Taking the Classics into the Third Dimension

Notes from the Mushroom Kingdom

When the Nintendo 64 was announced and Nintendo promised that they would create a Mario game that would take the plumber into the third dimension for the first time, many cried that it couldn’t be done. Something would be lost, and the series would lose its appeal. Nintendo duly proved them wrong with the sublime Super Mario 64, and then went even further and brought its other series up to date, with Zelda, Metroid and even Kirby making the successful transition from 2D to 3D. Roll forward to 2011 and we’re looking again at a shift in dimension, but this time Nintendo has a two pronged attack.

Naturally, the 3DS will be home to brand new, bespoke games that are set in a 3D universe and make full use of the 3DS’s features, but Nintendo has something else planned for the system. Shown off as a technical demo at E3, and then confirmed for the eShop at GDC 2011, Nintendo are planning on bringing back classic games in 3D. No we’re not talking Super Mario World -> Super Mario 64 kinds of 3D transition, we’re talking about taking Super Mario World and making that existing game have 3D graphics on a 2D plane. Sound confusing? Read on…

If you understand the concept at work here then skip onto the next paragraph as this one will be an explanation for the gamers out there who are utterly confused by the prospect of 3D Classics. Essentially Nintendo will be going back through its 2D library, so that’s NES, SNES and potentially some Game Boy games (although these are not confirmed) and re-releasing the very best on the 3DS. You may be thinking now that you already own these on the Wii’s Virtual Console, and beyond the portability factor, you’re not getting much more. You would be wrong to think this. What Nintendo plan to do is to take the sprites of the game, and pull them out towards you, giving a sense of depth to the gameplay. Take for instance Super Mario Bros. In the 3D Classic version, the background would be further back than the blocks, Goombas and various other items in game, adding depth. And of course when Mario got to the castle, he would walk away from you INTO the castle rather than his sprite just disappearing. Everyone get it now? Good, let’s continue.

Welcome back to those of you that skipped ahead, we’re all back together now and on the same page. While the 3D Classics have now been confirmed by Reggie Fils-Aime as being a part of the eShop, they haven’t had much coverage beyond references to them from E3 last year. To me, this seems a bit odd as this will inevitably be a money spinner for Nintendo. But nonetheless, they’re here now (well they will be in May), and I couldn’t be happier with the news.

Now I’m sure many of you are of the school of thought that says ‘why should I buy these again, I just downloaded them onto my Wii!’. They are all naturally available on the Virtual Console or on the original consoles, so I can see the thought process there, but for me, the 3D Classics offer a different take on an existing game, and it’s an exciting fresh new take that keeps the classic feeling of the game intact. With the Ocarina of Time 3D update, we’re getting a brand new coat of paint, some tweaks to the interface and many other little changes here and there. While this is my most anticipated launch window game, the fact remains that Ocarina 3D will be remembered as Ocarina 3D, and not as the original game. The new graphics will change the game from the original, and therefore it will be new and different. With the 3D Classics series, Nintendo are maintaining the original, now iconic, graphics, but adding a 3D layer so you can see them in a slightly different way. The original is maintained, but is brought into the 21st Century at little cost to the developer. It’s a guaranteed money spinner for Nintendo, but it’s also a chance for us gamers to get something great in return. Everyone’s a winner.

Now obviously some games will benefit from this slight viewpoint change more than others. The Super Mario games will naturally feature the backdrop offset to the main action, and as referenced earlier, will most likely see Mario walking back into castles at the end of the level. It’s a small change but one that is a fresh take on the game. The original The Legend of Zelda and a Link to the Past will also benefit from the 3D, with the original’s flat maps now allowed to expand outwards to you, allowing the gamer to identify untraversable areas easier. Metroid, Kid Icarus and Kirby can have a similar treatment to the Mario games and F-Zero will look nothing short of brilliant in a new dimension. The possibilities and the potential here is limitless, and the service, if done correctly, is a great way to breathe new life into some classics, while maintaining the feel of the originals.

The other big point about these games is of course portability. The ability to take an original specification copy of Super Mario Bros with me wherever I go sounds like a great idea to me, and to have it literally at my fingertips through the Menu at all times just adds to the appeal.

Pricing will be the biggest issue though. While Nintendo have traditionally charged reasonable figures for their Virtual Console games, a copy of a 20+ year old game remastered in 3D may not be able to fetch as high a price. The Virtual Console service barely gets away with it due to the points system, but with actual money taking over on the eShop, the pricing will be obvious from the start. In my mind, a similar price to the NES/SNES games on the Virtual Console would suit this service, although I fear it may be a little higher due to the 3D conversion needed on each game.

While Nintendo have yet to make a big deal out of this service, there is no denying that it has the potential to be something great. I for one know that as soon as Super Mario World is remastered in 3D I will be on the eShop quicker than you can say “Yoshi!”, buying that game not only for the new graphical effects, but also to have a decent copy of it on the move. It’s a service that other developers could also buy into, and with rumours of a Sonic 3DS: Anniversary Edition in the works, it would seem other developers are already getting their own ideas. One thing is for sure though; if you keep an eye on only one extra 3DS feature, this is one you should keep an eye on. It has the potential to be huge.

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