By Kevin Douglas Femmel
(Oct 25, 2011) — With the first original 3D Mario game coming out in about three weeks in North America we got some time to try out Super Mario 3D Land for ourselves. Does it hold a candle to the terrific Galaxy series? Is it more of a 2D or 3D Mario game in terms of level design? Our preview was short, but it left me wanting more and gave me a very good idea of what the final product will be like.
Let me begin by saying that Super Mario 64 is my favorite game of all time personally. There are many reasons for that which I won’t go into detail about, but one of the things I loved about Super Mario 64 was the exploration. The idea that I didn’t know what I was going to find and some hidden easter eggs just fell into my lap while others I had to search endlessly for. The hub world in Mario 64, Peach’s castle, is still one of the features I think of when I imagine a 3D Mario adventure. I wonder what the new hub world will be like.
Well, the hub is no more.
Super Mario 3D Land, like Super Mario Galaxy 2, sports no real hub world. You scroll through levels much like in Galaxy 2, going from one to the other instead of finding the way to access the level in an already large stage. I didn’t like this in Galaxy 2, but I can understand it for 3D Land. 3D Land is a portable game, and it does help the ability to pick up and play the game if you don’t have to wait to get straight into the action. Mario 3D Land is also broken up into 8 worlds each with nearly as many stages. The final game seems like it will end up having between 60-80 stages overall, not including bonus areas so you won’t be able to get all 120 stars.
Oh, yea. There are no power stars. You complete a stage by ascending to the top of a flagpole. Much like 2D Mario games before it, getting as close to the top of the flag pole will net you a bonus life and extra points. While this is fine and dandy, I will miss the power stars. The stars could have a unique twist. Some would require you to beat a boss, some would require you to shimmy along a narrow ledge to get to it. With the flagpoles the end of stages are pretty straight forward and lack a bit of the creativity found in other 3D Mario games.
Lastly, there is no triple jump. Try as you might, tapping A to jump in succession three times will only make Mario jump three ordinary jumps. Mario can long jump and perform back flips as well as wall jump. It seemed odd at first to take out the triple jump, especially it would look awesome in 3D. But the camera stays so far back during game play that I don’t see much use for the triple jump, and when you would normally use it Nintendo has replaced the triple jump with music note platforms that will launch Mario higher should he need to get something out of reach. The same triple jump effect can be replicated on the many tight ropes that seem to inhabit a lot of stages in Super Mario 3D Land. So while the triple jump is MIA the levels are designed in a way to make you forget that you can’t do it.
The 3D effect is pretty key. While you can certainly get a great sense of enjoyment out of the game without 3D, the 3D adds a lot to the experience. Right away I was able to judge long jumps with more accuracy and figure out if I’m going to miss a platform or not. You should explore everything in each stage, climbing up trees in stage 1-1 for example will lead you to find extra items and lives. One tree lead me to a warp pipe. When standing on a warp pipe you press L to warp down. I warped into a small cube area where there were blocks set out and some stood out in the foreground, others in the background. The 3D effect made this area look stunning and having 3D at full blast didn’t phase me as much as it does in other 3DS titles.
Mario couldn’t punch in the demo I played, but he will have a rolling ability in the final game. For whatever reason, I didn’t discover this ability in my time with the game, but as one of our commenters points you execute it with a combination of buttons. Cort from GoNintendo has made me aware that Mario’s rolling ability will not be an actual attack, and it won’t do damage to enemies. Mario can butt stomp enemies beneath him, and the Tanooki suit allows him to wack just about anything in his way. The Tanooki suit grants Mario with the ability to slowly float down from great heights, and it was useful for correcting yourself when you time a jump wrong or go too far.
Motion controls make an appearance whenever Mario looks through a telescope or gets inside a cannon. You use the motion controls to steer where you want Mario to look, or which direction to fire him towards. The graphics were between Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. Mario looked good, and the environment certainly showed the 3DS is much more powerful than its predecessor, the DS. I didn’t see anything that stood out as particularly good looking like the water in the Bee stages in Super Mario Galaxy or the fur on the Queen Bee in Galaxy as well. Aside from that, it is one of the best looking 3DS games in motion. The frame rate never encounters a hiccup, even when switching between 2D and 3D.
Fans who were concerned when they heard Mario had a “run” button like in Super Mario 64 DS shouldn’t worry. While yes, holding the Y button will make Mario run faster, he runs at a good speed without holding it. One of the common complaints about Super Mario 64 DS was how slow Mario moved if you didn’t hold down the Y button to run. You will want to use the Y button to run a lot, but it isn’t entirely required. Mario moves at a brisk pace even if you aren’t holding down Y, and both L and R will make him crouch or make him perform a long jump or back flip.
There were hidden goodies in the levels I played as well. Making Mario run through a particular number of dandelions on screen will make an item appear. Should you already have a Tanooki power up deployed on Mario and you find another one, it will go down to the bottom screen and wait for you if you should take damage. Simply tap the item on the lower screen, like in New Super Mario Bros DS, and it will appear on the top screen for you to use. Be careful though, because each time you do this you will lose the item you had waiting before that newest one. Meaning if you have a Tanooki power up on the bottom screen, and you pick up a regular mushroom power up, you lose the Tanooki power up altogether. Each stage has a timer. Yes, a timer. One of the rewards for exploring stages is hidden time extensions. Some will slow down time or add time, thus giving you justification for taking the risk of wasting precious time.
Super Mario 3D Land is shaping up to be a greatest hits of sorts of Mario games. It does feel unique and original, while combining the different things we love about the 3D and 2D games. It has a slew of new power ups, like the boomerang suit, that will be unique additions to a tried and true formula. One way to describe the game is it uses 2D Mario’s world navigation, 3D Mario’s level exploration and 2D Mario’s level objectives. You can look forward to getting your owns hands on Mario’s first outing on 3DS on November 13th.