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Super Mario 3D World's multiplayer mayhem is delightful, long overdue

Super Mario 3D World is the first three-dimensional entry in the core platforming franchise with a multiplayer mode. After my ten minute hands-on demo with the title, I was left incensed, with a question burning in my mind: What the hell took them so long?

Super Mario 3D World for Wii U mimics, both in controls and aesthetics, Nintendo EAD's Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS, with diorama-esque worlds filled with coins, power-ups, obstacles and hidden objects. It has the same shiny, bouncy veneer of 3D Land, thanks to Nintendo EAD's involvement on this new title.

The biggest difference is that four players, controlling the classic Super Mario Bros. 2 roster of Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad, can explore the world simultaneously in local multiplayer (online will not be supported, unfortunately). Each has the special trait granted to them in the classic NES title — Peach can float for a bit and Luigi's got mad hops, for example — which they can utilize to bash enemies, hunt down the three stars hidden in each stage and compete to finish the level with a higher score than their compatriots. The game even rewards the high scorer with a crown that they can carry with them into the next stage.

It is, as you might imagine, pretty frantic. The camera does a decent job of scaling back to capture all four players' actions simultaneously, automatically moving any stragglers back into the action in a bubble in a manner similar to the 2D multiplayer Mario titles. When your four-player crew enters a new, unsullied part of the level and scatters to pillage its coins, the action can become a little Smash Bros.-esque, with thrown items (and thrown players) flying every which way.

Super Mario 3D World looks to have some fairly smart co-op elements, as well. The aforementioned player-tossing can be used to reach new heights and unaccessible hidden items, much like the New Super Mario series on Wii and Wii U. Your team shares an inventory of reserve items, which you can access on the fly when you're in desperate need of a power-up. Another neat, simple perk of playing co-op is when you pick up a Super Star, you can share your invulnerability with another player just by running up and touching them.

You can also turn into a cat. Four cats, if you've got the players, and can collect enough of the bell-shaped power-ups to transform them. In feline form, players can climb flat surfaces and perform (surprisingly visceral) claw attacks on walking or aerial enemies. Needless to say, the franticness of multiplayer was exponentially increased when everyone was dishing out dashing combo attacks and scrambling up every wall they saw.

Everything, from level design to core gameplay, seemed tailored to make the game a much faster-paced affair than 3D Land. The light competition gives players impetus to move just a bit quicker than their cohorts. Running in the same direction for long enough gives you a boost of speed. Some new traversal elements lend themselves to haste as well; some pipes are now clear, allowing you to see your character as you shoot through them at high speed, changing direction to dodge foes and collect items. Rolling treadmills send players, enemies, items — anything that lands on them — soaring.

You can, of course, stop and smell the roses. The GamePad — which also supports full off-TV play — can be used to tap around the environment to scope out hidden items or hold enemies, similar to Super Mario Galaxy's Co-Star mode. Completionists will still be racing against the series' ever encroaching time limit, but will have plenty of treasures to uncover along the way.

If there were any unsolved logistical issues related to getting four people in the same 3D Mario game simultaneously, I didn't see them in my demo. Having extra Mushroom Kingdomites alongside me seemed like a long overdue improvement to the series, not an overcomplicated hassle — though that never really softens the betrayal of being hurled to your death by a trusted friend.

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