LOS ANGELES — After taking a back seat in the era of Wii Sports, Nintendo’s main men Mario and Luigi are leading the charge on Nintendo 3DS.
Alongside other classic Nintendo franchises like Zelda, Star Fox and Kid Icarus, the company’s longtime mascots each have their own Nintendo 3DS game.
The new Super Mario might look like just another game in the series at first blush, but it’s actually a fresh take on the classic mushroom-stomping formula. Luigi’s Mansion 2 is the long-awaited sequel to a 2001 title that launched with the GameCube hardware, an action game in which Mario’s skittish little brother explores a haunted mansion filled with poltergeists and treasure.
Nintendo is deliberately focusing on making versions of its hard-core action games that will work well with the glasses-free 3-D display, said Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto at a roundtable discussion Tuesday at E3 Expo here.
“With Nintendo DS, because it was introducing a new play style with the touchscreen and stylus, we felt there was a need to introduce that to a broader audience,” with casual games like Brain Age, Miyamoto said. “3DS is more focused on bringing traditional gaming franchises to a 3-D screen.” There are many such games that Miyamoto wants to make, he said.
Wired.com’s hands-on impressions of the upcoming Mario games follow.
The first thing you need to know about Super Mario for the 3DS is that it’s not just a retread. In fact, it’s quite different from any other Mario game.
The Mario series split into two parts when videogames went polygonal. The 2-D games in the franchise featured linear levels with characters stuck on a horizontal plane, while 3-D titles featured wide-open levels with nonlinear gameplay. Super Mario is an amalgam of these two designs. You wander through 3-D levels that feel like something out of Super Mario Galaxy, but they’re roughly leading you down a predetermined path. You don’t have to move the camera — I’m not even sure if you can — because you’re always heading toward the other end of the level, wherever that happens to be.
In the first level of the demo (called “World 2-1?), you begin by walking into the horizon, stomping Goombas and Piranha Plants with wild abandon. The A and B buttons jump and the Y and X buttons run (and attack, depending on what power you have). Pressing R makes Mario crouch, and pressing it when he’s running does a crouching slide — you can slide underneath a barrier and grab some coins, early on. R is also used for going down pipes. The L button is for butt-stomping while in the air.
Eventually in this level, you get the Leaf power-up, and this puts Mario in his old duds, the Tanooki Suit5. With this, Mario can wag his tail in midair to glide and get a little more distance from his jump, and also swing his tail around to smash blocks and enemies. At this point, the game has become more of a side-scroller. Star Coins (or whatever it was those bonus coins were called in Super Mario Galaxy 2) are scattered in hard-to-reach spots throughout the level, rewarding exploration and intelligence and such.
As you might have guessed from the Tanooki Suit, Super Mario on 3DS is something of a revival of the aesthetics of Super Mario Bros. 3 for NES. Besides the signature raccoon-tail power, there are other little nods to the game, like those white blocks with musical notes on them that you can bounce on, or the Koopa Kids‘ airships. That’s the second level of the demo; you traverse the automatically scrolling airship, jumping over Bullet Bills and those guys in the manholes that throw the monkey wrenches at you, then get to the Kid and stomp him into oblivion in a fight that uses the whole 3-D screen rather than locking you to a fixed plane.
My Super Mario experience wasn’t entirely positive. The third level I played was simply frustrating — I had to jump over a series of small, disappearing blocks with bottomless pits all around me, and I just couldn’t get Mario to jump where I wanted him to go. It felt like the camera was zoomed so far out that I couldn’t really gauge how far it was, 3-D effect or no, and Mario himself seemed to jump a little too sluggishly. I burned through five lives in record time and never finished the level.
Luigi’s Mansion 2
The Super Mario 3DS game is trying some new things, but Luigi’s Mansion 2 seems like it’s sticking pretty closely to the original formula.
Underappreciated in its day, the haunted-house game was a very different direction for the Mario series, ditching platform jumping for skulking around a mansion, vacuuming up ghosts and finding hidden secrets. It was quite a lot of fun and so is this version, which is developed by Next Level Games (creator of Punch-Out! for Wii, which means the studio knows how to re-create the fun of a classic Nintendo series).
In Luigi’s Mansion 2, the title character is shoved back into a series of ghost-filled old houses, and his job is to go ghostbusting with limited equipment. When you encounter a ghost, you first flash light in their eyes to shock them, then start sucking them in with the vacuum. As you pull them in, you’ll have to tap the A button at certain times to keep them within range. You’ll also have to run around and make sure that no other ghosts attack you while this is going on.
Besides ghosts, the mansions will be filled with all sorts of secrets — you can suck and blow with the vacuum, pushing and pulling various items to see what’s hidden beneath them. A blanket over a treasure chest can be removed so you can find what’s inside, for example, or you could pull in coins and dollar bills from a high shelf.
While it’s tough to really get a sense of how a slow, exploration-based game like this will work from a brief E3 demo, I can say that the controls feel good and the animations are occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. Nintendo says it will release Luigi’s Mansion 2 in 2012.
All photos: Jon Snyder/Wired.com, screenshots courtesy Nintendo