3D Mario titles have not resembled their 2D brethren much in the past. The immediate, twitchy feel of the iconic plumber’s side-scrolling outings is not very present in Super Mario 64, Sunshine, or the Galaxy games. Those games have a far slower, more careful feel, which is natural given the imprecision of 3D games compared to 2D ones. With Super Mario 3D Land, it seems Nintendo are trying to fuse gameplay styles old and new, which ideally would mean a game which is both easy to pick up and play and deep enough to warrant spending precious sofa-time on. Judging from the four-level demo I played here at Gamescom, the game leans heavily on the pick-up-and play angle, with short levels and uncomplicated gameplay.
Though it plays in 3D, it is very dissimilar to the aforementioned 3D Mario’s. For starters, big, open worlds like Bob-Omb Battlefield are replaced by linear paths consisting largely of floating platforms, the closest relation to which would be the more platform-y sections in Sunshine and Galaxy. But where those parts were challenging and fast-paced, what I played was a touch plodding. I never got that edge-of-your seat sense of platforming-peril present in the SNES and NES Mario games. That’s not necessarily an issue, Mario 64 and Galaxy don’t really have that feel either, but they compensate with intricate, explorable worlds chock-full of interesting stuff, and 3D Land, as far as I can see, lacks this.
The four levels I played had no brain-bending platforming concepts, interesting enemies, or other significant thrills. The closest it got was a take on the Airship Fortresses from Bros. 3, and even that required far less platforming and projectile-dodging skill than the originals. Super Mario 3D Land is not fast-paced, satisfyingly challenging or precise like older Mario’s, and neither is it grandiose and clever like the 3D ones. It’s stuck in a rather dry middle ground. Simply put, the demo of the game was not particularly fun or interesting, a severe disappointment for a new “true” Mario game, something we don’t get too often. Sure, it felt nicely polished the way most Nintendo games do, with smooth framerate, colorful environments, and nice animation.
It works, and it works well, but what it does fails to engage much.
It could well be that these levels were intentionally simplistic and plain for demo purposes, and that more interesting stages appear in other parts of the game, but if this demo is anything to judge by, Nintendo fans are in for an unexpected disappointment.