Giving the reins of Mario’s first ever 3DS outing to the team who developed both of the Wii’s tremendous Super Mario Galaxy titles was a very bright move for all manner of reasons, but mainly because Super Mario 3D Land toys with perspective almost as much as those two did. You’re constantly flung between Galaxy-like three dimensional spaces and the more traditional 2D plains of the original Mario games, and they’re blended together so seamlessly that you often won’t spot the join. Visually, this is easily the slickest looking 3DS game by quite a substantial margin.
There’s a level in the game’s first world – which we played through more-or-less in its entirety – in which your perspective changes midway through, and Mario is suddenly tasked with making his way down the side of a towering mountain, while you control him from above. It brings out the best in the 3D effects (which are probably the most impressive and unintrusive seen on the console to date) and it displays the exciting ‘anything goes’ mindset of its creators in the same way that those marvellous Wii games did.
What wasn’t clear after our hands-on with the game earlier this year (which you can still read about here) was whether or not the levels were going to be based around some kind of hub world or not. It turns out that Nintendo have gone for something much more traditional here, with menus that are similar to those seen in New Super Mario Bros Wii and DS. And that classic structure, first established in Super Mario Bros 3 – with each world having a halfway-point boss encounter and a Bowser skirmish at the end – is also back in business.
The ‘Challenge Coins’ that first featured in the original Super Mario Galaxy also return here, and look as if they’ll involve quite a bit of investigative trial and error before you’ll be able to figure out how to reach them. A couple of levels that we played through also housed a charming new mini-game involving fixed pairs of binoculars. When you find one of them, you are encouraged to gaze over the level through them until you spot a distressed-looking Toad. Zoom into his position and you’re rewarded with a special bonus coin, although it wasn’t immediately clear what this currency could be used for.
As expected, each level climaxed with Mario leaping onto a flagpole, and his first encounter with Bowser is directly reminiscent of level 1-4 from the very first Super Mario Bros game on the NES, with Mario avoiding conflict altogether and instead finding a way to nip underneath Bowser mid-jump, before hitting a switch that retracted the walkway underneath him. Camera angles continued to be playfully messed about with during the finale, and at one point we had to race towards Bowser while he hurled fireballs directly at the screen.
Based on this premier world, Super Mario 3D Land already feels like it could be a cast-iron classic. Although it’s far from tough, there are more than enough moments of old-school challenge that directly call the likes of Super Mario Bros 3 to mind, and the gracious health bar that featured in both Galaxy games is now gone: replaced by the vintage system that causes Mario to shrink if he’s hit once, and perish if he’s hit again. Our princess still wasn’t in that first castle, but we’re now counting the days until we can persevere with our search.
Super Mario 3D Land is due for release on the Nintendo 3DS on Friday November 18th 2011.
Watch the Super Mario 3D Land trailer below: