Preview: Super Mario 3D Land

It's all about perspective

The last time we played Super Mario 3D Land, we came away confident that Nintendo was taking its mascot forward, as our preview explained. That was based on a four level demo but we've since played the game's opening two worlds, so does that first impression still hold true?

Well, it all depends on your point of view. Mario is famous for his huge leaps forward, but the series has been walking parallel paths for some time now, sidestepping between 2D and 3D to suit the occasion. Super Mario 3D Land is unique in that it's designed to occupy the space between the two, all viewed through the console's 3D screen: whether that's Mario's full potential on 3DS is something only time will tell.

It's clear 3D Land isn't in the lineage of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine or the Galaxy games: you pick a stage from a linear world map and levels end in a single flagpole, not a Star or Shine. Mario's move set falls in the 3D category though: since our last preview the buttons have been adjusted to make long jumps and backflips far more intuitive. Whether in two or three dimensions, Mario still feels like Mario, with leaps, ground pounds, fireballs and tail-whips all instantly satisfying and familiar. There are some nips and tucks here and there, but nothing to break the classic Mario feeling.

Level design owes as much to Super Mario World as any Mario adventure since, as if Nintendo's designers laid out classic 2D stages and pulled, tweaked and tugged them until they existed in 3D. As a result they're less field-like than 64's stages; exploration is rewarded with a quick power-up and a prod to get back on track, with alternate routes soon dovetailing together again. Green pipes often lead to rooms showcasing the 3DS screen in Escher-like puzzles, providing one of the strongest arguments for the 3D display so far: what appears one way in 2D changes completely when the 3D is turned on. We all predicted Mario would find innovative uses for the top screen, and by tucking its cleverest moments away it's sure to reward explorers with extra gameplay, not just collectibles: the 2D Mario way.

The rest of the stages are classic Mario fare, and entertain without ever quite igniting: their familiarity brings a smile, but not the wide eyes that Super Mario Galaxy inspired on first sight.

And that's absolutely fine: this isn't Super Mario Galaxy 3. It's a chance for Nintendo to take the 2D Mario experience – historically the best-selling arm; don't forget New Super Mario Bros. sold 27m copies worldwide – and show it off in a new light. It's modernising the past, not pointing to the future.

So much has been written about the 3DS's need for a Mario game that many are painting Super Mario 3D Land as a “sink or swim” game for the console, but at this stage in the console's lifespan it can't possibly be the definitive Mario experience in 3D: it's a jumping-off point, a showcase for the console and a notable checkpoint in Mario's history. Future adventures will take the plumber to currently unthinkable places: for now, we have a fresh perspective on old stomping grounds.

Now we've played the first two worlds of Mario's next adventure, we're in a pretty good position to answer some of your questions. Send them in using the Contact form's "Super Mario 3D Land questions" option and we'll do our best to answer as many as possible in a future Q&A article.

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