Between The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo has Christmas locked up. Both are serious reminders of how good the Japanese studio once was, is and probably forever will be, offering its unique brand of entertainment that, frankly, no one else seems able to replicate.
If you want to read more about how Zelda achieves this, I talked about it here. Mario does it by being effortlessly entertaining. Treading a fine line between catering for the old guard while ensuring its accessible to the millions of new fans who came aboard during the last generation, it really does offer something for everyone. While some may scowl at such a proposition, Nintendo has balanced both extraordinarily well.
Everything starts off rather straightforward in 3D World, what I would call Mario's first proper entry on the Wii U. Levels are simple and deliberately easy, mostly to introduce you to new trinkets such as the cat suit. Existing in many ways just to make people go 'Aww. Look at the little kitten' it serves another purpose that ties into the wider game as a whole. Dressed as a feline, Mario can scale walls he otherwise wouldn't be able to. Aside from the odd section, there's never a reason to access these areas unless your Mario OCD dictates that you do. And yet it's here where the wider adventure lies.
Should you want to get every star, picture stamp and coin, the trials and pitfalls Nintendo puts in front of you will challenge even the most hardened Mario fan. It's not as consistently tough as some of the classic games in the series – Mario 64, for example – but by the time you arrive at later worlds there's an obvious jump in difficulty.
One stage in particular requires you to stay atop of a moving block that's casually making its way through a pool of lava. Very simple, until you learn that every time the block moves, it shifts onto a different side. Given that its surface is also not the most stable – it has a slight sheen to it – timing your jumps to ensure you always land right side up is not for the faint at heart. I told Mario that I hated him on at least one occasion. I told him worse on at least sixty.
It makes for a much more satisfying experience overall, especially as co-op is always on hand should your mum/brother/whoever walk into the room and want to play. The extra characters aren't just for show, either. Harking back to Super Mario Bros. 2 (which, despite popular opinion, I remain quite fond of), Luigi has a superior jump, Toad has a bit more pace to him, and Peach floats. It's certainly not an all-encompassing shift in proceedings, but controlling each does toy with how a level plays out, specific switches where secrets await taking this even further. Without the right individual, you'll never know what happens should you press it.
Ultimately, however, it's 3D World's variation that will see it through to the promised land. Nintendo continually pulls the rug from underneath you to reveal something new, often trying to win you over with ideas the wider community has probably had at one stage or another. The majority of these come and go in a flutter, but there's two which do crop up a few times as a hint as to what is trying to be achieved.
The first is Captain Toad's Adventure Courses. Disabling his ability to jump and creating a linear path to work out, they're bizarre offshoots that are more puzzle-focused than platforming. With its ridiculous music and, to be honest, insane layouts, each is a genuine joy. The fact there's only a handful makes them even more compelling as you'll always be wanting more.
The same goes for the mini-obstacle courses. With the task to get through 10 levels with only 10 seconds for each, they get increasingly more silly, and therefore enjoyable. They require twitch-platforming and, when they want to, are reasonably unforgiving. I dare anyone who prides themselves on being a Mario fan to walk away from such stages without securing all 10 stars. They're wonderfully addictive.
But that's 3D World summed up to a tee. It's incredibly hard to put the pad down because it constantly feels fresh and new, despite being based on a very familiar template. It's the presentation that gets you, too. Aside from Nintendo, once again, creating a majestic soundtrack – the music that accompanies each ghost house meant I never wanted to leave – everything is just so well thought out. Be it a Kooper Trooper hanging their head in despair as you kick its shell away, or Mario's camp dancing when he finishes a level, it's hard to not giggle like a school child at least once during a playthrough.
The best endorsement I can give Super Mario 3D World is that if you have a Wii U, you must buy it, and if you don't, then it's without a doubt a system seller. Nintendo's latest machine may not have many, but this is one of the best on any platform.