I'm going to end the night with this, since RMC hasn't been able to squeeze it in any other time during the past week since the embargo lifted, so this has just been sitting in the queue collecting dust. I also have some multi-player hands-on from Mario Kart 7, but who knows when we'll get around to posting that...one more week? Have a great night and thanks for putting up with me one more week! —cortjezter
Since GDC earlier this year, we've been teased with ever-increasing amounts of info about the new Mario game, set to release this same year on the 3DS. It started with only the silhouette of the iconic raccoon/tanooki tail, but said all it needed to in a blob of just one color. Little did we know just how much tail we'd be getting later on.
In the past month or so, I've had a chance to go hands-on with Super Mario 3D Land a few times, exploring just a little bit more than before with each session. After fondling the game for awhile again just yesterday, part of me began to wonder what kind of game we'd have right now had Nintendo's game-idea coin landed on the other side: would every living thing in the Mushroom Kingdom have another head? Seriously, just about every character in SM3DL has a tanooki tail, even the Thwomps. Yes, I said Thwomps. With tanooki tails.
Yep, Boos too.
Pardon this aside for just a moment before I get onto the actual playtime impressions; I want to get this off my chest. Had anyone asked me (or most gamers) a year ago how much they'd want a new Mario game featuring the tanooki suit, the prevailing responses would have likely ranged from the offering of their first-born to a vital internal organ, but now that we have one; it almost feels like the genie asked a trick question and granted us a prank wish instead. Perhaps there's a perfectly valid plot (I haven't spoiled myself on the story yet), but considering the suit was actually kind of rare in SMB3, to see it everywhere now has kind of diluted its magical value, like an economy with too much supply. Plus, though there are rumors to the contrary about its abilities, the suit doesn't even function the way it used to. But Mario does look like an adorable collectible teddy bear, so maybe it all washes even.
Anyway, given that the tanooki suit/tail is now as ubiquitous as question blocks, how does the rest of the game feel? In a word: delightful.
At this point I've seen and played--but not thoroughly "completed"--roughly half of the game's standard levels, at least based on what I've seen via the touch screen's map system, which is fairly similar to Super Mario Galaxy 2's: a horizontal setup where you can select stages along with a simplified 3D model of the level, though no branching paths this time around, and no spaceship necessary.
Since we're on the topic of Galaxy 2, even though it is one of the game's later levels, in World 7, the buzz-saws that cut apart platforms as you work your way across make another appearance, though the tanooki suit proved incredibly valuable at surviving the gauntlet. Another throwback nod came in the first level of World 5, where you are trapped on a rising platform as enemies attack and spiked balls fall to wreak havoc on your jump timing, a la NSMB's castles, though in 3D, things get a lot more challenging than ever before.
Fireballs still work underwater; as is to be expected.
A couple other notable levels from yesterday's session was first, the Zelda-inspired level that mimics the original NES game's aesthetic pretty convincingly. Torches adorning the corners of rooms, a bewildering array of rooms with multiple exits retain a bit of that labyrinth feel, and even some familiar traps stand in your way. The other was the airship ending World 4, which felt incredibly authentic to SMB3 with the auto-scroll, high/low paths, wrench-throwing nuisances and other projectiles, etc. Luckily, I found myself a super-safe and lucrative coin-collecting shortcut that led me all the way to the pipe at the stern. Inside was a boomerang throwing, tanooki tail-sporting, female Koopaling of some sort that Nintendo is still keeping hush about; at least there are a couple screens in today's batch of assets so you can ogle the mystery girl a bit for yourself.
Mario doesn't feel particularly fast in this adventure; something the devs have said is a result of the portable screen size. It's actually not so much of a bother, since each level is full of things to see, find, and just explore; all that on top of the primary objective of getting to the flagpole in one piece. Between the start and finish of each stage, instead of giant, sweeping levels, Nintendo has crammed as much as it can into streamlined packages that deliver the maximum bang for the handheld buck.
As for the power-ups, the most notable are of course that we know about are the tanooki and boomerang bros. suits. The first has two benefits: floating and using the tail offensively. I am not kidding when I say some of the levels throw quite a bit at you all at once, so being able to float and gather your wits or prep your reflexes can often make or break your success. The buzz saw level mentioned earlier is a perfect example. The tail has more uses than just plucking off goombas; scattered throughout some levels are cogs jutting out, parallel from the ground, and swatting your tail at them enough will propel whatever platfrom you're standing on well into the clouds...usually to reach something special like a medallion or power-up.
"Excuse me? Which pocket was this supposed to fit in?" --Mario
The second is the mighty boomerang suit. With a simple button tap, you can send one at a time flying out to either clear enemies (especially boomerang bros.) or collect items, just like the Zelda games. Sometimes the only way to get an item like a medallion will be with a well-timed throw. The boomerang will always try to return, even if you've moved; a feature that can sometimes be used to your benefit, to collect multiple items or take out more enemies than would be possible in a straight line. Unfortunately it doesn't appear you can hide inside the fashionable blue shell, but all Mario variations can crouch and walk...a useful tip considering many levels have tiny holes/tunnels hidden around that lead to bonuses.
If even power-ups aren't enough to aid you to the end of a level, instead of the "Super Guide" from previous Mario outings, Nintendo has a new type of tiered help feature that can keep you from getting stuck and/or frustrated with something that just isn't clicking for you. After losing a few lives, a white, invincible tanooki suit block appears at the start of the stage that should keep the biting bad guys off your butt...but no auto-play; you're still in control. If even that isn't enough, and you continue to drop Marios like flies, another help block will appear that offers up a P-wing. Instead of letting you coast above the clouds through the level, it'll launch you directly to the flag pole. Maybe the game knew I didn't need help, because even after forcing Mario off the nearest ledge over 30 times; it still didn't want to help me. I don't think it really knows my ability, but was because the level had already been beaten/unlocked as part of the save state the dev team had prepared. New or unfinished levels should proffer the assistance as expected.
A boomerang with a bow AND at least two tails? Yeah, that's fair.
Finally, the game looks pretty darn amazing. Sure, the still screenshots have those tell-tale jagged edges that can be distracting for some, but in motion, it's hardly noticeable at all. Aside from many of the non-classic foes being rather generic, the models, textures, and animation are all top-notch. While the effect isn't as ground-breaking for 3D platforming and depth control as one would hope, their use of the 3DS' unique screen is well-suited to the game without going over the top or being annoyingly gimmicky. One of the first levels contains what feels like a mile-long free-fall, and with the camera placed above looking straight down--combined with the 3D effect--for someone with nearly crippling acrophobia like me, holding onto the 3DS using palms lubed with sweat becomes an instant problem because the vertigo can be a little too convincing; but that isn't a complaint. Other nice touches include some of the bonus rooms which use some M.C. Escher-esque placement of blocks to trick your senses. The 3D effect subtly adds context for those who (can) use it, but there's a backup feature to help put things in perspective should you need it: a type of floor switch that when stepped on, changes the view from isometric to orthogonal and can help reveal some tricky designs' secrets.
So there you have it; based on about 2.5 hours of play time, and seeing a good chunk of the game, I can confidently say that aside from the kind of minor gripes about Mario's lead-butt speed and everything sporting striped tails, this will be a totally solid experience, not just coasting off over twenty years of nostalgia, but aiming to build plenty of new nostaglia of its own going forward.