, in each level, the developers could focus on one concept and execute it to the best of their ability.

Ryan Yzquierdo December 2, 2018 - 12:20 pm

Super Mario 3D World is an amazing game. It might be one of my all-time top favorite games. It was fun and lighthearted. The part I enjoyed the most was that my wife and I could play that game with our 5 year old daughter at the time. We had so much fun for many nights sitting around as a family playing a game together. I loved that our daughter was able to play it with us and the in-game handicap it gives players who fall behind by turning them into a floating bubble itself became a tool that saved our butts more than a few times. She never felt like she was falling behind. The other handicap she was able to take advantage of was the touchscreen on the Wii U pad, which came in handy during “get all the coins” timed challenges. She wasn’t able to run around the screen as well as my wife and I were to get all of the coins, so she would just use the touchpad to get the ones she could. We played the game for almost a whole year to get my daughter Rosalina, who she loved to play … until her and her friend accidentally deleted our saved game data and we had to start all over again. Ugh! But that’s OK, we almost got Rosalina back but decided to put it away to sell our Wii U since we love our Switch so much. So here we are 4 years later and we’d love nothing more than to play it also now with our 2nd daughter who just turned 4, and my other daughter who we originally played the game with is 9 now. I think it would be incredible for the 4 of us to get to play this game again as a family and share the fun we had with our 4 year old now. Our youngest daughter was obsessed with Princess Peach over the past year after she watched my wife play Mario Odyssey last year. We even had a Princess Peach birthday party for her last year. Nintendo … please make Super Mario 3D World happen soon on the Nintendo Switch!

Izsak Barnette December 2, 2018 - 6:42 pm

That’s one of the reasons I love the game too, Ryan. Being able to play with friends and family is awesome. I would love to see a port on the Switch (mainly so I can play through the game again and re-review it, haha.)

As an aside, I’ve got some mad respect for your hard work at Seibertron. I’m a casual TF fan myself. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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