Nintendo is the master of nostalgia. Not exactly surprising, given that the company has been responsible for some of the greatest and most iconic computer games of all time. But even 26 years on, running through yet another re-imagination of Bowser’s lava-filled castle from Super Mario Bros’ World 1-4 doesn’t feel grating at all. It feels pleasantly comfy.
I looked at some early code for Super Mario 3D Land back at E3
and felt that it was a fusion of all the best elements from Super Mario Bros 3
, Super Mario 64
and Super Mario Galaxy
. But for all its familiarity, the game still contains a fresh and delightfully engaging experience. That inexplicable balance is why I use the word ‘master’ to refer to Nintendo.
Recently, I had the opportunity to play a more complete version of the game, which allowed me to run through World 1-1 to World 2-3. You know the story by now - Princess Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser and taken away to his lair, the little mushroom people cry and Mario has to save the day. Scenes are detailed via still frame cartoons with the same charming art style as Super Mario Bros 3
There are a lot of positively retro throwbacks here besides the core gameplay. Levels are separated with a 2D World map that sees Mario journey to the end-of-World castle (or flying battleship) for rescuing duties. Mushroom houses return, and offer special prizes that can be mapped to the Super Mario World
-esque item reserve on the touch screen. There are also bonus stages that can be played if you have collected enough Star Coins to unlock them.
Each of the stages I played offered a new kind of platforming challenge. Some were updated, tweaked versions of levels I had already tackled at E3 - a camera angle change here, a few new enemies there, the removal of certain platforms... it was quite interesting to play.
The first stage - the lush green overworld I previously wrote about - contains a manner of cardboard Goombas and babbling brooks as you get to grips with the running, jumping and rolling mechanics. Which, to anyone who’s played a 3D Mario
game before, feels like putting on an old glove.
Then you have to climb a rockface, which requires timed jumps as you traverse moving platforms and past waterfalls. This sort of gameplay is where the 3D effects of Nintendo’s new handheld can help in terms of judging distance - I found it simpler to leap between floating blocks, but when it came to dealing with moving enemies it was slightly more difficult than what I was used to.
You can also find help in the form of green binoculars dotted around certain levels. I can imagine these represent a more discrete form of Nintendo’s Super Guide, first introduced in New Super Mario Bros. Wii
to help players overcome challenging parts of a game. Here though, the binoculars simply allow you to assess all the dangers in a given area. Sometimes, you’ll see Toad calling for your attention - focus on him, and he’ll demonstrate a hint or chuck out a Star Coin for you to collect.
Other stages had some really nice set-pieces that allowed the 3D to take centre stage. One level is situated high in the air, and Mario has to make his way downwards by landing on clouds and other safe platforms towards the goal. The final segment brings the camera close behind Mario as he plummets down on top of the flagpole and clouds whizz past him. It’s very nice.
Underworld stages give off that classic NES feel while still representing a modern challenge, with ink-spitting piranha plants obscuring your vision as you try to balance your way along rotating platforms.
The obligatory ‘platform-hopping in the air’ stages have been recreated with some dynamic 3D camera angles, and there’s even a stage that launches Mario onto massive retro sprites of Princess Peach, mushrooms and other characters from the original Super Mario Bros
. You’ll be able to use the crazy helicopter box from NSMBWii
to fly upwards from sprite to sprite, thankfully.
This is looking like the perfect reason to invest in a Nintendo 3DS this year, and its release in November really can’t come quickly enough. Everyone loves a bit of Mario, but this is looking like pure portable platforming genius at its very best.