Super Mario 3D Land is the first fully 3D original Mario for a handheld and the marquee holiday release for the somewhat troubled 3DS system, which might be too much pressure for other franchises. But with Mario's decades of massive success on both consoles and portables, he’s more than ready. We just got another chance to play the much desired title before its retail launch on November 13, and while our time was brief, what we saw only made the release date seem more frustratingly far away.
Each core Mario game should at least have one new power-up like recent additions Cloud Mario and Penguin Mario, and we finally saw 3D Land's first original ability with Boomerang Mario. In the same Koopa co-opting spirit as Shell Mario and Hammer Mario, the pudgy plumber takes on the attributes of his old enemy the Boomerang Bros. After touching the Boomerang Flower Mario gains the signature blue shell and helmet, tossing the spinning projectile with ease.
Our first chance to play around with the new skill came in level 5-1, where the Boomerang Flower is the first thing you see in the rocky stage. We started tossing the projectile at enemies around us as we would a fireball, but we quickly noticed the subtle tricks the boomerang is capable of. Not only does the throw arc so it can hit multiple enemies in one go, the ‘rang always returns to you, meaning you can make it chase after you and hit whatever enemies you leave in your wake.
5-1 seemed mostly designed to sharpen your skills with Boomerang Mario against baddies (including the surely jealous Boomerang Bros), while 5-2 got more experimental. It seems like the devs made it as a tribute to classic Zelda dungeons, as the camera is top down and static, following Mario into each square room he enters. The 3D was played up dramatically here as the flat Zelda perspective held a hidden depth with different areas of the dungeon-like stage subtly shown above or beneath the player.
The final stage we played was 7-4, a later level and easily the most challenging. Referencing some of our favorite classic Mario stages, you're carefully and quickly navigating wooden platforms that are being cut off the stage by buzz saws almost as fast as you jump on them. Speed is the key here so you best keep your thumb on the run button, a skill we quickly got used to after years of analogue running in 3D Marios.
After besting 7-4 (we managed to do it after five deaths) our limited time with the game was unfortunately over. We really enjoyed what will probably be our last chance to play Super Mario 3D Land before the review, and we can't wait to see if there are any other new (or returning) power-ups we've yet to see and just how many more ingenious/self-referential stages it has in store.
Oct 20, 2011