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Can Super Mario turn around the 3DS?

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The initial criticisms surrounding Nintendo's 3DS handheld were pretty straightforward: The price was too high and there was a paucity of good games.

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Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo)

Nintendo took care of the pricing problem in August. Now, it's taking on the quality concerns.

Super Mario 3D Land, which hit shelves earlier this week, combines elements from the classic 2D side-scrolling Mario games as well as more recent free-roaming 3D Mario titles, plus it brings back the much-loved Tanooki suit from Super Mario Bros. 3. And critics are cheering.

More than 20 outlets have given the game a score of 90 or above, with four of those giving it a perfect 100.

"For every familiar bit of music or a level background that reminds you of Mario games past, you have new abilities to use and deviously designed platforming sections that feel completely unique," said GamePro. "And for once, I actually preferred playing a game in 3D."

IGN is even more effusive.

"Nintendo has repeatedly promised that Mario's first 3DS adventure would show off what the system is really made of, cementing it as a truly unique and capable platform. The incredible part? The company actually delivered," it says. "3D gaming has never been fully realized before this."

That's just the sort of praise Nintendo was hoping for. 3D gaming has generally been seen as a novelty so far, an occasionally fun supplement to titles, but hardly a necessary one. But the 3D in Super Mario 3D Land is being called out as something that truly adds to the experience.

And that's something developers have been looking for.

"I don't think anyone has solved the riddle of how you make 3D an integral part of the gaming experience," said Dan Houser co-founder and vice president of creative at Rockstar Games, in the days before Super Mario 3D Land's release. "You can point to the killer experience on most bits of new technology [but] you can't point to anything that makes you go 'once you play this on 3D, then you know why you want to play 3D [games]'."

In part because of the excitement surrounding Super Mario 3D Land, Nintendo now says the 3DS, which many analysts have labeled a sales disappointment, will actually outperform the DS in first year sales. So far, the 3DS system has sold more than 1.65 million units in the US. The DS sold 2.37 million in its first year, "with approximately 50 percent of those sales occurring in the holiday time frame."

The question that's more crucial, though, is whether Nintendo has other must-have 3D games up its sleeve to keep that momentum going in 2012. Presently, the only other potential 3DS blockbuster on the horizon is Mario Kart 7, which releases December 4th.

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