With the demo for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword well and truly put through its paces, my next stop on my Eurogamer Expo tour was, naturally, the 3DS area.
On a sidenote, I was particularly amused to see the following phrase plastered over the hoarding: “There’s much more to 3DS than just games.” It would have made perfect sense if the Nintendo reps had actually been plugging the in-built 3DS software or showing off how cool the Nintendo Video channel was when it wasn’t just showing us card tricks and gecko cartoons but when the only thing on offer were those very “games”, it seemed a rather redundant statement to say the least.
But let’s get back to the task at hand. Having previously heard Noah’s apprehensions about Super Mario 3D Land from his experience at PAX, I couldn’t help but approach this game with a feeling of slight caution. There were four levels on offer– a boss battle, an airship level harkening back to the good old days of Super Mario Bros. 3, and two more traditional land stages. I played through each level in turn, and I must say that I quite liked how the 3D effect was implemented.
This stage stretched far into the distance to give players a sense of scale and perspective.
Its strength lies in the amount of depth it creates. This allows players to judge distances better and maintain that vital feeling of spatial awareness. Sometimes I had to navigate levels in a similar fashion to how Donkey Kong Country Returns constantly zips the player back and forth between foreground and background, but more often than not the demos employed an isometric viewpoint to help make the most of the 3D environments.
As you might have seen from gameplay footage that’s been floating around the internet, one of the demos showed off this level:
Stepping on a set of four swithces will make four rows of platforms fold out to reveal a new path– but they’ll quickly disappear if you’re not fast enough.
This was by far the best part of my playing experience– it forced me to work against the clock to figure out how to proceed and the 3D was particularly useful here. It really demonstrated how 3D can work in a Mario game, as that sense of depth was crucial to solving some of the puzzles. Mario’s usual top-notch level design was clearly at work here.
The levels employing the traditional side-on view, however, didn’t fare so well in my estimation. Despite the vivid appearance of the level stretching backward, it often hindered rather than helped my progress and I often found myself getting hit by pirahna plant fireballs and falling to a premature demise because I had misjudged my steps.
The main problem, however, was that each level was incredibly short, and I can perhaps see why Noah felt a bit underwhelmed by it. Apart from the aforementioned flipping platform sections, the rest of the levels weren’t particularly challenging or exciting, and their length didn’t lend itself to drumming up the amount of hype Nintendo was perhaps hoping for with this game. They certainly weren’t on par with stages from Super Mario Galaxy3D Land demo stages were very linear and seemed to lack any re-playability with different objectives.
But I need to add a caveat to the above paragraph by saying that the available levels were once again those shown off at E3, some of which I’ve seen gameplay footage for already. As a result, some of the brain-teasing 3D puzzle magic was somewhat spoiled for me, and so playing through a few of the levels for myself didn’t particularly wow me because I already knew how to solve them. However, I was quite impressed when I saw the puzzles for the first time, so I wouldn’t dismiss the level of challenge entirely.
Shadows were an invaluable tool when judging distances, but sometimes even they didn’t really help matters.
Another irritation that continued to plague my demo experience was Mario’s snail-pace running speed. You can hold down X or Y to make him run faster, but I couldn’t see any reason why Mario wasn’t simply running at that pace to begin with. Most of the moves Mario needs to perform like the long-jump need to be done at speed, and when you’re just trundling along at his normal speed he feels very slow and sluggish.
Initially I thought it was only the Y button which allowed Mario to run, and that was really awkward to hold down when you’re trying to jump or generally progress through the level. But then I discovered that holding down X also achieved the same result, which admittedly was a much smoother experience than trying to bend your thumb round to cover the right buttons, but it still seemed an unnecessary burden on the player.
The tanooki suit, though, was pretty fun. It works by allowing Mario to float down to the ground after he jumps as well as letting him flip his tail to take out unsuspecting goombas, really coming into its own in the side-on stages.
Sadly, the tanooki suit does not allow you to soar into the heavens like Super Mario Bros. 3.
Yet at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like the tanooki suit is more of a necessary counter-measure to give players the chance to correct their mis-steps than a genuine power-up in the same vein as the fire flower. Due to the poor camera angle and the difficulty in judging distance, that extra leyway in your jumps is almost a necessity rather than a fun additional ability.
Overall then, like Noah, I’d also have to put a tentative warning sticker on Super Mario 3D Land. If you’re expecting something as great as Super Mario Galaxy or certainly reaching to those heights (which I was when I first saw it after E3) then I think you’ll be somewhat disappointed. It’s certainly got potential– when it gets the 3D right, it really gets it right– but when those moments were few and far between in each demo level, Super Mario 3D Land didn’t do a very good job of showing me why 3D makes everything better.