How Super Mario 3D Land Saved The 3DS
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How Super Mario 3D Land Saved The 3DS


The 3DS is 7 years old. Just absorb that thought for a second. Man, I remember when the first 3DS came out
in 2011, I was just entering secondary school! Now I’m in my second year of college and
the thing is still alive and kicking! Well…depending on whose perspective it’s
from. Despite not reaching the extreme levels of
sales its predecessor once had, over the past 7 years, the 3DS has still managed to develop
what is arguably Nintendo’s most impressive handheld lineup. From action games and platformers to RPGs
and simulators, there was practically no genre that evaded the 3DS’ grasp. Add to that a robust indie lineup, Virtual
Console and social features and you have one of Nintendo’s best handheld systems to date. And then, there was the 3D effect. Remember when it was the 3DS’s main selling
point when it first came out? Yeah, that was a thing that existed. When the 3DS was first revealed in 2010,
3D technology was practically the gimmick of the year. Many companies tried to capitalize on the
3D hype train that Avatar set in motion during the previous year by bringing in 3D televisions
that are totally the next mainstream thing because you can finally bring this immersive
experience into your own living room! Well, we all know how that turned out but
back then Nintendo was also thinking of having a slice of the three-dimensional pie. But did you see those glasses? They’re clunky, uncomfortable and sooooo
2000s. So the folks over at Nintendo devised a secret
weapon: the parallax barrier. I’m gonna spare you the technical babble
but it was pretty much a layer on top of an LCD that split the image into two, with one
for each eye, allowing for a 3D display without any special glasses. Because basically, the screen IS the glasses! I mean it’s no hologram or anything, but
it was a very convincing effect. When the 3DS was first revealed as a handheld
with glasses-free 3D graphics, people were definitely intrigued! If the 3DS was your first experience with
glasses-free 3D, it was probably the most mind-blowing thing ever. I remember when I was in a game store seeing
some guy getting his brand new 3DS set up so I snuck in, took a look at the AR Games
logo spinning on the Home Menu and just went WHAAAAAAAAA I got my first 3DS in July 2011 alongside
Pilotwings Resort. I still treasure it deeply, but man
has it seen better days I really need to get your Circle Pad replaced what even is this. I was completely fine with flying a plane,
shooting faces and fighting virtual dragons on my 3DS for nearly 4 months, but at that
time, there wasn’t really much content in the 3DS’s initial library. I mean, let’s take a look at the first-party games
Nintendo chose to launch the 3DS with. yeah that’s it I mean, sure, they’re not bad games (Pilotwings
especially), but as launch titles they weren’t exactly on the same level as the pick-up-and-play
multiplayer appeal of Wii Sports or the grand scope of Breath of the Wild. They’re more or less just small fun distractions/tech
demos of the 3D technology of the 3DS because that was the main selling point at the time. Personally I’m fine with having smaller
games like these as launch titles, but in reality, it just didn’t entice enough people
people to buy a 3DS at launch. Also, if you’ve tried some early 3DS
games at some point, the 3D effect was usually really uncomfortable. Okay, a lot of people find the 3D uncomfortable
but 3DS games in 2011 were especially guilty because the 3D effect was often way too intense. In Pilotwings, for example, the background
extends far into the depths of the screen, making it harder to focus on different objects. And you had to keep your head stable while
looking at the screen or you would get ghosting in your images, causing further headaches. Nowadays, the New 3DS models have head-tracking
functions for the 3D effect which makes them easier to view, but back in 2011, the 3D effect
wasn’t sitting well with a lot of people. Anyway, back to the games. Suffice to say, Nintendo’s offerings were
barebones, and even on the third-party side of things, the most well-received game was
a port of Super Street Fighter IV. So, a mediocre launch lineup for a system
that cost 250 US dollars at launch. That will surely turn out just fine. 3DS sales plummeted after its first couple
of weeks on the market, and not helping things was Nintendo’s two big releases in the next
few months: 3D versions of Star Fox 64 and The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time. Fantastic N64 remasters, sure, but that’s
all they were, N64 games that most people have probably played before. And over on the eShop you had OOH SNAP URBAN CHAMPION IN 3D BABY Oh and by the way does anyone remember Freakyforms? Yeah that was a thing that existed. Basically, for several months, people looked
at the 3DS’ price point and lineup and went ‘Ehh, I’ll wait and see if it’s really
worth it’, which seemed to signify the start of the well-known death spiral. No customers due to a lack of games, no developer
support due to a lack of customers, and no games due to a lack of developers. And late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata was
NOT going to let that happen. The 3DS still had potential, and he knew Nintendo
had to crank out quality software FAST. But first: BOOM. A gigantic price cut from $250 to $170. Don’t worry early adopters, you guys get
GBA games that will never be released on the 3DS ever again. And then, at E3 that year, bang. Just great original games one after the other. Mario Kart 7. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. Kid Icarus Uprising. Paper Mario Sticker Star! okay maybe not that one But spearheading all of this fantastic software
was Super Mario 3D Land, the key title that would finally reverse the 3DS’s fate. At first glance it might seem kinda weird. The last 3D Mario game at that point was Super
Mario Galaxy 2, one of the most critically acclaimed 3D Mario games to date. Was it really wise to follow that masterpiece
up with a watered-down, point-A-to-point-B 3D platformer? Well turns out, less is more in this case. Continuing Iwata’s Blue Ocean strategy which
attempted to capture casual non-gamers into gaming, the development team of 3D Land focused
on a single keyword when planning the game. ‘Reset’. Sure, you could just put Mario Galaxy on a
3DS and call it a day but Nintendo knew that this would result in a clash against the 3DS’
intended audience. 3D Mario games have gotten bigger and more
complex over the years, but it has also become somewhat overwhelming for casual players. Say what you what about the New Super Mario
Bros. series, but they always sell like hotcakes because to the majority of players 2D Mario
is the type of Mario game they’re most familiar with. For them, dipping their toes into a 3D Mario
game after playing 2D games for so long would probably feel something like– “Huh, A DVD for beginners? I know how a Mario game works, I don’t need
tha— Woah wait what is this gravity thing oh god
it feels so weird He can spin enemies now? Oh god how do you jump past these it’s so
hard You can do a long jump by what? Crouch and jump that’s not a long jump what
is this– There’s MOTION CONTROLS?! Ah dangit stop falling off the edge all the
time Wait what are these bosses How do you kill these bosses oh god help me
what do I do what do I do what do I do” So the development team decided to go back
to basics and make a 3D Mario game that can serve as an introduction for casual players
to get accustomed to controlling Mario in a 3D space. As they said, if Galaxy 2 was like a luxurious
imperial feast, then 3D Land is like a hamburger. A lighter meal that you can just gobble down. Almost every recognizable aspect of mainline
Mario games is back in 3D Land. Mario stomps on enemies, gets mushrooms and
flowers from blocks, and grabs the flagpole at the end of each level. As Miyamoto says, it’s a 3D Mario game that
plays like a 2D Mario game. Run and jump, get to the goal, simple as that. No scouring big worlds fulfilling tons of
mission objectives for collectibles. At least for now. The power-ups help ease the difficulty for
new players as well, especially the Tanooki Suit, with its floating ability making platforming
a total breeze, and the Invincibility Leaf and P-Wing which are pretty self-explanatory. And if you’re a more skilled player, you
can utilize advanced moves like the Rolling Long Jump or combining Wall Jumps with Flutter
Kicks to get to hidden areas or blaze through levels. And the post-game challenges with Cosmic
Clones, speedrun challenges and what not? Mmmm. ‘s good. Look at it. ‘s good In fact, with its level-based structure and
densely packed stages, 3D Land is just a great game to blast through and replay in general,
which totally fits the 3DS’ pick-up-and-play nature. I played it so much that it’s fun for me
to just hop into a level and get into the rhythm of where I should go and when. Even its sequel, 3D World on the Wii U, didn’t
quite have the same feeling for me, as all the levels are much more expansive to accommodate
multiplayer, which makes playing them alone feel…empty. Overall, in terms of game design, Super Mario
3D Land pretty much has something for everyone, being both accessible to casual players, as
well as being fun and rewarding to fully complete for the pros. And you can still see this design philosophy
in future games. Even in Mario Odyssey where the collectathon
structure returns, jumps are de-emphasized in favor of throwing your cap on literally
everything, and things like easy Power Moons and Assist Mode are there to help new players
get through the main game more easily. And uh, yeah, I think I’m done here. That’s why 3D Land did so well on the 3DS. What? Oh right! The 3D. It was in the name of the game and I still
forgot about it right. Super Mario 3D Land is one of the very few
3DS games I know of that utilizes the 3D effect to a genius degree by integrating it directly
into the gameplay. Nintendo acknowledged that judging distance
in a 3D platformer is often a challenge to some people even with a drop shadow as assistance,
so using 3D ended up actually improving the player experience, rather than being something
that the player will turn on, say ‘oh it looks cool’, then turn it off again. But there are even more intricate design choices
in the 3D effect beyond just making judging distances easier. Remember the issues I mentioned with an intense
3D effect in early 3DS games? Nintendo was finally aware of those issues
and talked about how they tried to make the 3D effect in 3D Land as natural as possible
in a 2012 GDC talk. And it all revolves around a concept known
as the reference plane. To put it simply, the reference plane is the
level of 3D depth at the surface of the screen, of which there would be barely any. Nothing pops out, nothing pops in, and so
images located on the reference plane tend to be the clearest and mostly free of any
ghosting effects from tilting the screen. So, if most of what the player sees was placed
right on the reference plane, they could avoid extremely intense 3D effects. The development team actually learned this from
Miyamoto showing them gameplay of another title: which was also in development at the same time. Miyamoto played the prototypes of Mario Kart
7 and 3D Land and noticed Mario Kart 7 looked less blurry. That’s because in that game, the player’s
kart was located on the reference plane, so it wouldn’t get blurry easily even with
subtle movements of the player’s head. Also, there were other rules in place to avoid
things like platforms or coins randomly popping out of the screen and disorienting the player’s
vision. The camera is usually fixed and cannot be
freely rotated, so that other objects wouldn’t get in the camera’s way. The range of the 3D depth effect was also
significantly shortened, so that it wouldn’t put as much of a strain on the player’s
eyes. You can still see these design decisions in
later 3DS games, and it goes to show that implementing a comfortable use of 3D graphics
goes beyond just enabling a ‘turn on 3D’ option. Also, major bonus points to the 3D illusion
bonus areas, they might be a tad too gimmicky but they’re still pretty awesome. Anyway, that’s what I felt were the ingredients
that led to Super Mario 3D Land becoming the definitive killer app for the 3DS: a casual-friendly
approach to 3D Mario with a fantastic implementation of the 3DS’ gimmick. Nintendo advertised the heck out of the game,
placing a huge playground with demo stations right in the middle of Times Square, even
giving out mushroom pizzas and selling the game early exclusively at the event. This nostalgia bomb certainly worked as 3D
Land became the fastest selling portable Mario game up to that point after it launched. And of course, games like Mario Kart, Pokémon
and many more continued to push the 3DS towards old and new players alike, cementing the 3DS
as a platform not only defined by its gimmick, but also its diverse library of games. So even if you mostly played your 3DS games
with the 3D graphics off because they’re uncomfortable or whatever, I think it’s
good to take some time and appreciate the work Nintendo put into designing some of their
games to take full advantage of 3D, and how they’ve refined it over the 3DS’ life,
practically averting its fate in the process. While 3D is no longer the primary focus of
the 3DS as seen with the slowly dropping support for it, I still think that the feature has
some merit to it, and games like Super Mario 3D Land just go to show that designing specifically
for 3D graphics can make them a bit more than just pretty eye candy. Wow, this video is finally done. If you didn’t realize, this video was stuck
in limbo for like 9 months, so uh, I’m glad that it’s done, thank you for watching, and especially to my Patreon supporters
that you can see on-screen right now. And as for me, I’m just gonna…leave.

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