The cat suit is just one of the new features in Super Mario 3D World that keeps its familiar old formula fresh and entertaining.

The cat suit is just one of the new features in Super Mario 3D World that keeps its familiar old formula fresh and entertaining.

Nintendo's lucrative Mario Bros. franchise is a well-oiled machine, pumping out games after game, year after year, without any noticeable dip in quality. The franchise operates along multiple streams now, with the main franchise being the 2D platform games, alongside the 3D games that began with Super Mario 64, as well as more unusual titles such as the Mario and Luigi RPG games.

The template created in Super Mario 64 has changed very little over almost 20 years. Despite new gameplay elements being added with each entry in the franchise, the kernel is solid as a rock, for better or for worse. The buttons are still the same - A to jump, X to attack, and trigger to crouch. You still hold the attack button to sprint, and crouch before jumping to reach maximum height. This has carried on through Mario games on Gamecube, Wii, 3DS, and now Wii U.

Super Mario 3D World is more familiar than most, as it is a high definition remake of Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS handheld. While the format and presentation are very similar, this is still a brand new game, packed with new features and enemies, and with all new level design.

What consistently surprises me about the Mario games is how they can feel so similar to previous games and yet feel fresh and fun. I played many hours of Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 on the Wii and 3D Land on 3DS and loved them all, and 3D World is essentially the same gameplay. Even so, I played this new title for many more hours and never felt bored with it.

One of the big new innovations with 3D World is the inclusion of four playable characters right from the start. Mario and Luigi are there, of course, as well as Toad, but the really exciting addition to the cast is Princess Peach, making a very rare appearance as a playable character instead of her usual role of serial kidnap victim.

All four characters play slightly differently, with Luigi jumping the highest, Toad being the fastest runner, Peach able to glide a short distance after jumping, and Mario being the balanced all-rounder. The differences feel meaningful without making them too different from each other, but switching from one to another can feel strange.

All four can appear together as part of the game's four-way multiplayer. This is a gloriously chaotic free-for-all in which players will accidentally (or not so accidentally) bump each other off ledges and race for power-ups. Rather than a split-screen setup, everyone occupies the same screen space and stragglers who fall behind are whisked back to the front in transparent bubbles.

Those wishing to find all the collectibles and score fast completion times will want to go it alone, though - multiplayer is strictly a party piece for those who will have a laugh when they fall into lava.

The single-player experience of 3D World is among the best that the Mario franchise has ever offered. This new release builds on the basis set by 3D Land on 3DS and expands it in every way. This is a bigger, longer, and deeper game with more expansive and complex levels and a host of new features. It even incorporates the Wii U controller's particular capabilities, employing the touch screen occasionally and even smart use of the microphone.

Perhaps the best new feature is the brand new cat suit power-up costume. When your character picks up a glowing bell, he or she is instantly clad in an adorable cat costume, which allows them to run up sheer walls and also grants a claw attack against enemies. Other additions include a cherry that makes duplicates of your character appear, with subsequent cherries adding more and more (my record was five clones of Peach in one game), and a big fat mushroom that turns your character into a scenery-smashing giant.

A host of new enemies also appear, including living boulders that can be stunned and thrown as projectiles, weird bull-horned creatures that try to push you off edges, and living lava balls that leave deadly trails of fire as they roll around. Many old adversaries also return, some in new forms like the cat-suited goomba and a flying version of the skeletal koopa.

Level design is impeccable for the most part, with most levels skating the line between challenge and fun. Some sequences made me laugh out loud with the sheer enjoyment of seeing what the team at Nintendo had come up with next. Most levels have multiple paths to the flagpole, and some are surprisingly open and free-range. While reaching the end is the ultimate goal, there are also three green stars and a character stamp to collect in each level, and some are deviously hidden.

One great new feature is integrated feedback and social interaction. After completing a level, you can post a message about it, talking about how good or bad it was, asking for advice when you're stuck, or giving hints to others. After the first time completing any level, you are also joined during replays by "ghosts" of others players, showing the paths they took through the world. If you're stumped on a problem, you can watch someone else do it and take notes.

The whole thing also looks and sounds wonderful. The visuals are sharp and colourful, with great attention to detail in environment and character design. I especially liked the design of each character in their power-up suits - cat-suited Peach is absolutely adorable. The music is top-notch as always, with a mixture of new tunes and revamped classics.

So, is there anything bad to say about it? Well, a few levels aren't so great, being more irritating than challenging, and the boss battles are a particular weak point. While a handful of the bosses work quite well, the majority are either retreads from older games or are just too simple and repetitive. Even the climactic fights against the game's major villain, the fire-breathing dino-turtle Bowser, are pedestrian and dull.

My biggest gripe, though, is Nintendo's adherence to outdated design elements. 3D World still gives you a limited number of lives, and has you collecting coins that give an extra life every time you hit 100, all within a set time limit. It seems such an antiquated system, born from coin-op arcade machines and no longer needed on home consoles. The time limit is especially galling, as it discourages the player from exploring and really enjoying the level.

There are also little niggles with forced replays of levels. Some require specific power-up suits to obtain different stars, and it can be very hard to juggle multiple suits without losing one of them. You also lose your suit by taking a single hit, so if there's a star right at the end of the level that you can't reach without the cat suit, taking a hit at any point will mean you'll have to restart to get that star.

Honestly, though, it's hard to find anything serious to criticise in 3D World. Sure it's derivative and the difficulty tends to be either too easy or too hard, with only a few levels that nail that sweet spot in the middle, but it's still a joy to play.

This is Nintendo's finely-tuned Mario machine running at top efficiency, and it's easily the best Mario game since the original Galaxy.

 - James "DexX" Dominguez

twitter Screen Play is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez