After almost three decades of consistently stunning Mario games – including last year's Super Mario 3D Land on 3DS, and the ground-breaking Wii series Super Mario Galaxy – few would doubt that Nintendo's lost its touch when it comes to weaving platform-hopping magic. But with the addition of madcap multiplayer, strikingly imaginative visuals, and more ideas per level than you'd find during the entire playing time of most other platformers, Super Mario 3D World is the most thrilling, compelling and downright joyous game of 2013. While Mario's latest adventure is tremendous fun as a solo game – and delivers around 15 hours of unabashed platforming bliss – exploring the levels with up to three friends adds sublime energy to the action as you compete to gather treasure and finish in top spot, which gives the winner the dubious privilege of wearing a natty crown in the next stage. Of course, this gaudy headgear is an invitation to trouble as jealous rivals inevitably gang up to ensure the victor doesn't repeat their previous performance, instigating wildcat dashes across the surreal landscapes where players must stay keenly focused to dodge the myriad hazards the game hurls their way, while desperately grasping for every opportunity to shaft the beleaguered leader. As with all Mario games, the developers at Nintendo have poured all their creative energy into constructing worlds that are packed with colour and personality – rivalled only by the surprisingly diverse Rayman Legends – and are carefully constructed and balanced to make best use of the four heroes' individual powers. And while most levels feature special events that offer a new spin on the core gameplay and funnel you into tackling new challenges, these moments are deliciously fleeting and never stick around long enough to become tired, making for an endlessly-satisfying, deliriously unpredictable romp that you'll return to again and again. Although Sony and Microsoft are gunning to dominate the Christmas market with their potent new monoliths, Nintendo has played a blinder by being first to market with its latest console, and with Super Mario 3D World the Wii U is showing signs of confidence and maturity long before most developers will figure out how to get the best from the PS4 or Xbox One. Yet while the gaming public are unlikely to shirk the moody, adult thrills of Call Of Duty: Ghosts and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag in favour of a chubby cartoon plumber from the 1980s, Super Mario 3D World nonetheless represents the peak of platforming perfection and is the best reason so far to buy a Wii U.
Reviewed by David McComb