Mario leads the pack of new Nintendo 3DS titles

Nintendo’s 3DS system continues to depend on some tried-and-true franchise titles for its best offerings. Here’s a look at the top games for the holidays.

?”Mario Kart 7″ (Nintendo, $39.99, rated E): You might think that the simple notion of racing around the screen as a 30-year-old video game character would get old. You would be wrong. The Mario Kart series continues to churn out big fun, this time with “Mario Kart 7.”

There are plenty of race courses, challenge games and vehicle customizations to keep Mario and Luigi fans busy for hours. Nintendo has created various layers of gaming, from the solo lead-foot races to local multiplayer (up to eight connected races using a single game card) and online multiplayer races.

I really enjoyed the online races against fellow Marios from around the globe. The action happened quickly, and there were no connection problems as I was pitted against six competitors for a series of races. I got used to losing early as there were some fanatics who seem to have memorized every twist and turn.

The race courses are inventive. Some take place in the clouds while others will leave you submerged underwater. For those familiar with the “Mario Kart” series, driving through colorful boxes with question marks continues to provide you with various tools to distract and disable your opponents. Four out of four stars.

?”Star Fox 64 3D” (Nintendo, $39.99, rated E10+): Another addition to the long-running and popular Star Fox series, this title features some seriously slick gyro-enabled steering of the Airwing spaceship. You play as Fox McCloud, a cosmos-faring fox leading a team of other animal astronauts in defense of the Lylat planetary system.

The mission mode is fine, and in the early stages you’ll feel invincible as you engage in a few dogfight battles and incur little level-stopping damage. The cartoonish characters are a bit hokey, but they fit the E10+ demographic nicely enough.

The gyro steering allows you to control your spaceship by tilting your 3DS unit. It is quite possibly one of the best such uses of this technology I’ve seen and is extremely accurate and responsive. That feature fits perfectly on “Star Fox 64 3D,” and when combined with the 3-D effect is a noteworthy achievement. Three out of four stars.

?”Tetris: Axis” (Nintendo, $39.99, rated E): If you like the world of falling colored blocks, “Tetris: Axis” is for you. It has four featured modes, nine party modes, five flavors of local play plus battling Tetris addicts worldwide.

Of course, this is way beyond the humble beginnings of the video puzzle game with the catchy theme music that caught on like wildfire in the 1980s. This is about twisting and turning and 3-D and techno music and everything else that Nintendo could throw at it.

It’s interesting, but not truly some watershed improvement for Tetris. It remains, at its essence, a speed puzzle that doesn’t sit idly by while you contemplate your next move. For all the variations of the basic setup, none is as enjoyable as the original.

“World Battle” takes you online and pits you against other puzzlers, but I enjoyed playing against the computer.

This is a solid new Tetris game, but there are many bells and whistles here that I won’t be revisiting. Two out of four stars.

?”Super Mario 3D Land” (Nintendo, $39.99, rated E): “Super Mario” has always been a top-flight title, whether it was the old scroller days or the new incarnations. “Super Mario 3D Land” won’t disappoint.

You should know the drill by now. Bowser has kidnapped the always imperiled Princess Peach and it’s up to Mario and some of his pint-sized mushroom minions to get her back.

I wasn’t able to tear through levels at lightning speed on this title. There is just so much to see and do, coins to collect, and it’s all made more interesting by the deft use of 3-D. The landscape followed my movements and expanded to reveal moving platforms that took me up, down, left, right and any other direction I could imagine. The 3DS circle pad offered pinpoint control as I stomped on some frowning Goombas.

The Tanooki suit for Mario makes its first 3DS system appearance on this title. This rodentlike costume let me smack enemies with a flourish of my tail or float down from lofty spots in flying-squirrel fashion. This is a very nice addition to the Mario legacy. Three out of four stars.


Ron Harris can be reached at