How long has it been since you thought about AR (augmented reality) gaming on your 3DS? If the stack of AR cards that came with your system is gathering dust in a corner somewhere, go dig 'em out, because Nintendo has finally released a new AR game; it doesn't even seem to want you to know about it. Photos with Mario hit the Japanese 3DS last month, and now it's arrived in the U.S. for free to absolutely zero fanfare, hidden away in an obscure corner of the eShop – the easiest way to find it is to simply do a manual search for "Photos with Mario."

The game is intended to be used with special Mario-themed AR cards packaged with $10 pre-paid eShop cards exclusively at Target... but you can simply download the app and scan the AR images on your computer or smart device free of charge. It's perhaps surprising that Nintendo isn't trying to stop the spread of the card's images online, but considering the company appears to have forgotten about promoting Photos with Mario, it's probably not a big deal.

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Koopa Troopa poses for a photo with a Nintendo Life intern

Photos with Mario works like a much shallower version of the AR Games that came pre-installed on your 3DS. We tried out six cards: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, Koopa Troopa, and Goomba, though there are some Animal Crossing and Pikmin ones doing also doing the rounds from the Japanese release. You scan a picture, bring the character to life, and then pose it for photos with your 3DS camera, moving around the characters from all different angles for any perspective you want. You can pluck Mario and friends off their card and onto whatever surface you want using the L button, and you can press a button onscreen to use the inward-facing camera so you can place Luigi on your shoulder.

You take photos with R and use the face buttons for photo timers of varying lengths; the Circle Pad adds lighting from different angles and colours to your virtual buddies, and the D-pad adds effects like snow, bubbles, confetti, and a star shower. If you yell at your character through the 3DS microphone, they'll jump up for joy, and if you scan the "?" box AR card that came with your 3DS a warp pipe appears that will spawn different characters like Toad, Piranha Plant, and Bullet Bill, depending on which Photos with Mario card you have next to it.

Scanning your old "?" card will create a warp pipe
Scanning your old "?" card will create a warp pipe, among other things

That's about it, actually. Photos with Mario is such a low-profile release that as of this writing it doesn't even have its own Miiverse community. The 3D models of the characters are rendered well, and the pictures on the cards are drawn in the pleasing early-'90s Nintendo promotional art style. AR gaming has been largely forgotten on 3DS, and it's a shame Photos with Mario is such an overlooked release by Nintendo. The app isn't great, but it's free, and it'll provide you with a fun few minutes of entertainment and a glimpse of the portable's untapped AR potential.