independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Super Mario soars to a new level of perfection

Review - Super Mario 3D World, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4

Super Mario 3D World for Wii U

Super Mario 3D World

Wii U

RATING: 10/10

AGE: 3+

SUBVERSION and invention – these are the defining concepts that reassemble the familiar Mario tropes into one of the greatest platformers Nintendo has ever produced.

Festooned with a fevered creativity not seen since Super Mario Galaxy in 2007, the SM3DW gameplay is nonetheless constructed from much-loved building blocks that have been around for almost 30 years.

In fact, your reaction to the opening level may well border on disappointment. Though gloriously rendered in HD running at 60fps, the day-glo world rolls out the usual suspects – platforms to ascend, goombas to jump on, coins to collect. It’s pleasant but you fear Nintendo is just sweating its Mario assets yet again.

But, slyly, Nintendo is just accustomising you to Mario’s new animations and move speed – before thrusting a flurry of fresh ideas your way. Most importantly, the standard set of power-ups – fire flower, mushroom, even the tanooki suit – is outshone by the cat suit that lets Mario scramble up vertical surfaces.

Now, Nintendo is free to hide collectibles in remote places off the top of the screen and string alternative paths up high above the mayhem below. And, boy, do the designers run riot, stuffing the compact levels with secrets and challenges.

Layered throughout this stream of “standard” Mario layouts lies an almost endless stock of kooky ideas that vary the pace and play with your expectations. Why not steal the ice-skate from a passing goomba and take it for a joyride? Or don the hat that automatically fires cannonballs? Or eat up the double cherry that spawns a Mario clone, leaving you with two (or more) Marios to control.

The hub of each level is also scattered with 10-second challenges, fruit machines and self-contained puzzles for Captain Toad – who can’t even jump – to navigate in 3D space.

Multiplayer is even more of a hoot – even though sadly the online component is little more than an interactive message board and ghost runs. But with up to four players locally, SM3DW descends into messy but hilarious chaos. Two-player is much more manageable and heaps on the cooperative and destructive fun.

Super Mario 3D World is so good it’s worth buying a Wii U because it’s the only place you can play it. And that’s not something you can say about any of the launch titles on Xbox One or PS4.

 

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

PS4/Xbox One/PS3/X360/PC

RATING: 8.5/10

AGE: 18

JOHNNY Depp single-handedly made pirates popular again – even though the movies became progressively more bloated and produced no videogames worthy of the inspiration.

Black Flag amplifies the marriage of naval combat and traditional AC gameplay to the point where it’s the greatest Pirates of the Caribbean tie-in that never was. But in doing so, it moves further away from the AC template featuring stealthy assassination and acrobatic exploration.

There’s plenty of that – and a return of the rather pointless modern-day back-story, this time told rather tongue-in-cheek as a parody of the game’s publisher, Ubisoft.

But when the plot shifts off-shore to the roving piracy of the high seas, Black Flag gets more interesting, pitting you and your small ship against other vessels in a hail of cannonballs. Roaming the vast ocean affords many opportunities to get back on land to hunt treasure, snuff out opposition or simply explore.

The balance is handled deftly but the open world enables you to pick your favoured style. To my mind, the sea battles always felt more compelling than the over-familiar stalking of targets across rooftops.

Next-gen wise, Black Flag is a classic example of a current-gen game subtly upgraded to a more powerful platform. There’s nothing here except a visual polish to distinguish it from its older siblings.

Fans of the series will hardly be dissatisfied let’s hope the franchise can now take the big leap forward with the inevitable next instalment.

 

Battlefield 4

PS4/Xbox One/PS3/X360/PC

RATING: 8/10

AGE: 18

NEW Battlefield, same old story. It will hardly come as a surprise that once again Battlefield weds a lame single-player campaign to a much more inventive multiplayer mode. Why does publisher EA insist, you wonder, except to compete in a box-ticking exercise with Call of Duty?

CoD: Ghosts didn’t set the world on fire last month and B4 had an open chance to claim the title of premier first-person shooter. While it’s definitely a better game in my book, the difference isn’t substantial.

B4’s single-player storyline trundles from one ho-hum shootout to the next, with scant use of Battlefield’s trademark vehicles and featuring frighteningly stupid enemies. Battlefield: Bad Company showed developer Dice could make a  stab at an entertaining single-player but they seemed to have forgotten how.

As always, the game lights up when you go online for multiplayer mayhem. Intricately designed maps – incorporating level-changing events such as massive floods – are well served by a broad selection of vehicles and aircraft. There’s even a hint of freshness from additional modes such as Obliteration – revolving around the fight for a giant bomb – and Commander - a revival of the strategic role of old.

On next-gen platforms, B4 looks the part while offering 64-player maps. But the versions most people will play  - on 360 and PS3 – struggle to keep up visually and can offer only 24-player levels.

Here then is a game that has been designed for more powerful machines and back-ported not entirely successfully to older technology. Beware if you’re buying for the latter.

 

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