After Nintendo's E3 press conference came to a close, they ushered the crowds outside to check out a handful of 3DS games coming later this year. Super Mario 3DS seemed to be the most popular, and for good reason.
Super Mario 3DS is a new game that consists of almost entirely old ("classic") elements. It has tighter, and often locked cameras like the 2D sections of Mario Galaxy, and sharp Galaxy-quality graphics. Those familiar with the Wii Mario titles will have no trouble adapting to controlling Mario's many familiar flips, wall jumps and butt stomps using the analog Circle Pad controls, but almost everything else about Super Mario 3DS hearkens back to earlier Mario Bros. games.
The short but action-packed levels, reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3, immediately stood out. Instead of planet hopping and using launch stars to zoom to distant objects, Mario usually has a short series of obstacles that leads to a new object, a pink box that serves as a warp between areas. There's a halfway point and, before you know it, the level is over.
Going back to play a game like Super Mario Bros. 3, I'm often amazed at how fast you can cruise through the short levels (although they felt pretty expansive in 1990). That doesn't mean there's nothing to do but dash for the exit in Super Mario 3DS though -- like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, there are three Star Coins in each level to collect that require platforming skills and exploration. And speaking of exits, the retro Super Mario Bros. flag is waiting at the end of each level.
One of the four levels I played, World 2-5, is a 3D version of the Super Mario Bros. 3 airship levels, complete with a boss fight at the end, with a Boom-Boom Koopa (an enemy unseen since, appropriately, Super Mario Bros. 3). The ship had classic flame-thrower obstacles and the boss fight felt pretty familiar -- the Boom-Boom bounced around in a shell, exposing himself only after a few seconds for a butt-stomp or shake of the tail. And are were plenty of tails; in the demo each level begins with access to a Tanooki leaf which turns Mario into a full-suited, pointy-eared Tanooki (it's definitely a Tanooki Suit, not a Raccoon suit). The advantage of the suit is threefold: You can float to the ground by hold the jump button in the air; You can wag your tail to hit enemies and blocks with the run button; And finally, you get an extra "life bar," of sorts, since you can take an extra hit. This is important, because the old Mario life scheme is back. Get hit as Super Mario and you'll shrink to little Mario, get hit again and you're a goner. This is the first 3D Mario game without a life meter (ala Super Mario 64).
The only other power-up I saw was in 1-2, an underground level in the tradition of Super Mario Bros. sidescrollers. Here I picked up a fire flower and went to town on piranha plants and blocks, which blew up on contact with the fireballs. One of the coolest 3D effects in the game could be found in this level -- piranha plants spewed a black ooze that covered the screen, obscuring most of it and leaving you vulnerable to pitfalls and enemies. The ooze really popped out in front of the game, causing the impression that you could just peek around it if you could angle the 3DS ... just ... right.
Super Mario 3DS's greatest strength may lie in its potpourri of classic Mario elements. Interestingly, the big technological advance, the 3D effects of the 3DS, faded away as I stomped on Goombas (some with tails that dropped Tanooki leaves when squished), wall-jumpied up disappearing platforms and crushed Koopalings. The 3D didn't seem to aid in the accuracy of jumping as Miyamoto at hinted at before E3 -- I plummeted off cliff edges a few times when I couldn't see my shadow.