In this personal reminiscence, Martin Watts describes his experience of playing Super Mario 3D World in multiplayer, and how it exposes our greatest flaws of character...
Last week, Features Editor Thomas Whitehead and I were invited along to Nintendo UK's offices for a bit of hands-on time with one of Nintendo's most anticipated games this holiday season: Super Mario 3D World. Shortly after our trip, Thomas wrote an in-depth preview, which provides a fantastic overview of what you can expect from the game, and I highly recommend giving it a read, if you haven't already.
Nevertheless, we felt the need to go further in our examination of Super Mario 3D World. We've spilled the beans on the mechanics and the whopping amount of content and ideas that Nintendo has thrown in, but seeing as multiplayer is very much at the heart of this latest instalment in the series, we thought it'd make sense for us to go into more detail about what it's actually like to play through it with someone else. After experiencing the "joy" of "teaming up" with Thomas last week, I think it's fair to say that it's absolutely bonkers.
But before I recount the calamitous events that took place on that fateful day last week, it's worth mentioning just how seamlessly — and effortlessly — Super Mario 3D World switches between being a single- and multiplayer experience. Yes, inserting additional players may not be the most complex thing you can do when making a game, but what I mean is that this particular title feels right no matter how many players you have. Moreover, the way in which Nintendo has created a perfect balance of cooperative and competitive elements is undeniably impressive; there's no need for two separate modes, and everything blends together to provide a surprisingly open-ended experience.
And it really can't be understated just how much of an impact this mixture of teamwork and cooperation has on your experience of Super Mario 3D World when playing it with up to three friends. It brings out the best and worst in people, so much so that it could quite possibly be used to determine the strength of friendships for years to come.
For example, take my partner-in-crime for this particular occasion, Mr Thomas Whitehead. Rumour has it that Thomas rules Nintendo Life's features section with an iron fist, reportedly once threatening to brutally stomp a staff writer like a Goomba when he came across a mistake in their work. Personally, I've always considered these murmurings to be poppycock, viewing him more as a benevolent dictator who just wants what's best for both the site and the team.
But then I played Super Mario 3D World with him, and after only a few levels I realised that maybe there had been some truth to the fabled tale all along. What followed was one of the most chaotic, manic — yet downright hilarious — multiplayer experiences I've ever had.
There was one clear cause of the madness that ensued: the crown. For those that don't know, Super Mario 3D World's multiplayer mode keeps track of each player's individual contribution to the overall score for each level and ranks them accordingly. The lucky person who comes out on top is awarded a nice shiny crown, which they then wear for the duration of the next level. As far as in-game items go, it's unique in that it bestows a marvellous feeling of superiority on its wearer, asserting their superiority when it comes jumping chasms, besting Bowser and collecting coins.
Nevertheless, your overall objective in Super Mario 3D World is the still same as it has always been: reach the end of each level, preferably without losing any lives along the way. And it makes sense to work together for the most part; you share the same pool of lives, not to mention that having an extra player or two definitely helps when you're trying to find the wealth of secrets that the Sprixie Kingdom — Super Mario 3D World's new setting — has to offer.
But the appeal of discovering the game's many secrets wasn't enough to prevent us from being drawn in by the alluring effects of that nefarious crown. In a way, it is the Sprixie Kingdom's own version of the One Ring from Lord of the Rings; it's always there in the back of your mind, calling to you, promising you glory over your opponent — even if it is just for a fleeting moment. As bizarre as it may sound, the crown possesses the power to change how you play; it cruelly tests your resolve to make your way through the game without backstabbing your team mates.
In case you're wondering how Thomas and I fared in this regard, all you need to know is that there are now plenty of metaphorical knives in my back. Admittedly, his back resembles Swiss cheese, too, but I stand by the classic argument that he started it.
Despite this, things actually began pretty well for us. True to our British values, we were excessively polite and courteous at first, refusing to take power-ups and offering them to one another, while ensuring we traversed the game's treacherous environments as a team. At the end of the first level, the crown made its first appearance, Thomas was its rightful claimant and I graciously offered my congratulations. A few levels later, he was still mopping up the majority of the points on the scoreboard, and the crown remained solely in his possession. He flashed a friendly smile at the end of each level, occasionally commenting positively on a mediocre in-game achievement of mine, no doubt hoping to assuage my fears that I was rubbish at it. But I knew that deep down he was really revelling in the fact that he was completely trouncing me, and that he had that glorious crown with which to prove it.
At this point I gave into my most basic instincts — I wanted that crown and I didn't care how I got it. We had both realised pretty early on that if you wanted to be top, you had to nab those all-important, high-scoring items; green stars, stamps and power-ups all dished out mega points, and I wasn't going to just let Thomas help himself to even more of them. Suddenly, every sought-after item became a desperate race for the both of us. Cooperation was still a priority, but by this point our egos had gotten the better of us, and it wasn't long before the Sprixie Kingdom had descended into complete and utter chaos.
What followed wasn't pretty, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't also absolutely hilarious. We quickly discovered that the crown could be stolen from its wearer by hitting them with a butt bash. One sneaky tactic I resorted to early on involved me unnecessarily butt-bashing an enemy near Thomas, "inadvertently" hitting him and stealing the crown in the process. It was a flawless plan, or at least I thought it was until we reached the end of the level and he "accidentally" picked me up and threw me over the top of the flagpole. Missing out on the 10,000 point bonus you get if you reach the top resulted in me having to concede the crown to him yet again.
However, missing the flagpole bonus was the least of my worries. Thomas had other, far more sinister plans in mind when it came to denying me the crown, the most cruel of which involved chucking me into a bottomless pit a few levels later. Doing so resulted in the temporary loss of the crown (until the next high-score was achieved that is), but by this point, I think he was just content with wiping the smug look off my face, and denying me a petty 5000 points had clearly taken precedence.
Despite the ever-escalating battle for the crown, we actually made great progress and had a ton of fun along the way. The new cherry item, which creates a clone of your character each time you pick one up, resulted in much laughter. Overwhelmed by the chaos and confusion happening on-screen, we were unknowingly running our clones off the edge of the level or picking up each other's by mistake and throwing them straight into enemies and hazards. The fact that the clones can be separated over some distance, yet still controlled simultaneously, allows for some very comedic results. It's not a revolutionary new feature by any means, but there's no denying that it's a hoot.
Meanwhile, the new cannon box item was nothing short of an explosive recipe for disaster, as it's possible for players to hit each other with the projectiles. Within the tight confines of the level in which we got to use the item, dodging each other's cannonballs was incredibly tricky. Even when we called a ceasefire and made a conscious effort to avoid each other, death by cannonball was still the biggest killer.
With the crown proving counter-productive to teamwork and the both of us having numerous means with which to oust one another, the war had escalated to a catastrophic level, so much so that our playthrough swiftly ended in disaster. Upon reaching some difficult segments of the game, we realised that our in-fighting had utterly ravaged our joint pool of extra lives. The crown began to matter little, as devious traps, chasms and enemies picked us off at an alarming rate. Despite our renewed efforts to work together as a team, warning each other of hazards and frantically rushing to pick up any coins we saw in a bid to secure an extra life, it made no difference and we were soon hanging our heads in shame as the Game Over screen made its first (but only) appearance of the day. There were no winners here, only losers; fools who had been duped by the greatest evil of all: the crown.
After many hours of backstabbing, deception – the occasional bit of teamwork – and, above all, laughter, it was kicking-out time at Nintendo HQ. By this point, the crown had swapped heads so many times, I began to suspect that the game might feature an alternate, unlockable ending where the Sprixie Kingdom is declared a democracy, and all outsiders are banished in a bid to put an end to the terrible genocide against plumbers, Toads and princesses. It'd certainly be an interesting — if a little dark — direction for the Super Mario franchise to take. And for as much as I may have labelled Thomas as a maniacal, score-hungry and crown-thieving fiend throughout this article, the truth of the matter is that I was just as bad. In fact, I was probably worse.
And that's the fantastic thing about the competitive elements that Nintendo has subtly instilled into Super Mario 3D World; they add a whole new dimension to the gameplay, which you can choose to embrace if you so wish. You can be as good or as bad as you want, although you do so at your own peril. Thomas and I may have messed around and indulged in a fair amount of competition throughout, but if you want to play the game in as cooperative a manner as possible, then it lets you do just that. Out of everything I got to experience during my time with the game, this was quite easily the aspect that surprised and entertained me most.
If there’s one thing you should take away from this somewhat exaggerated account of our time with the game, it’s that Super Mario 3D World is undeniably fun and inventive — even more so when played with friends. Nintendo has done more than just add a third dimension for players to move around in, and rather, it's looked at ways in which different types of players — whether they like playing competitively, cooperatively or with a mixture of the two — can still get a great deal of enjoyment from the game. Nevertheless, if you really want to reach the end of the game, take my advice: play nicely, and definitely don't play with Thomas (or myself for that matter).
Super Mario 3D World for Wii U releases in North America on 22nd November and 29th November in Europe. Naturally, we'll have our in-depth review ready for you in the coming weeks.
When playing Super Mario 3D World, will you leave your team mates behind and steal all the glory for yourself or will you embrace the wonders of teamwork? Is it wrong to throw another player's character off the edge of the level every now and again? Share your thoughts with us on these pressing issues in the comments section below!