Super Mario 3D Land Hands-On Preview

By Peter Willington on September 27, 2011, 5:58PM EDT

With such a strong presence from Sony's new Vita portable at Eurogamer Expo, Nintendo really had to bring out the big guns to remind the 3DS faithful why they invested in their currently troubled new hardware. If there's one weapon in their armoury with the clout to do so, it would surely be the latest adventure starring what must be the most iconic character in video games, the much loved mascot: Mario.

Showing off four levels from early in the game may not have been Nintendo's wisest move however, each segment feeling small, disjointed and overly simple, the focus less on precision platforming and intricate spatial design, but more on running past enemies while easily avoiding pitfalls. The bad guys you love to squash are all here: Koopa Troopers on their patrols, regular and flying Goombas making a beeline toward you, Piranha Plants futilely snapping at the plumber as he wanders past. Few presented a challenge and were easily dispatched, especially with the return of the spin attack conferred upon you from the Tanooki suit.

The reappearance of this rare item from Super Mario Bros. 3 isn't the only nod to what is arguably the best entry amongst the peerless platformer's pantheon, most of the visual cues can be traced back to the third game. This was especially evident in the fourth level on offer, a revisit to the Airship Fortresses that bookmarked each world of the 1988 release. A constantly scrolling level, fire throwing cannons, Bullet Bills and a boss battle with Roy Koopa were all present, the added 3rd dimension of Super Mario 3D Land's play presenting just enough change to the formula to give the old guard challenges of such a level a new lick of paint.

Yet this reliance on the tried and tested left me with a feeling that I'd seen everything before, while retaining a few of the grievances I've had in other games. Mario controls well with the Circle Pad and is less weighty than 64 or Galaxy, yet a lack of difficulty and variety of area layout meant that getting a good feel for how quickly the player will be able to move under pressure was impossible. The effect of the 3DS' auto-stereoscopic screen helps a little with understanding where our red suited friend will land after a leap, yet it's not prominent enough to eliminate the issue entirely, the low angle of the camera - with which I found no way to manipulate - not aiding matters.

Perhaps the most damning criticism however is that it's just all a little lacklustre, all a little bereft of the franchise's hallmark feature of imagination in spades. Unlike previous entries in the hallowed series, there was nothing shown that instantly made you realise why SM3DL needed to be on 3DS: no new gameplay tricks taking advantage of the inbuilt gyroscope, no mind blowing use of 3D, no social features on display, no augmented reality to toy with. Perhaps it might not have looked as good or have been presented in glasses free 3D, but every other aspect of this title could have been realised just as well on the original DS. As a show piece for Nintendo to convince potential buyers that their portable is about innovation over raw tech, Super Mario 3D Land fell massively short of the mark at the convention.

As noted earlier, the levels were by and large from the first few areas of the game, so there are hopefully (surely?) incredible feats of design ingenuity to be seen, yet this build for the tens of thousands of consumers to go hands on with at EGX in London, did nothing to impress. Reusing ideas in novel ways has served Nintendo's flagship series well, often resulting in brilliance, slapping 3D onto a mix of SMB3 and 64 it would seem at this stage, only results in something that is fine but forgettable.

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