The largest transformation in Mario’s history came with the shift from 2D to 3D in Super Mario 64. He handled the transition well, but the platforming plumber was never the same. From that point on, Mario’s console releases started to take on a form of their own, with new mechanics and nuances exclusive to the 3D iterations. With Super Mario 3D Land, it seems like Nintendo is trying to make a 3D Mario game that feels more akin to the earlier 2D games in the series, bringing back what was lost when Mario leapt out of the second dimension. We recently had the opportunity to clear World 1, and you might be surprised by how “classic” Mario’s newest adventure feels.
Above: The long question blocks are like the regular question blocks except they're... longer
It’s not because of the controls, and it’s not even really because of the presentation. Mario looks and feels a lot like he has in the past 3D games, with most of his movement involving either jumping or jumping, spinning around and landing hard. The only new trick up his red sleeve was the ability to roll, letting him tumble through hard-to-reach spaces and smash blocks that he otherwise would need a shell to destroy. It’s not an offensive attack – more of a slow, leisurely tumble that allows for more navigational options.
No, the way 3D Land manages to grab the classic feel is with its level design. There’s no hub world, and no over-world to explore. When we beat a level we pressed right on the d-pad, watched Mario walk a few feet, and then hit A to jump in. And once we jumped in, the levels themselves offered throwbacks to different eras in Mario’s career. First up was World 1-2, which was most traditional, playing like a classic side-scroller (though we were able to move back and forth in the environment to dodge obstacles). It still controlled like a typical 3D level, but 3D Land’s 3D-ness was kept in check, maintaining experience more reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3 than anything else. But when the third dimension did come into play with moderation, 3D land used it well. New enemies and obstacles still came into our path – like a black piranha plant that took advantage of the camera angle by breaking the fourth wall and shooting ink that stuck to screen – making the familiar feel fresh.
Above: Good news! You don't need to blow into the microphone to get the ink off your screen
The next level couldn’t have been more different. It started Mario off near binoculars, which utilized the 3DS’s gyroscope to look around. Here, we were given a look at the level ahead, filled with large drops and multiple paths. We also saw a Toad, who tossed a collectible coin into the middle of the level. Once we stepped back and started traversing the level we got our first Super Leaf, transforming Mario into Raccoon Mario. The return of this fan favorite has been wildly publicized, but what surprised us most, was how useful it was, again, thanks to the level design.