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Sorrel’s Side Quests: ‘Super Mario 3D World’ is a little odd, but it’s ‘Mario’ through and through

A decade after its original release on the Wii U, "Super Mario 3D World" remains something of an anomaly in the long lineage of “Mario” games. Unlike its home console predecessors, the "Super Mario Galaxy" duology, or its successor, "Super Mario Odyssey," "3D World" has no cohesive aesthetic or central gimmick. Unlike nearly every other 3D entry in the series, it is a level-based game with a pretty obvious straight line from the beginning to the end of every level.

Its nearest neighbor in the franchise, naturally, is the 3DS game "Super Mario 3D Land." While that game’s format was designed around the idea that it would be played in short bursts, "3D World" was designed from the ground up as a genuine home console experience. Even next to "3D Land," "3D World" feels like a bit of a black sheep.

To understand why "3D World" is such a strange beast —and why it ultimately works — it is worth placing it in the wider context of “Mario.” The first four (or five if you want to be very pedantic) “Super Mario” games all follow a more or less identical structure. Every level starts its eponymous plumber off on the left side of the screen, and his single goal is to move to the right side of the screen, hopping over obstacles and employing various power-ups along the way. At its best, 2D “Mario” is about mechanical mastery – learning a level and then beating a level.

Back in 1996, "Super Mario 64" set the standard for 3D “Mario” games. It was a separate formula from the one 2D “Mario” game employed. Instead of simply running from beginning to end, it encouraged careful exploration of levels and constant experimentation. There was a bit of exploration in the 2D “Mario” series, particularly in the American version of "Super Mario Bros. 2," but in "Super Mario 64," every “level” was its little world in a sense. Since then, most 3D “Mario” games have followed that exact structure.

"3D World" does not follow that structure. Instead, it kind of plays like a 2D “Mario” game, more in line with something like "Super Mario World." In some ways, it feels like a 3D “Mario” game from a divergent timeline. Rather than iterating on the “Mario” formula to create something new and different, it’s like Nintendo simply adapted 2D “Mario” to the third dimension.

I would go as far as to say that "Super Mario 3D World" — despite not resembling any other 3D “Mario” games — feels the most like “Mario” in 3D. The exploratory vibe of something like "Super Mario 64" is lost, but the feeling of level-to-level mastery is expertly preserved.

I think "3D World" feels fantastic; in my opinion, it has the cleanest, most satisfying controls of any “Mario” game. I don’t think that’s especially surprising, though. The other 3D “Mario” games aren’t really about movement. Sure, they’re platformers, so smooth and precise movement is central to their design, but they are mostly about what you do with that movement. They are about finding secrets, discovering new things and pulling off a careful long jump to access a previously unseen part of the map. "3D World," on the other hand, is entirely about movement for its own sake. It is about starting at the beginning and getting to the end. What is more “Mario” than that?

Sorrel Kerr-Jung is a junior studying virtual reality game development at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Sorrel by tweeting her at @sorrelquest.

Sorrel Kerr-Jung

Opinion Writer

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