Ever since the dawn of 4-player Mario games, I’ve only wanted one thing from the experience: A game that plays like a 4-player version of Super Mario Bros. 2.

The “Fab 4” of video gaming: Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Peach, each running around with their respective abilities, while having all sorts of fun adventures together. When later New Super Mario Bros. games came out, you can imagine my disappointment of having two generic Toads swapped out for the latter two characters, and each player having generic abilities.

Nintendo has decided to either read my mind (or start mining that particular NES game for nostalgia value), and has provided precisely the gaming experience that plays like an old-school dream. This game, however, decides to take the play style from the 3DS title Super Mario 3D Land as a template, which was a delightfully challenging game in itself.

If it seems like I’m referencing a lot of previous Mario titles, there’s a reason for that: This title cherry picks elements from practically every game in the franchise ever created, right down to a level inspired by Mario Kart. So what you get is a very big Mario tribute in the form of a game.

The levels are, diverse, colorful, and fun. There’s items and secrets and power-ups all over the levels to collect, everything from Star Coins to Stamps (to use in Miiverse to make picture posts). Secret passages and hidden exits are abundant. Each level feels like a mini playset to fully explore, and it’s entertaining and challenging.

Mario’s “animal suits” are back in play again. There are several costumes for the quartet to try on, and they are a nice mix from various games in the franchise. The big focus this time out is the Cat Suit. The Cat Suit allows you to pounce and swipe enemies, climb trees and walls, and it’s quite powerful and useful during play.

Sound is great. As with the gameplay content, the music is a “best of”, pulling from several previous games in Mario‘s history. A lot of classic melodies that haven’t been used in a while are coupled with the jazzy “theme” of Super Mario World 3D. There’s more than enough diversity in the soundtrack, and it all sounds great. Sound effects are nothing new, just the familiar bings, crunches, and “Woo hoos”, but it still fits well.

Graphically, the game looks polished and exceptional. Mario has never looked better, and the sheer variety of level types keeps things from ever getting “been there, seen that”. There’s always something going on in the levels, and often the backgrounds. Mario and friends are well animated, as are the enemies, and the HD graphics really make all of the bright colors “pop” on screen. There are even more than a few nods to “The Year of Luigi” hidden around the game, making them addictive to spot.

And as expected, the game controls well. Nintendo excels in the platformer genre, and this is another fine example of their capabilities. Considering the levels are all over the place in layout, with crucial jumps and some forced scrolling at times, each character has an ideal quality to make certain levels more manageable than others. And unlike New Super Mario Bros., enemies don’t pause to dance to the beat, throwing off crucial jumps.

If there are any issues to the game, they are thankfully minimal, but frustrating. For a 4-player game, I wish this had been online, as there is no excuse not to. Granted, the competent multi-player does require some competent teamwork in some areas, but it’s nothing that couldn’t be created without online friends. Strangers are always hit and miss in any online game, but I would have liked to have been able to enjoy this option. Nintendo really needs to get over the dislike/fear/feeling of novelty of online and embrace it for games like this. The other issue is that for a “3D” game, it’s not as instinctive as the 3DS entry. Perspective doesn’t quite stand out as much as it does on the handheld title, which is unfortunate, but not game breaking. And more humorous and eyebrow raising than anything else, people will post some weird stuff on the game’s MiiVerse forum, which will appear in game. Check “Bad Miiverse Posts” for some truly oddball “gems”.

Ultimately, players are left with what a 4-player Mario game should be: A wild and unique romp through some quirky worlds that are filled with sniny, colorful graphics, catchy music, tight control, and unique characters that each add their own personal strengths to the adventure. I really can’t think of any reason to truly not recommend the title. In fact, it’s one of the best Mario games that has come out in years, comparable in fun to the first Super Mario Galaxy.

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