But that's to ignore that there's what could amount to an entire second version of the game included in the package, however. The drop-in-drop-out multiplayer is a revelatory take on the now-established New Super Mario Bros. formula that not only helps solve the chaos caused by cramming four people onto an already crowded two-dimensional plane, but also introduces something truly alien to proceedings. The three-dimensional Mario games have, at their most inclusive, always been about helping other players, but Super Mario 3D World has something new in mind: competition.
Playing with more than one player has the whole group sharing lives, meaning you're forced to look out for one another, but individually ranks the points scored by players. It suddenly means that every power-up (1,000 points), Green Star (4,000 points) and final boss hit (8,000 points) becomes key to beating your buddies, especially when the winner earns a crown that awards them 5,000 points in the next level (provided they can get it to the next goal pole without having it stolen by someone else, that is). As such, action fares better when all involved know the lay of the land, but such is the quality of solo play that learning is hardly a chore. It's the first time we've felt safe saying a Mario game is designed for multiplayer and in a game so often steeped in the past, it's a wonderfully new idea.
Perhaps that's the crux of Super Mario 3D World. So many of its ideas are drawn from older games (the characters from Mario Bros. 2, the structure of Super Mario 3D Land, the multiplayer of New Super Mario Bros. and the platforms and enemies of almost every previous game) that it might seem as though this is somewhat backwards-looking. But it's in the repurposed, reimagined nature of each, not to mention in slamming them together just to see what happens, that new ideas emerge.
It's a game that feels totally familiar both in the elements we recognise and in the fact that there's far more beyond them. It seems, after you spend so many years espousing the cult of invention above all things, that becomes a religion in itself. Praise be.
This review is abridged - for the full review, pick up ONM 102, in shops now.