The preview build had four different levels available, and out of the four I tried out three of them. Each of them presented a different environment with the latter two showcasing different approaches to the core platforming foundations seen in the initial grassland I encountered. For example, I found the structure of the second level lended itself to a slightly more exploration-oriented feel whereas the first stage felt more linear. This is despite the fact that it was of a faster pace due to the presence of time-sensitive tile puzzles (made famous in Super Mario Galaxy).
Aside from the standard collectible coins, there are also large coins you can gather as well -- yet another nod to recent mainstream Mario titles. There wasn't a direct indication of what purpose they served, but I think it's safe to assume they'll lead to unlocks on the hub world. One other cool feature I can recall was the presence of these special warp boxes. In one level, I was taken to a room where I had to gather as much coins as possible from a single coin block which, admittedly, wasn't all that special. But it did get me thinking about how these boxes may bring players face-to-face with intermittent puzzles on the side.
The controls didn't click with me right away, but after a brief spat and with a little trial and error, the layout wasn't as tricky. In addition to your standard jump ability which has been mapped to the A Button, Mario can also perform a rolling somersault or a hip drop move. I especially thought it was interesting that the R Button is used to travel inside pipes. Was that really the best choice, I wonder?
The Touch Screen serves a functional purpose that resembles New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, in that spare power-ups are stored in a circular container and can appear on-screen once you tap the item with your stylus. Also, you can press small arrows to change the orientation of the camera. I'm wondering if the manual camera control might be used to encourage players to look at previously-visited areas from a new vantage point. If so, some may view that as somewhat superficial; the fact that obscured areas may not be seen unless this feature is utilized. But I can't comment too much on that for the time being.
Continuing on the subject of power-ups, trying out the Fire Flower was kind of fun, albeit the fireball-tossing running motions didn't seem to work quite the way I envisioned them. It took a bit of getting used to, which is something I quite honestly didn't expect to have to do. Now as for the Tanooki Suit, I'm personally not as ecstatic as others are over its inclusion, but I did enjoy having the ability to hover in mid-air. Performing that gliding motion as you soar over a block of platforms with the camera looking down at whatever's beneath you looks well done -- especially with 3D on.
In general, the 3D effects in this preview build do add dimension to the playing field, but it seems like Nintendo isn't just content with having a checkmark for including it. In one instance, there was an opening behind a wall where a large coin was hiding. With 3D enabled, the opening was made more visible and the emphasis on the background while you're behind the obscured area makes it so that you don't lose touch with all that's happening. Of course, spotting the opening in the first place is partly dependent on the angle of the camera at that moment, which once again has me thinking about how this camera system will be perceived in later levels.
In venturing to the three different stages, I entertained the thought of the entire world taking place inside a box where 3D-enabled function allows you to peer in deeper. It's quite surreal actually, and it pushes certain limits previously associated with handheld gaming. Furthermore, there's something very balanced about the action presented here, at least from the levels I tried. With the exception of the less relaxed battleship level I saw, it seems to me that there's more of a focus on platforming than there is in overcoming obstacles that may slow you down.
Super Mario 3D Land bears similarities to classic Mario games as well as New Super Mario Bros., yet I was beginning to think this game might actually serve a similar purpose that Galaxy did for the Wii. Needless to say, it certainly whet my appetite for things to come. Provided the level designs will push players more and the 3D will continue to serve an exemplary function, I do have faith -- more than I did before -- that Super Mario 3D Land has the makings of a memorable platformer. Stay tuned for Patrick's full review of the game to come post-launch and keep an eye out for more articles on the aforementioned press event.