Nintendo has proved itself a practised turntablist when it comes to remixing Mario. Against a steady backbeat of platforming, Mario games have blended in samples from the series' past, twisting and warping them to create a new and often quite intoxicating mix. The Galaxy games remain some of the headiest concoctions of this generation, yet deep within, it's those same staple ingredients that have been present since the series' dawn.
Super Mario 3D (a working title), the game that left a gaping hole in the 3DS's launch line-up earlier this year and that was given its reveal proper at E3, is the latest blend. It is, once again, a reworking of old favourites presented in a new light, from different angles and with fresh vigour.
Its approach can best be summed up in its perspective, a fixed camera that sits somewhere between the dynamism of Galaxy and the strictly side-on view of New Super Mario Bros. and its Wii sequel. Given that it's the Galaxy team at the controls, it never quite manages to stay still; dropping into a Warp Pipe will segue into a single-screen isometric puzzle, and while some levels will be played side-on, others see Mario running into the screen, Crash Bandicoot style.
And given that it's the Galaxy team, Super Mario 3D seems to revel in showering the player with novelty. Although it's absent in the playable version on E3's show floor, a behind closed doors demo sees the game adopt a top-down view for a brief yet perfectly pitched tribute to Zelda, with a Flower Mario tossing fireballs into a room's four corners in a simple puzzle. It's the kind of throwaway inventiveness that has marked out the Galaxy games, and it's delightful to see that while the camera's been tamed, the creativity hasn't.
Zelda's not the only game from Nintendo's annals to have left its mark on Super Mario 3D, and the game's biggest influence is perhaps its most welcome. Super Mario Bros. 3 leaves an aggressive mark, told not only through the wagging Tanooki tail of Super Mario 3D's logo but also tiny details throughout the four levels that make up the E3 demo. There are end-of-level flagpoles, Jump Blocks marked with musical notes and floating airships riddled with Bullet Bills to navigate. Meanwhile, Boom Boom, the one boss on display, is another refugee from the NES classic.
Then there's that Tanooki Suit itself. Obtained by grabbing a Super Leaf, its powers have been tempered by time and the leap into three dimensions. Keeping the jump button pressed after a leap sees the tail shake wildly, leaving Mario to glide through the air as his downward descent is slowed. There's no longer the ability to turn into a statue, and more crushingly, there's no longer the ability to fly.
The Tanooki suit has had its wings clipped, but it's hard to be too disheartened when it's part of a game that's so eager to play on the nostalgia - and of all its classic Mario games, it's Super Mario Bros. 3 that's been called upon the least by Nintendo. With assets looted from one of the series' most cherished moments, the 3DS Super Mario carries a hefty weight on its shoulders, but it's a weight that the game seems more than capable of carrying.
Mario himself is accommodated well on the handheld; the 3DS' circle pad is perfectly tuned to his movements and gives the kind of control the truly great Mario games demand. His action vocabulary is a strange mix of old and new, and there are some odd omissions nestling alongside some exciting additions.
Again, it's pitched somewhere between the series' side-scrolling heritage and more recent outings. There's a new somersault, triggered when running at full pelt, that sees Mario tumble gleefully, and the 2D games' B-button dash sits comfortably alongside analogue control, adding another tier of speed that's exploited by some levels' call for long, arcing jumps. Elsewhere, Galaxy's health counter has been replaced by a staunchly traditionalist two-hit system that paves the way for the return of Small Mario. With Mario's move-set largely faithful to the previous 3D adventures, the few cuts can be a little jarring; there's no longer a triple jump, and narrowly avoiding a ledge will now see you plummet rather than have Mario reach out and grab it.
Thankfully, the depth of the 3D screen is put to good use and judging leaps is made that much easier. As you'd expect from a first-party Nintendo title, it's not the only way in which the handheld is exploited, and Super Mario 3D really makes the hardware sing. There are a few schlocky tricks thrown in – a new breed of Piranha Plant spits ink at the player that gloopily drips down the screen – but you can't fault it for its enthusiasm.
It's also one of the 3DS' more handsome games, the vibrant primaries and pastels of Mario's traditional palette playing to visuals that fly oh-so-close to those of the Galaxy games. Mario's robust toy-town world was always going to look good in 3D, and the finer details - the butterflies that dance around small thickets of grass, or the glittering gold coin trails that guide you through each level - suggest that Nintendo hasn't passed up on this opportunity.
With Mario's long-suffering partner enjoying an overdue moment in the sun at E3 - no surprise, given that the show has traditionally been about surprises, and Luigi's Mansion 2 was one of the very few games to oblige last week - it's oddly possible that the first outing for Nintendo's mascot on the 3DS is being quietly overlooked. That would be a mistake; Super Mario 3D is a game that, for all its warm familiarity, represents another new direction for Mario, another new perspective, and another successful remix for a series that refuses to get old.