Super Mario 3D Land Hands-On Preview [Nintendo Holiday ’11]

The world’s most famous plumber is making a return to our pixellated hearts later this month, with Super Mario 3D Land. Developed by the folks behind the Super Mario Galaxy franchise and available exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS, this much-anticipated platformer is sure to endear itself to the gaming community. Fans have been waiting a while for Mario’s first appearance on his parent company’s new, high-tech portable system. Expectations are high and the anticipation is evident, with many hoping it’ll be one of the iconic series’ best entries yet. Having played parts of the game at Nintendo’s Holiday 2011 Preview Event, I’m expecting this title to release to an approving audience.

On my way to the event in downtown Toronto, Super Mario 3D Land was one of the games which I kept thinking about. Since childhood, I’ve put hours upon hours into almost all of the Italian plumber’s jump-filled adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond. Like most gamers, this is a franchise which I grew up adoring; one which defined the term video gaming. Then again, it’s hard not to like fun, constantly innovative and colourful games; especially when their controls are nearly perfect. At no surprise to you, our valued readers, it was one of the games I spent the most time with during my two hours at Nintendo‘s office.

Upon sitting down in the office chair in front of the handheld device running the game’s demo, past memories with the series came back to me. Looking down was a treat, when I noticed that the demo was split up into four different parts. It meant more time to check out the game (or at least, an excuse to do so.) Plus, a decent amount of hands on experience to share within the written terminology and description found within this article.

The purpose of the demo was to showcase a few different styles of gameplay found inside of the full game. Its first preview was a basic platforming section, which took place on a floating plot of land. In true, classic Mario fashion, the player’s aim was to make it through the level, while picking up as many secret coins as possible along the way. Then, like in days of yore, the stage concluded with a high jump onto a flagged pole. Points were awarded for height and accuracy.

Other portions of the demo took place in varying areas, such as an underground world and a different type of floating landmass. The latter stage focused a lot on switch puzzles. Stepping on a pressure switch would instigate the creation of green (timed) platforms. Stepping on a few of them in succession would end up forming a set of steps, which would need to be quickly scaled before the platforms faded back into oblivion. Failure to do so would cost a 1-up.

Last but certainly not least was a retro-inspired boss stage. It took the form of one of the classic koopa ship levels, where Mario must hop over large-faced bullets in order to get from one point to another. The goal was to get from the back of the ship to its front, where a door gave access to a boss battle against a spinning koopa. His mechanics reminded me of similar boss fights found in early series releases, with the three hit rule employed. As gaming has progressed, I’ve noticed this boss structure employed in many games.

What I played of Super Mario 3D Land brought back memories of the original Super Mario Bros. games, mixed in with Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy. All of those games are near and dear to my gaming heart. In fact, I’d call each one a favourite. Platforming, flattening enemies and bullet-avoidance were key elements within the demonstration. What fans will be most happy about though, is the inclusion of the tanooki suit from Super Mario Bros. 3. Its tail-waving flight is instrumental in helping the player get to certain areas. This leads to the discovery of special coins and the like.

Platforming was a bit easier in 3D than it was in 2D, as the effect gave the world some extra on-screen depth. There isn’t a huge difference to be found, but it was somewhat noticeable that the device’s highly-touted ability made things simpler to gauge. While jumping great distances, either to the right or from foreground to background, things were made a bit easier with this technological inclusion.

Every aspect of the game pops with colour and an air of accessibility. The world feels alive with varied enemies, interesting puzzles and nice details. It also seems quite varied with uniquely interesting environments available for exploration. Sometimes the player will come across comedic diversions, such as cardboard cut-out goombas, which are placed around the world as a bit of a joke. Looking at them in 3D is pretty neat.

Based on my time with the red plumber’s latest adventure, I can safely recommend it with quality praise. The team at Nintendo have done a good job of creating a retro-inspired yet somewhat modern take on the classic platforming series, which is sure to interest die-hard fans and newcomers alike. I personally cannot wait to put more time into this one. It will surely end up being one of the handheld’s best titles yet.

Super Mario 3D Land will be available on November 13, 2011. It is exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS.