The 3DS game Nintendo is currently referring to only as "Super Mario" is an even split between the traditional 2D platforming of New Super Mario Bros. and fully 3D, exploration-based gameplay a la Super Mario 64. I got to play three of the four quick levels on demo here at E3, and... I'm not 100 percent sold yet. But Super Mario (it's so weird just calling it that) has some neat ideas, and the freaking tanooki suit is in there, so I'm still willing to give it a fair shake when there's more to see.
The game reminds me of NSMB primarily because you play every level from a fixed camera perspective. They certainly aren't all the same camera angle, but the point is you can't spin the camera around freely like in most third-person action games. Some of the levels scroll directly left to right, and you can move into and out of the background a bit, kind of like in Final Fight. You play other levels from a three-quarter overhead perspective, and others from a more traditional third-person view where you're heading straight into the background.
Super Mario's gameplay is pretty slowly paced. Mario can hop onto enemies to kill them, and the one-two-three jump and butt-stomp mechanics from Mario 64 are in there too. And of course there's that tanooki suit, although you can't really do much with it yet. I couldn't find anywhere to build up enough speed to actually fly, Mario 3-style, and you can't use it to turn into a statue either. But at least you can spin around with the tail to take out enemies, and hold the jump button in the air to flap your tail and slow your descent. Disturbingly, some of the goombas have raccoon tails too, but that's neither here nor there. I'm just excited to see more suits in a Mario game again.
Super Mario is of course taking plenty of other cues from past Mario games. I played a level set on an airship rife with flamethrowers, Bullet Bill launchers, and tight wires that culminated in a boss fight against an oversized Koopa kid. Other levels are sort of floating in empty space, like in Mario Galaxy. There were a lot of opportunities to fall into bottomless pits, actually, and in the demo, with 3D enabled, I had some trouble judging the depth in the scene and figuring out on the fly exactly where Mario was going to land, leading me to make some jumps I immediately wished I hadn't. In some cases there were coins arranged in a cube shape where it wasn't exactly clear which coins were closer to the camera and which were farther away. All this might just be a consequence of combining these fixed and sometimes unusual camera angles with the actual 3D on this handheld. Who's had time to get used to playing Mario in 3D? Not me.
Anyway, hey! Tanooki suit! The 3DS certainly needs a new Mario game, and this one is pulling a lot of enticing new and old elements together. You pick up fire flowers to shoot fireballs at enemies; you go down pipes to collect extra coins. But there's some unique stuff, too, like running from ghosts across the keys of a giant haunted piano. (See the trailer above.) I hope Nintendo can pull all of this together into a package as enticing as the last DS Mario game, before Super Mario heads to retail toward the end of the year.