All Together Then: Mario on 3DS
Plumbing the depths of the last true Nintendo handheld's flagship character
3DS Mario never really got a fair shake. There was something of a sense of the wind being taken out of Nintendo fans' collective sails, as the 3DS had such a bungled launch and the Wii U was dying on its arse. That's a shame, because some of the Mario offerings on the system are among the best of all time, and they deserve both attention and acclaim. Here's a look at four of the Mario titles on 3DS, with a view to perhaps producing a follow-up to cover some more later on. And yes, I'm doing this to tie in with the new Mario movie trailer, which is sure to be a repulsive look at a pile of dogshit. Let's-a-go!
Super Mario 3D Land
All the focus goes on the Wii U/Switch's Super Mario 3D World and, you know, that makes sense - it's an outstanding evolution of the ideas and ethos presented here, in Super Mario 3D Land, a wonderful prototype for the bigger console experience. It's completely linear in structure akin to Yoshi's Island, but every level is a fresh joy - a puzzle box full of Mario goodness, feeling like a condensed "best of" featuring mechanics from both the 2D and 3D series'. Speaking of 3D, its use of the 3DS device's 3D feature is rather masterful, though it leads to one of the game's only drawbacks; while it is fun in 2D, some of the secret rooms more or less require it and become a matter of guesswork if you're enjoying the game flat. Still, that doesn't take away from what remains eight excellent worlds of Mario platforming. And when you beat those eight worlds? You get eight more.
New Super Mario Bros. 2
Another triumph for 3DS, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a consumnate joy to play and doesn't deserve some of the ridiculous, nonsensical criticism that has been hurled at it over the years. "It's more of the same", they cry. Yes mate, it is more of the same. That's the entire basis for the New Super Mario Bros. series. More bloody brilliant 2D Mario. And if it's as good as it is here, I'm happy to open wide and swallow every drop that Nintendo deign to give us. There isn't a bad game in the series and this one stands out with its focus on coin collecting. Secrets are crammed into every corner of every stage, warps are scattered all over the place and the level design is simply top tier throughout. It's a game based around nothing more than having fun, and quite frankly you'd have to be trying not to enjoy yourself to hate this.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros
This, on the other hand, is utter bollocks. It's utter bollocks that I spent something like sixty hours finishing, almost out of pure spite that it could possibly be as uninteresting as it is. Nintendo and Alphadream went into Mario & Luigi overdrive on 3DS, producing no less than four instalments for the system; besides the inane Dream Team Bros, there was boring Paper Mario crossover Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros and a couple of remakes; Superstar Saga and Bowser's Inside Story got themselves do-overs and makeovers, and maybe someday I'll play them - but the originals are great, and right there, so I feel no real urgency to do so. I'm supposed to be writing about Dream Team Bros, sorry. It's rubbish. It never, throughout its absurdly long runtume, ever even comes close to threatening to be even slightly interesting. A misfire in every regard I'm afraid. It looks very nice, though; great sprite work and graphics overall. See? I'm a balanced, reasonable critic. The game just felt like a slog no matter where I went, walking, switching out brothers, more walking, loads of dialogue, even more walking, switching brothers. It's all just so rote. None of the irreverent spark of Superstar Saga is here. Leave it on the shelf.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star
I've written about it before, but Sticker Star is one of my favourite 3DS games and certainly the Paper Mario title I've enjoyed the most. It's a glorious game that revels in its cheekiness, its love of hiding things in plain sight. It's the kind of game where you'll get resolutely stuck, look up what to do next, then curse yourself for not figuring it out. Sticker Star wants you to overthink its conundrums, and it will always get what it wants. Complaints? None, really. The stripped-down game structure reduces the aimless backtracking that made up about 60% of the boring Thousand-Year Door. This game just gets to the point; here's a small environment, now comb every inch of it. The combat is often criticised due to the lack of any experience/levelling up, but the coins you get from it are invaluable in order to buy stickers - you know, those things in the title. You need to make sure you have enough, and also have powerful ones you can use in combat. Brilliantly, the larger stickers will take up more space in your sticker album, which only has a limited capacity. It becomes, therefore, a question of resource management as well as puzzle solving. Nintendo at their absolute best.