Nintendoâ€™s been cranking out Mario games since, well, since videogames as we know them were invented. Literally. So, despite the fact that the jumpy plumberâ€™s had the odd little hiccup - where â€śhiccupâ€ť means only great, rather than incredible - the one thing heâ€™s never jumped is the shark.
When we heard, then, that the 3DS was to get not only a new Mario game, but an original Mario game at that, and this early in its life... we were excited. No, we were ecstatic. Does it live up to the hype? Oh hell yes it does - this is every bit the amazing Mario adventure youâ€™ve been hoping would grace Nintendoâ€™s latest platform.
Before we go there, though, the basics. Mario, if youâ€™re not familiar with him, is a platforming supremo. His... girl-friend, Peach, has gotten herself kidnapped again and he must tackle a series of increasingly complicated platforming challenges in order to rescue her.
If there was a sub-title to this masterpiece, it would be â€śPerspectiveâ€ť. The designers have taken the 3D capabilities of the console as their cue and have designed most of their levels with some sort of clever play on your point of view.
It plays out alternately from side-on and traditional 3D perspectives, with clever 2D levels, top down stuff, and loads of situations in which the level - and the 3D capabilities of the console - will genuinely give you vertigo.
There are loads of powerups to collect, including plenty from Marioâ€™s past and a bunch of new collectables too. The marquee addition, as evidenced by its inclusion in the gameâ€™s logo (and after its inclusion in a marketing campaign by the morally bankrupt muppets at PETA), is the Tanooki Suit. Without going into why itâ€™s called that, it gives you a tail and lets you both attack (with a Mario Galaxy-like spin attack) and hover.
You can even keep a spare powerup in your inventory and switch between them (or activate a banked one, if you donâ€™t have any active) with a simple touch of the lower screen. Itâ€™s a good tactical inclusion, and one that will have you "farming" previous levels in order to ensure you're correctly equipped for tougher challenges down the line.
If you're a Mario veteran, there's no two ways about it: you're going to find the going here pretty easy. There are moments, sure, in which your Mario skills will be tested (particularly once you finish the main campaign and unlock the special worlds), but you'll defeat Bowser without too much difficulty (I finished the main game with 130 lives on my first play-through).
If you do fail five times in any given level (and they're pretty short - ideal for handheld consumption) you'll be granted a special version of the Tanooki suit, which gives you the normal attack and hover ability, as well as the invulnerability that is normally only afforded by the Star powerup.
While this may seem like a cop-out, and can certainly be exploited if you're so inclined, I found instead that it allowed me to get through bits that were driving me crazy and let me get at the fresh, innovative stuff hiding behind. There's also motivation for players to avoid it ever even appearing, as once it does, your save game loses the sparkly sheen that an un-assisted play-through might otherwise reward you with.
If you're ham-fisted or playing a Mario game for the first time, you even get the option of skipping to the end of a level entirely if you fail at it ten times - although it's hard to imagine just how much success you're going to have at the next one.
The levels designs - without exception - are sublime. Theyâ€™re clever, intuitive, charming, and varied - you never once feel like youâ€™re doing the same thing youâ€™ve already bested on an earlier stage. There are so many nods to classic Mario games, too, that a veteran of the series will be constantly spotting new things. There's the end of level flag jump from Super Mario Bros., the bonus levels from Super Mario Land - even the swinging flail from Wario Land on the Virtual Boy has a starring role in a few sequences.
Visually, the game is a sensation. It looks amazing, and not just in a â€śbox checkingâ€ť way at that. Itâ€™s not just the gorgeous colours, shapes, textures, animations, and effects - although they contribute. Itâ€™s the love with which theyâ€™re applied that tips the scales forever in favour of a perfect score.
The way Mario looks at things as he runs past them, as if in genuine wonder; the little puffs of dust when a door slams or Mario changes direction. The world is alive and is a wonderful place to spend your time. 3DS developers, consider yourselves on notice - Nintendo just made every other game on the system (and many other, more powerful systems) look like the work of amateurs.
Sound, similarly, is superbly realised. That Nintendo has a stable of the best talent and has the processes in place to ensure that only perfection passes through them is evident in every aspect of the soundscape. The musical nods to classic Mario and the updated, wholly original content mesh together perfectly, and are overlaid with special effects that will have you smiling and laughing as you play.
Complete a mid-level challenge (such as collecting musical notes or a group of hard-to-get coins), for example, and youâ€™re met with a triumphant burst of music and the sound of an excited audience clapping. Itâ€™s exactly right and suits your mood (and the stage in gameplay) perfectly.
It also leverages the 3DS well, with the special features of the device used only when appropriate. There's StreetPass support, light utilization of the motion controls, smart use of the second screen, and the previously discussed use of the 3D.
So, OK - itâ€™s a little too easy, and you can easily make it easier still with smart powerup management. As flaws go, thatâ€™s not too bad - and thatâ€™s genuinely the only thing wrong with it. Everything else about the title is a masterclass in how to make good games, period, and would stand up on any current (or future) platform. If you like games, you need this one in your collection. Itâ€™s the best game on the 3DS and it justifies the purchase of the system all by itself.
Buy it. Right now.