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Eurogamer's Game of the Year 2013

The cat's out the bag.

It was always going to be Sony and Microsoft's year. When the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launched in November, it wasn't just the climax of a publicity roadshow that stretched back to February - a roadshow that was at times messy and scandalous, as well as entertaining and exhilarating. It goes back to a time when all we had were codenames like Orbis and Durango, accompanied by whispered speculation. It stretches back even before then, too.

So 2013 was the year the next generation finally arrived, exasperating and exciting in equal measure with typically limp launch line-ups but a promise of what's to come. Except, pedants like myself pointed out, 2013 wasn't when the next generation started: that happened, quietly and somewhat underwhelmingly, late last year with the launch of the Wii U.

It's underpowered and unloved, with sales that are nothing short of disastrous, but look beyond the figures and it's clear Nintendo had a sensational 2013 - and in terms of quality of software, arguably one of its finest yet. The 3DS had 12 months that will surely pass into legend, kickstarted by Monster Hunter and Fire Emblem before being rounded off by Pokemon, Bravely Default and a Zelda that's one of the breeziest in an age.

A little of that magic's rubbed off onto the Wii U, too, even if there's not quite the surplus the handheld has enjoyed: Pikmin 3 was a triumphant return for the series, while Wonderful 101 was one of the most unhinged and energetically creative games of the year.

There was one game that had more ideas, though, and even more energy - something that cut through the bluster of next-generation console launches to remind us that it's really all about play. It might feel slightly sacrilegious to hand out the reward to any other Nintendo mascot in this, the year of Luigi, but I'm sure he'll understand that there can only be one.

So now I'll hand over to several of Eurogamer's contributors to explain why Super Mario 3D World was our game of the year.

Go big or go home.

Back down to earth

Tom Bramwell celebrated his first year back at the editorial helm full-time by delighting in some of the more controversial policies of the next-generation of hardware, before getting stuck in and reviewing some of 2013's biggest releases.

I've only played a couple of hours of Super Mario 3D World so far, so I don't feel comfortable naming it my game of the year yet, but it's already the most fun I've had with a Mario game since Galaxy.

I've bought and played recent efforts like New Super Mario Bros. U and I've always felt as though they were going through the motions a little. In Nintendo's case, those motions are still technically superb, vibrant and playable, but I grew up playing games like Mario World, and some of the recent games don't feel like they belong in that conversation.

Mario 3D World feels like it does. It's often said that Mario games dream up, execute and discard cool little ideas from level to level in a way that makes other platform games look like they're bringing knives to a gunfight, but in the imagination stakes Mario 3D World rocks up with a bazooka. One level you're laughing at shadow puppetry and perspective gags, the next you're dancing on pressure pads in a flying circus, then you're spawning half a dozen cat Marios and trying to line them up so they can climb walls together, and then you're riding down waterfalls on a sea monster.

I mentioned cat Mario - the best new Mario power-up I can remember. The animations are perfect, like the way he trots along on all fours glancing left and right, and the abilities it confers are simple but brilliant, like the way it just solves the problem of how to handle close-quarters attacks on enemies - often so awkward when all you can do is measure a jump.

There are so many other little things I love already, too, like the fact you can see through warp pipes, and the way each level on the world map is represented by a little diorama. Now you can't just switch off the Wii U for a night when you finish a level, because you'll catch a glimpse of the next one and it's too hard to resist.   So how come I've only managed a couple of hours, then? Easy. Post 3D World, I'd love to think that Nintendo can return the series to these heights on an ongoing basis, but in the meantime I'm not taking my chances, so rather than rushing through it, I plan to savour every last star.

The Mario Kart themed level is a treat, but it's one of countless self-referential moments.

Cat's cradle

Simon Parkin started the year with a bang, exposing the murky relationship between the video games industry and gun manufacturers. He also lent his expertise on some of the finest games to come from Japan in 2013.

A close friend of mine once advised: video game critics need to stop awarding marks for effort. You can see his point. So often we're swayed and inveigled by the beautiful blockbusters, even when there's not a great deal going on behind the eyes. We instinctively understand the amount of sheer effort and human years that go into making a video game look like that. Their directors can't just point a camera at something and shoot. A tremendous amount of energy and construction must first happen. And once somebody's gone to the trouble of building a cathedral, it seems a bit churlish to criticise it for being dull. Sometimes we reward effort, even if the effort was in the wrong places, or unevenly distributed.

Super Mario 3D World is a cathedral, but it is far from empty. I could see the sheer effort that has gone into its construction when I met with its makers, days after its completion. They looked positively thinned by the work and the deadline (the Wii U needed this now, if not sooner). You can see the sheer effort in the frame-rate, locked at cream-smooth 60 frames per second, and the physical size of the thing, so carefully distilled down to 1.6GB (you could fit 23 copies of svelte Super Mario 3D World into one bloated install of its PlayStation 4 rival, Knack). But most importantly, you can see the sheer effort in the playfulness and creativity on display in every one of those skittish frames: the ice-skating Goomba, the stages played out in silhouette, the multiplayer crown, the boss battle finale - a punch line to a joke set up at the very start. Every aspect is perfectly finished, displaying Nintendo EAD's craftsmanship, its staff's combined lifetimes of mastery.

The cat suit is a concession to difficulty (youngsters can now press a button to swipe an enemy away, without having to negotiate an awkward butt-stomp in 3D space) but, at the top end, this is also the most challenging Mario for years: Nintendo knows to expand its appeal of its most valuable character, never contract. That said, the world has grown a little smaller since the Galaxy twins - at times this is a tribute to the stars, rather than a trip to them. But at its best, it is the most welcoming cathedral that team Mario has yet constructed, one that deservedly resounds now with a chorus of praise.

The final gag in the shadow level's an old standard in video games, but it's never been done better than in Super Mario 3D World.

Paws for thought

Jeffrey Matulef spent much of 2013 educating us about the great and good of the indie world, as well as covering off the news while we all sleep - but his greatest moment came when he posed half-naked with a cat traipsed over his shoulder for his author pic.

A Mario game as Game of the Year in 2013? What is this? We're Eurogamer, the site that admires change, innovation, sophisticated storytelling, and won't shut up about Spelunky. How can the umpteenth game in a series starring the same portly mascot we've played as for over three decades receive this prestigious honour? Simple: it's the most joyful game to come out this year.

I must confess that I had little excitement for 3D World going in. It looked fun, but a bit samey and uninteresting. I've played 3D Mario before, many times. After two gravity-defying outer space adventures, coming back to earth - or the Mushroom Kingdom - looked rote. Then I got a cat suit and all bets were off.

"Look at the pawprints!" I exclaimed to my co-op partner. We both laughed out loud the first time cat Mario ran out of energy midway through a climb and would scratch the walls as he slid down in defeat. The surprises didn't end there. Monochromatic shadow levels, puppet theatres, multiplying Marios! This was all new. The icons and genre are as familiar as they come, but the way they're utilised makes the first hour of 3D World more fresh and exciting than most games manage in 10 times that.

In fact, as far as I'm concerned Super Mario 3D World is the most delightful of any of the 3D Marios. I found Mario 64 and Sunshine's structure of sending players back to the same maps multiple times to be plodding and tiresome. The Galaxy games improved on this by taking you to different parts of the stages, but the general theme would remain the same. Unwrapping a new level was always met with a mix of excitement countered with a mild groan of, "I guess I'm going to be stuck here for the next 20 minutes." 3D World changes that by merging the big-budget 3D splendor of a modern console Mario adventure with the quick, breeziness of its 2D forebears.

Also, the final unlockable level is the hardest thing ever in a Mario game. Clearly someone at Nintendo's been playing Super Meat Boy, amirite?

Multiplayer works brilliantly well in 3D Mario, it turns out - and Nintendo's Tokyo EAD studio creates incredible potential for slapstick moments.

The cat that got the cream

Oli Welsh continued to be the best dressed man in the games industry, and he also handled the site's review content during an exceptionally busy year. In between all that, he also found time to write some of the year's best reviews.

The cat suit, the cat suit, the cat suit. Yes, it's adorable, and it's hardly a surprise it was the toast of every review and the star of Nintendo's campaign. But spare a thought for the Double Cherry, the other all-time classic Super Mario power-up introduced in Super Mario 3D World, here relegated to also-ran. In any other game, the Double Cherry would be... well, it would be the whole game.

This is what Nintendo's breakaway Tokyo studio does. The studio's ceaseless, almost careless invention is often remarked upon. But what I love particularly about the Double Cherry is not that it's one of the best gameplay ideas in a gamethat possesses hundreds of them, but the kind of idea that it is; what it represents.

The Double Cherry adds an extra Mario on screen and its effect stacks, so you can keep copying and pasting our hero as you pick up more cherries - and you stay in full control of all of them. Like the ability to fly granted by Super Mario Bros 3's Tanooki suit and Super Mario World's cape, it's an outrageous move: the kind that shouldn't work, that should break the level design. It doesn't, of course, because this is Nintendo, but it lets you feel like you're breaking the rules of thegame world even as the designers stay one step ahead, inventing new rules around it and then inviting you to break those. Now that's what I call classic Super Mario: a conceptual hall of mirrors masquerading as a children's plaything.

The Double Cherry is exactly the sort of feature I feared this game wouldn't have. As much as I loved its 3DS predecessor Super Mario 3D Land, ever since Galaxy 2 I have been worried that Mario has been getting a little too comfortable in his own skin, following the rules rather than always seeking to break them. This concern was not at all alleviated at E3, when I saw that EAD Tokyo's first work on Wii U would be a straight sequel to the 3DS game with New Super Mario Bros' multiplayer added. Yet how wrong I was, as I freely admitted after viewing the year's best game trailer, a couple of minutes of astonishing footage that served up a new gameplay idea every five seconds - and yet kept plenty in store to surprise us in the game itself.

3D World is not destined to rank among my all-time favourite Mario games; it's almost too quickfire, the levels too succinctly articulated. I like it when the series stretches its legs a little and really starts to warm to a theme, as it did in the incomparable World, 64 and Galaxy. I also prefer the elastic momentum of the fully analogue controls of previous 3D Marios to the more taut eight-way directional controls used here so the game could support the Wii remote's d-pad. A fair compromise to allow easy local multiplayer, perhaps, but it still stings.

But just look at what else was compromised in Super Mario 3D World: nothing at all. Raw invention and fun, delivered at an inviolable 60 frames per second, without a single glitch, stutter or lull. In a very real sense, there's not another game released this year than can match that.