Eurogamer 2011: Super Mario 3D Land Hands-On
For any new Nintendo console, the arrival of its first brand new Mario game is a landmark moment like no other in the gaming industry. The Wii got the majestic Super Mario Galaxy which continues to reach the heights of best game lists and the DS received the first 2D Mario game in some time in the form of New Super Mario Bros. For the 3DS, Nintendo have taken what they learnt from both the Wii and DS Mario debuts and put them together to form Super Mario 3D Land, an entirely new take on the traditional platforming genre.
On the face of it, Mario 3D Land is your standard 3D Mario platformer, and that’s certainly true the first time you play it. Anyone who has played Galaxy will instantly feel at home with navigating around the 3D landscapes but all too soon it becomes apparent that this is not the same style of game as Galaxy, Sunshine or Mario 64. In fact, the game is much more akin to New Super Mario Bros and Super Mario World, as while the game world is in three dimensions, the gameplay style is still decidedly 2D. Confused? Allow me to elaborate.
The first thing you will notice when navigating Mario around is how painfully slow he is to move and how increasing the slide of the circle pad appears to do nothing to increase Mario’s forward velocity. To begin with I just assumed that the slow speed was an inherent feature of the game, but cast your minds back to early Mario titles and the reason becomes clear. Mario 3D Land features for the first time in a 3D Mario platformer, a run button, which like in the classic 2D games, needs to be held down to accelerate the plumber through the levels. It is this, and this alone that makes Mario 3D Land so much more than a simple iteration of the franchise and takes the meaning of 2.5D platforming to a whole new level.
Mario 3D Land is essentially a classic 2D Mario platformer but with an extra dimension added in, much in the same way that Super Paper Mario was a 2D game but could be looked at in 3D. Imagine that Super Mario World is the 2D version of Super Paper Mario and Mario 3D Land is the 3D switched version, which reveals everything you could not see before. It’s an ingenious way of retaining the much beloved simplicity of New Super Mario Bros while drafting in the boundless creativity the three dimensional environments afforded the development team in Galaxy.
But that’s not to say the gameplay is simply run and jump, as Mario has learnt some new tricks in his time away from the screen. While the triple jump is mysteriously absent, ground pounds, backflips and long jumps all make a return, along with a new roll move which is initiated by tapping the shoulder button. I’m still not entirely sure what the usage of this will be, as it appeared only to be useful in smashing cardboard cutouts of Goombas, but given that it has its own button I would assume that there will be some inventive uses of it later in the game, perhaps to roll under obstacles for example.
At this point I should probably mention the Tanooki Suit, as it was the key concept Nintendo were promoting in the demo, with Mario always being able to equip the Suit via the touch screen, much like the item storage found in New Super Mario Bros. While the Tanooki Suit is not the same suit we all remember from Super Mario Bros 3, the new version does allow you to perform the classic tail spin attack and now also allows you to glide softly to the ground, something which is incredibly useful when lining up an attack on a Goomba in three dimensions. Mario also feels much lighter with the suit on, which nicely counter-balances the somewhat heavy feel of him without the suit. The Fire Flower also makes a return as usual, but now ricochets around corners, which adds a nice new tactical element to its usage.
Much like the gameplay, the level designs are a nice mix of old and new, bringing the best of 2D Mario into the third dimension while retaining that classic feel. On the most part, the levels themselves retain a linear path to them like in the 2D games, but now feature multiple routes in which to pass through them. In one of the levels I tried, it was possible to either go the long way around a pit, long jump it or go up an over it on moving platforms. Each way yielded a different reward, be it a shorter time, a power up or one of the three Star Coins that are hidden in every level. Naturally not all levels have as much choice, as the fortress level against a returning Boom Boom was linear from start to finish, culminating in a rather trivial and easy battle against the boss.
Nintendo have clearly spent time figuring out clever ways in which to use the extra dimension of gameplay they have added, as levels dart in and out of the screen constantly, and often spread expansively into the distance, challenging you to find the quickest or best route to the other side. Making its first appearance in a 3D Mario game is the flagpole, which can either be tackled head-on for a small points bonus or tackled by finding something tall to jump off. How difficult or varied this will be is yet to be seen, with the level I played featuring the traditional staircase to leap off.
Despite the inventiveness and degree of choice you get when exploring the levels, from what I played the game overall does seem a bit on the easy side, as I managed to accidentally stumble across all three Star Coins on my way through the level. Add that to the aforementioned easy boss battle against Boom Boom and you have to wonder whether this was just an initial taste of what is to come or representative of the entire experience. According to the demo, these levels were from World 2, so I can only assume the game gets much more difficult later on. To answer that we will have to wait until the game’s release.
Now onto the question you’re all waiting to be answered; does the 3D effect make a big difference? Well the answer to that is yes and no. While it certainly helps highlight the areas in which Mario moves closer or farther from the screen it doesn’t really change much overall. It was never really a problem to identify where Mario was on screen in Galaxy and you will still instinctively look for shadows when timing a jump or landing on a Goomba. The few clever uses of hanging blocks on the closest wall but making it seem like they’re further away do make a good use of 3D, but it’s made redundant by the fact that as soon as you walk behind the block Mario naturally disappears and you can work it out from there. Overall I think the 3D will become something worth playing the game for, but it will take time to break the old habits you have from previous games in the series.
Graphically, the game looks very impressive and is easily the most bright and cheery game on the 3DS to date. All the colours just seem to be cranked up to 11, making it incredibly easy to identify objects and also keeping that traditional Mario feel. The character models also look great and are comparable to Galaxy, although I would say that while comparable, they’re not as good; but comparable to a home console is an impressive achievement nonetheless. Audio quality is as good as you would expect from a Mario game, with the music being brilliant and instantly memorable, although I could not ascertain whether or not it is orchestrated or not. My guess would be not based purely on the size of a 3DS cart’s memory.
What we have here then is a Mario game like no other. Its roots are fundamentally in the classic 2D era of platforming but it has been given a fresh twist by adding in an extra dimension to run around in. Once again, Miyamoto has managed to take the Mario franchise and create a new aspect of a series that looked like this time it could struggle to eclipse what went before it. By taking the game down this path, it is incomparable to what came before and could potentially become the new benchmark for 2.5D platforming. What is certain though is that this will be a worthy Mario title to mark the true arrival of the 3DS.