June 9, 2011 at 1:15 PM ET
Nintendo’s latest handheld game gadget — the 3DS — hasn’t been selling as well as the company had hoped. Not by a long shot. But the video game giant will soon be sending two of its most famous mascots to the rescue.
The question is … will Mario and Luigi arrive in time?
The 3DS, which launched in North America in March, is a pretty sweet gadgetthat plays games in eye-popping 3-D without requiring users to wear any special glasses. But at a recent investors’ meeting, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata admitted that sales of the device dropped off drastically after the initial launch.
So what’s the problem? Well, it could be that the machine, typically popular with a younger set, is priced too high at $250. Or it could be that people just don’t feel like they need or want 3-D gaming in a portable machine (some people have reported feeling dizzy while playing the handheld.)
But probably the real problem is this — the games that launched with the 3DS just weren’t compelling enough to make people want to run out and buy a new gadget. After all, the 3DS launched without a Mario game … and everyone knows that it’s the Italian plumber as well as his lesser-known sibling Luigi who do much to drive Nintendo game machine sales.
But Nintendo will be significantly beefing up the 3DS’ library in the coming months when it finally launches "Super Mario 3DS" as well as "Luigi’s Mansion 2" along with "Mario Kart 3DS." All three games feature the dynamic brother duo along with a host of other storied Nintendo characters.
I got a chance to spend some time with all three games at the Electronic Entertainment Expo taking place in Los Angeles this week and I can say that, from my brief hands-on time with the games, they do appear to be the kind of well-crafted, delightfully creative games Nintendo has built its reputation on. They’re titles that both hearken back to the things we’ve loved about Mario Bros. games for decades now but also deliver some new twists and turns.
"Super Mario 3DS" — certainly the most anticipated 3DS game and one that's slated for this holiday — finds Mario suiting up in his trusty old raccoon outfit for some three-dimensional action that’s reminiscent of the "Super Mario Galaxy"games on the Wii.
As Tanooki Mario, you can have him use his tail to hover and perform floating jumps and powerful attacks. And moving Mario around the bright, colorful world with the 3-D visual effects cranked up really does make it easier to judge depth and distance as you leap from one moving platform to the next or try to take out toothy Piranha Plants and leaping Goombas. But you have to watch out because Mario enemies have been given some new tricks and powers.
Meanwhile Luigi will be making his long-awaited return to his ghost hunting ways when Nintendo launches action-adventure game "Luigi’s Mansion 2" (though not until next year). Like the first "Luigi’s Mansion" — which appeared on the GameCube back in November 2001 — Luigi gets his "Ghostbusters" on by heading to a series of haunted houses where he must suck up spooks and spirits (as well as cash and coins) with his trusty super-powered vacuum.
Different types of ghosts haunt the different mansions you’ll take Mario's poor scaredy-cat bro to visit. And this time around you’ll have to use a strobe light to stun those ghosts. The puzzles are looking pretty clever here as you wander around a spooky 3D world trying to figure out how to find and defeat each ghost as well as uncover hidden secrets and treasures.
As for "Mario Kart 3DS," the storied kart racer looks to be making a strong return to the 3DS this holiday. From what I experienced at E3, the controls are tight, the action is fast and fun and all our favorite characters are present. Additionally, this time around, players will have a greater ability to customize their vehicles and will even be able to take flight and race under water.
I test drove a level at E3, taking Mario for a spin in a rig with a hang-glider-like sail. Soaring through the air was certainly a nice addition especially with the 3D effect dialed up. Will all of this be enough to make gamers want to run out and grab yet another "Mario Kart" game and a 3DS? Knowing how rabid those kart fans are … probably yes.
Of course, as good as these games look at least initially, the question remains: Will Mario and Luigi be arriving just in time to save sinking 3DS sales … or will they get there too late?
After all, things aren’t going to get any easier for the 3DS in the coming months. Sony is set to launch its competitor — the PlayStation Vita —sometime later this year. And this week Sony announced it will be charging $250 for its machine — making an arguably more powerful machine the same price as the 3DS.
But then again, Sony doesn’t have Mario on its side.
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