E3 2011: Super Mario 3D hands-on preview

After all the hustle and bustle of Nintendo%26rsquo;s E3 press conference, the one thing I wanted play more than its new-fangled iPad-esque controller was Super Mario 3D. A new Mario platformer is always something to be excited about, but in this case, Mario 3D is notable for three reasons: one, it%26rsquo;s from the Super Mario Galaxy team, so we can already assume a level of brilliance; two, it%26rsquo;s Mario%26rsquo;s big 3DS debut and the first time Mario%26rsquo;s been portrayed in actual 3D; and finally, it marks the return of the Tanooki suit, one of Mario 3%26rsquo;s most beloved power-ups (though we%26rsquo;re still fond of Kuribo%26rsquo;s Shoe).

The brief demo showcased four different snippets of the game, starting with a green field in World 2-1. The look and feel was somewhere between Mario Galaxy and New Mario Wii; the modular, bite-sized worlds of the former have been replaced with linear levels more akin to the latter, where you guide Mario on a relatively straight path to a flagpole at the end. The trip was fairly light, beginning with a small open field that narrowed into a straight path with a few wall jumps and enemies to stomp. Kind of sparse, but then again it%26rsquo;s an early Mario level, which are routinely easy and hand-holdy.

While running around this first level, I tested Mario%26rsquo;s abilities to see which moves carried over from prior games. He does have a long jump similar to Mario 64, as well as the usual backflip and butt stomp, but it appears he doesn%26rsquo;t grab on to ledges when near. Instead, he either slides down the side or merely falls into the abyss. Would have liked to see that ability make the cut%26hellip;

The level did offer up the Tanooki Suit, which allows Mario to use his brand new tail to break blocks and slow his descent by wagging furiously. Now, almost anyone who%26rsquo;s reading this site knows the Tanooki/Raccoon tail makes Mario fly, but in this case, the suit does not %26ndash; Nintendo devs said making Mario fly on a small screen, in a 3D world, would be problematic, so he won%26rsquo;t take flight in this version. That said, I think it%26rsquo;s possible later levels could place Tanooki Mario on rails and fly him around a swiftly moving world. This is the Galaxy team, after all, so they%26rsquo;re accustomed to tossing Mario all around the level.

World 1-2 was a typical Mario %26ldquo;underworld%26rdquo; level, and played almost exactly like New Mario Wii. Mario was mostly confined to a 2D plane while elements of the level pop out in 3D. The 3D effect is nice in areas seen in the trailer (where huge spikes launch at your face), but this particular early level was rather sparse on enemies and effects.

The next area, World 3-3, was hands-down my favorite of the bunch. Here, green switches on the floor caused floating platforms to unfold across a huge pit, but then disappear as Mario runs across. This quickly turned into a classic Mario moment, trying to stay one step ahead of these collapsing platforms as they snake across each other and disappear within seconds. It was a real test of platforming prowess, and a great indicator of what other cool moments are in store.

The final demo was World 2-5, which was an airship level similar to those in SMB3 and New Mario Wii. As with those first two levels I mentioned, this one was remarkably easy, and even the boss (Boom Boom, also of Mario 3 fame) was a pushover. Simply hop on his head, avoid his spinning attacks and repeat. I%26rsquo;m sure this E3 demo was intentionally stacked with easy areas so as not to deter anyone on the show floor with advanced platforming trickery. Nintendo usually offers up the cooler, harder stuff with post-E3 appointments, so I%26rsquo;m definitely looking forward to seeing what else they%26rsquo;ve got cooking.

In an E3 roundtable, Nintendo devs said they want Super Mario 3D to be %26ldquo;the most Mario-like 3D Mario game%26rdquo; they%26rsquo;ve ever made. I%26rsquo;d argue Super Mario 64 beautifully transferred the mascot in the third dimension, but it looks like here they%26rsquo;re trying to incorporate traditional elements like the world map, airships, the Koopa kids and other aspects that are now more associated with the 2D New Mario series. I personally prefer the more elaborate realms found in Mario 64 and Galaxy than the comparatively spartan worlds of New Mario Wii, but a marriage of the two could prove interesting.

It%26rsquo;s set for a 2011 release, which means we could have another look at Mario%26rsquo;s 3DS debut before the end of the summer. Fingers crossed!

Jun 8, 2011

Brett Elston

A fomer Executive Editor at GamesRadar, Brett also contributed content to many other Future gaming publications including Nintendo Power, PC Gamer and Official Xbox Magazine. Brett has worked at Capcom in several senior roles, is an experienced podcaster, and now works as a Senior Manager of Content Communications at PlayStation SIE.