It's a mix of old and new.
When the first screenshots of Super Mario 3D Land surfaced, I wasn’t that impressed. It all looked a little… boring. How stupid do I feel having just played on a demo unit where I really enjoyed playing it! It just goes to show that you should never judge prematurely. It was just a small taster but there was a lot to be learned by playing through the demo.
Super Mario 3D looks like a remixed hybrid of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Bros 3, taking the best of both to bring an all-new adventure which is reassuringly retro in its design and make-up whilst including everything that has made the modern Mario adventures so amazing to play. The camera sits in a fixed position, looming over Mario’s position as you move around the levels. They are all quite short compared to what we’ve grown used to but this is seemingly a push back to the early days of platforming, as well as a conscious nod to the fact that we’re playing on a handheld.
Everywhere you look there are winks and nods to the past, most prominent of which is the Tanooki suit, which makes a return. Grab the brown super leaf and Mario will pop on the suit. You are not able to fly any more, nor turn into a statue but you can glide after jumping. Holding down the jump button makes Mario slowly fall back to earth, tail wagging furiously. In the few levels I played, this little move helped save my life many times.
Elsewhere there’s lots of things that make a return from games past; end of level flag poles are back, bouncy blocks with musical notes on are dotted around the levels, and the enemies read like a "Who’s Who" from Mario’s past. One of the levels was a floating airship with bullet bills aplenty firing at you, while another was made up of switches that made a path of green tiles appear that you had to traverse before they disappeared.
Mario handles very nicely thanks to the Circle Pad and you never feel like the controls are getting in your way. Any mistakes are down to you, and not because the controls have let you down. It has to be said that the controls are a strange mix of old and new. You can no longer triple jump and falling off a platform equals death. There’s no more ledge-grabbing, something which I found particularly annoying to begin with but after a while you get used to it. A dedicated dash button is welcome and being able to control your speed is a lot easier than having your speed tied to how far you move the Circle Pad. The "press down to enter a pipe" problem is solved by having you press the R button instead. Also returning is the old-school "two hits and you're dead" system, rather than having a health meter as in Super Mario Galaxy.
Mario’s shadow is constantly onscreen no matter what you’re doing or what bit of scenery may be blocking your view. This makes it a lot easier to move around the levels, particularly when time is against you. It all looks as gorgeous as you’d expect from this next batch of Nintendo software. Levels and characters are all bright and bold and the level of presentation is very nice. 3D is implemented very well and it looks great to push the slider up and watch the level stretch into the distance ahead of you. Nintendo have also put in some new bits to take advantage of the 3D, like the piranha plant who spits black goo at the screen to obscure your view, very clever.
All in all Super Mario 3D Land is shaping up to be another essential addition to his canon of games. The mix of old and new gameplay styles has a great deal of potential and I cannot wait to play it again come release.