It was with a jump, double-jump and ensuing somersault that I eagerly ventured across to play Super Mario 3D Land at Nintendo’s recent UK Showcase. Such acrobatic manoeuvres have been a staple talent of the portly Italian plumber across his 3D outings since his Nintendo 64 days. Yet, such moves were a surprising absence within his Nintendo 3DS debut.
There can be no mistaking that Nintendo are, in part, returning Mario to his roots, but that shouldn’t immediately be interpreted as a backward step. Making sure to retain the characterful art style of his galactic Wii adventures, this has then been underpinned by a conscientious blend of 2D/3D gameplay that is undoubtedly enhanced by the visual depth offered through the widely plauded glasses-free stereoscopic 3D capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS.
In short, this is the Mario that you know and love, complete with its own share of new tricks alongside old favourites making their return – seemingly counter-balancing the aforementioned removal of the beloved triple-jump! The demo build available at Nintendo’s recent UK Showcase event provided the opportunity to whizz through four stages, hinting at the gameplay variety that is set to be on offer when the game hits shelves later this year.
First up was World 2-1, resplendent with its luscious green pastures and immediate threat of marauding Goombas. Initially it took a short while to get used to the sense of visual depth within the 3D environment – such as judging jumping onto enemies to take them out – but it didn’t take too long to adjust. New additions soon appeared, including wooden Goomba cut-outs that hid the true foes in ambush behind them, musical note jump blocks which were previously seen in the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3 and a perspective-based puzzle to claim a Comet Medal hidden in a nearby Green Warp Pipe. This was also my first encounter with the welcome return of the Tanooki, or Raccoon, Suit, which now allows Mario to utilise the tail to perform a simple melee attack or to briefly glide in mid-air. Minor platform challenges then ensued, before the level rounded off with a leap onto the ‘End of Level Flag’ which also makes a return within this title. A positive start indeed.
Onto World 2-1 then, and an entirely different side-scrolling experience along a darkened corridor that easily best demonstrated the 2D/3D fusion that Nintendo have envisioned. Green Shells aplenty to allow Mario to bowl over approaching Goombas, the most interesting encounter to note of was with a Black Pirahna Plant that blocks your view by squirting ink over the screen a la Mario Kart Wii style. Swinging spiked balls, a rickety bridge and these menacing enemies will no doubt proved a challenge but one that was carefully overcome. I dread to think how such situations will become increasingly frustrating as the difficulty ramps up later in the game though…
World 3-3 sees Mario atop a platform in the sky from which he must use a series of Green Flip Panels to allow the course to unfold before him. Speed is of the essence here, however, as you’ll soon find pieces disappearing from under you feet if you begin to dawdle. Things become more tricky when you find yourself having to utilise two panels at once – one providing a surface for you to wall-jump from onto a higher ledge provided by the other. Warp Boxes also appear allowing transport either between different sections of the level or to bonus rooms whose access is usually provided by Warp Pipes.
Last up was World 2-5, which was most reminiscent of Bowser Jr.’s Fearsome Fleet from Super Mario Galaxy 2. This was the most visually diverse and challenging world on offer, with Mario finding himself facing fiery flames and swarms of Bullet Bills. This all preceded a mini-Boss encounter with none other than Boom Boom who harks back from the days of Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s certainly nice to see Nintendo incorporating such ‘retro throwbacks’ for fans that have extensively played the Super Mario series – let’s hope we see plenty more within the full version!
With Nintendo 3DS owners bemoaning a current lack of first=party software, Nintendo have once again proven that they can turn to Mario to provide that necessary magic touch. Following in the footsteps of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a daunting task, but through a unique mixture of old and new Super Mario 3D Land is sure to impress.