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Super Mario 3D World: The Switch's best Mario since Odyssey

The best Mario game from the Wii U brings a combination of local and remote online play. The more people you play with, the crazier it gets.

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In Super Mario 3D World, more people is less helpful. You'll see.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

There are a lot of Mario games for the Nintendo Switch. It's the 35th anniversary of Mario and Nintendo has released classic Mario 3D games, a Mario Kart game with a real car and a free online Mario battle royale game. Super Mario 3D World, a port of a Wii U game that came out in 2013, is better than all of those. It's maybe the best four-player Mario game around (besides the DIY Mario Maker game, which is more about course construction, or New Super Mario Bros U, which is a 2D Mario game). If you're looking for another great multiplayer Switch game, this might be for you. Just, maybe, expect some chaos.

I played this game way back in 2013, and loved it then. It was really the only truly great Wii U Mario game. It's not necessarily for everyone. The game kind of meshes classic Mario platformers with newer 3D ones, elevating a view above a 3D course that you hop and bop along with a time limit on each. The quick courses, their flagpole finishes and the drama added by a ticking clock give the game a much quicker feel than the fantastic and more open-world Super Mario Odyssey. It's like the old Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS, but better.

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Playing with my son. It's so easy to fall to your doom on levels like this.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

If you've already played Super Mario 3D World on the Switch, it's all mainly the same, with zippier speeds and crisper graphics. There's a bonus online multiplayer mode that lets others join in, co-op style, from somewhere else. That's pretty new to Mario games, and it works along with two-player co-op at home. It could be fun to play with friends, especially since I don't see anyone in person much anymore.

My nearly 8-year-old son had a blast playing with me, but the funny thing about co-op is the more people you add, the more chaotic it gets. Levels can be tougher to beat, and there's some competitive ways you can try to beat friends to extra points (or throw them off ledges if you're feeling like it). I played nicely with my kid because I didn't want tears. But with four people at once, playing as either Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach, it's hard to keep track of who's who anymore. It's a total train wreck (but fun). 

Online play, from the demo I tried with Nintendo, can sometimes suffer from lag. Just go with the flow. Thankfully, the game is generous with continues, and if you're stuck, there's a nearly immortal tanooki suit you can get. It's also kind to players who end up falling off-screen: most of the time, you'll just float back in, inside a bubble that pops you back into action. Or, if you're my son, you'll just stay in the bubble, riding along the whole level while Dad does all the work.

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Bowser's Fury changes the perspective and layout a bit, compared to Super Mario 3D World. Also, it's only two-player co-op.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

There's also a whole second game Nintendo's thrown in that's totally new, called Bowser's Fury. It's nothing like Super Mario 3D World, and changes perspective to a more open-exploring Super Mario Odyssey style. There are a number of islands you can explore while Bowser Jr. joins you as a helper that a second player can take over, in more of an assistive-helper mode that true co-op. I haven't finished this part, but Nintendo indicates it's on the shorter side.

Super Mario 3D World comes out Feb. 12. In a year that, for now, looks like it'll be quiet for new Switch games, this one stands out as a clear winner. It's perfect if you haven't played the original Wii U version before. Or if you have kids around. Or if you've played all the other Mario games -- because, again, there are a lot. So far, on my Switch Mario List, my top four would be: Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8, Super Mario Maker 2 and Super Mario 3D World. But that could still change if even more of them pop up soon.