We played Mario 3DS! Here’s what we thought

With over 25 years in the platforming business and still going strong, Nintendo’s endearingly rotund little plumber returns for another koopa-stomping, coin-collecting, 3D platforming adventure in Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS.

With each new iteration of Nintendo hardware comes a new Mario game to take center stage and shake-up the platforming genre, introducing new concepts that change the way Mario games are played. Thanks to the stereoscopic 3D features of the 3DS, the world’s most famous plumber gets to show off his stuff like never before.

“From what I played of the demo, most of the features of the 3DS were either seriously underused or completely ignored.”

While there was a tremendous amount of buzz surrounding the Wii U and the latest entries in the Zelda and Mario series on the Wii at E3 this year, Super Mario 3D Land was, without question, the most popular 3DS title at the Nintendo booth with a long line of Super Mario demo stations lining one of the walls of the 3DS area, with every station occupied. At first it seemed futile to wait for an opening to appear, but as luck would have it, one did open up and I swooped in before anyone else noticed.

While still a little early in its development, the E3 demo featured 4 playable levels that were selectable from the main screen. The first 3 were platforming levels with the last one reserved as a boss fight against one of Bowser’s henchmen. Of course, we played through all 4 levels, twice, and in the end came away pretty jazzed about Mario’s 3DS adventure.

With a few exceptions, the world of Mario has pretty much always been a bright and colorful place filled with all kinds of platforming challenges and enemies that, for the most part, looked somewhat harmless, but were all lethal to the touch. Fortunately, Super Mario doesn’t disappoint in that regard as the game retains the look and feel of the 2D classics, with all of the free-roaming 3D exploration found in the more modern titles, effectively giving players the best of both worlds.

You’ll be hard-pressed to not experience a sense of nostalgia while exploring all of the worlds the game has to offer. Just the short run-through the E3 demo felt like a nostalgic romp through familiar territory as there were a number of moments in the game that felt remarkably similar to moments in the original Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World. It’s almost as if the development team took some of the best elements from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64, mixed them all together and the result was Super Mario 3D Land.

While the graphics aren’t fancy in any way, it’s the simplicity of the visuals that has always given the series its charm. The visuals are further enhanced by the stereoscopic 3D capabilities of the 3DS hardware, which is a little more than just for show as it allows players to gauge depth and distance a little better while jumping from platform to platform.

The worlds of Super Mario 3D Land fit the Mario mold to a tee as they vary from bright and colorful to dark and dangerous with Mario making his way across vast green fields, snowy landscapes, haunted mansions, underwater levels, as well as taking the adventure high up into the sky aboard enemy airships and down into evil boss castles, with each of these areas presenting a different variety of enemies and platforming challenges for players to overcome.

The enemies in the game are comprised of a lot of familiar faces from past Mario games such as Koopa Troopas, Goombas, Piranha Plants, Bullet Bills, as well as all-new enemies and variations on old ones like tall Goomba stacks, tailed Goombas, ink-spitting piranha plants and underwater monsters among others.

While most of the enemies in the demo were dispatched with relative ease, some of the enemy encounters were further compounded by various platforming challenges we had to get through. The platforming in 3D Land varies in complexity and ranges from simple moving platforms, to one of my personal favorites - tricky platforming bits where time isn’t a luxury you’re afforded with, and you have to remain in constant forward motion, relying on quick reflexes to successfully negotiate a bunch of moving and spinning platforms, all while a scrolling viewpoint threatens to crush or push Mario to his doom.

“While the graphics aren’t fancy in any way, it’s the simplicity of the visuals that has always given the series its charm.”

There was one area in particular that was very reminiscent of Super Mario World and was easily the most challenging part of the demo. It involved jumping on a large green switch that made a bunch of moving platforms appear. The challenge came from hopping onto the rear platform and trying to quickly work our way to the lead platform as the whole thing continued moving in a snake-like manner over one of the game’s many death drops while the rear platforms continuously vanished. All this while dodging airborne enemies and racing against the clock to make it to the next area before the audible timer ran out, and all of the platforms vanished, sending Mario on a downward spiral to his death.

Fortunately, the game controls great with the circle pad and Mario is always ready for action and is equipped to handle whatever Bowser and his goons try to throw at him. Always the quick and agile little plumber, Mario has a variety of moves in his arsenal to help get him through the psychedelic new 3D world he finds himself in.

Standard Mario moves include dashing, crouching, jumping, performing wall jumps, long jumps, forward and backwards somersaults, a rolling somersault attack, and a ground pound attack where Mario leaps into the air and drops his ass on top of an enemy’s head to crush their souls.

The series’ staple of taking enemies out by jumping and stomping them on top of their heads, or launching koopa shells at them, remains intact. As do a number of other things such as the ability to obtain power-ups to give Mario a much needed edge against the enemies he encounters.

Unfortunately, despite the stereoscopic 3D display, Super Mario 3D Land suffered from the same issue I initially had with New Super Mario Bros. for the DS. And that’s that it failed to break any new ground and relied mostly on standard Mario gameplay elements that were pretty much old hat by now. From what I played of the demo, most of the features of the 3DS were either seriously underused or completely ignored. The game’s touch screen functionality appeared to be limited to just rotating the 3D camera and accessing stored power-ups. There was no innovative use of the touch screen, the mic, the camera, or the gyroscopic sensor, which was a shame. Hopefully Nintendo will have some surprises in store for us regarding that stuff.

Minor disappointments aside, there’s a lot to love about Super Mario 3D Land. Fans of the classic Mario games will probably love this game as it seems to borrow heavily from past Mario games dating all the way back to the original Super Mario Bros. with all of the pipe warping to hidden areas and end-level flag pole jumping for bonus points. Most of the levels we played had that old school Mario magic, which made for a short, but fun-filled romp through seemingly familiar territory.

Mario die-hards and fans of old school platformers will find lots to love about this one. Super Mario 3D Land is currently slated for a November 2011 release, keep it tuned to Kikizo for more info on Mario’s first 3DS adventure.


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