That Mario's 3D Wii U debut is a sequel to the superb 3DS title Super Mario 3D Land rather than Super Mario Galaxy Next has disappointed those who were hoping for something grander; a Super Mario Universe, maybe.
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Well, those that have that mindset can dunk their heads down a pipe, frankly. This inventive, colourful and playful platformer, with its numerous affectionate nods back across 30 years of Mario platforming lore, takes us on a journey that soaks in more of the Super Mario Universe's sights than anything any number of Mario Galaxy boost stars could hope to show us.
One of the more unexpected nods back through time is to the black sheep of the Mario family; the western Super Mario Bros 2. As in that game, you have a choice of four characters at the stage's start; Mario (Mr Average), Luigi (awkward flutter jumps), Peach (slower than an amber-encased Minardi, but can float in mid-air for a few seconds) or Toad (useless squat git, but can run like the clappers).
It's a choice that affects the flow of the levels more than you'd think, as Mario 3D World's stages demonstrate more verticality than we're used to. This is made possible by the game's flagship power-up, the Cat Bell Mushroom. Sticking one of these down Mario's piehole sees him sprout a pair of cat ears and a fetching fur coat. The only other power-up we saw during the course of the demo, alas, was the obligatory Fireflower (seriously, those things must sprout up like Japanese knotweed). A spare power-up can be stored on the touchscreen, activated by pressing minus or prodding it with your paw.
Back to the Cat Bell. Fittingly, given the animal in question, the main theme of this power-up is agility. While you can claw and pounce onto koopas, by far the most useful skill the Cat Bell bestows upon you is the ability to hook onto walls and clamber up or down them. Unfortunately you can only do this for a few seconds after you're hooked on before you begin to lose your grip. The clawing animations are heartbreakingly cute, by the way, as is the way our cattified heros scamper around on all fours.
This ability opens the door for daredevil speed runs and breathtaking escapes from death. There's definitely a skill to chaining together clambers - think the hecticness and eternal hope offered by standard wall jumps, multiplied by a thousand.
Power-ups aren't the only thing you can prod at on the GamePad touch screen. Enemies such as Bullet Bills can be stunned, and rotating platforms can be slowed temporarily to make it easier to get on or off. Like the New Super Mario Bros games, 3D World is built for chaotic co-op, and none of the five stages on display at E3 showed this off better than the one we're calling 'Yoshi Kayaking'. Here all the players jumped on a monstrous orange dinosaur-y thing, which then proceeded to hurl itself down a waterfall - all players have to steer and jump in unison to optimise the beasts movements.
Another new addition to the mix: transparent pipes. Once Mario (or whoever) gets sucked into one of these, you have to steer him around by holding the stick in the desired direction whenever he reaches a junction - think Pac-Man or Rally-X. Inconveniently, transparent pipes are often home to those black floaty things from Super Mario World, so it's important to time your entry into the pipes carefully as you can't stop once you've been sucked into their intake.
Navigating these pipes is often the only way to collect the elusive green stars (as seen in Galaxy 2). These are a direct replacement for the coins in NSMB/3D Land, and as best we can tell serve the exact same purpose - perhaps they've reverted to the green stars as a statement of intent regarding their difficulty? Or maybe it's because it's the maddening Year Of Luigi still, or whatever. Who knows?
One thing we know for sure is that 3D World feels great, in the way all proper Mario platformers do. And the controls will appeal to grumps who were holding out for Galaxy 3, too. If 3D Land was a halfway house between Super Mario Bros and Mario Galaxy, then 3D World is more a halfway point between 3D Land and Galaxy - Mario and pals retain much of their Galaxy moveset, such as backflips and long jumps.
As addictive as catnip and as playful as a kitten then, Super Mario 3D World is poised to make even its biggest detractors purr.