Super Mario 3D World preview: First play of Mario in 3D on Wii U

Mario in 3D has been missing from the Wii U since the console's launch and fans have been pining for his return. Back when Mario 64 launched alongside the N64 all those years ago, our Italian plumber friend acquired a new status - busting out of the restrictive side-scrolling world and into the third dimension. It's the way we want to see him and at the E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles, California, that's exactly what Pocket-lint was treated to: a playable demo of Super Mario 3D World.

The Wii U has been under fire of late. Flagging sales and limited releases have seen it drift away from the forefront of many minds. But titles such as Super Mario 3D World has the power to change that - it's a sobering title when all those open-world first person shooters get a bit yawnsome. Mario is a fun 3D platformer that has all the makings of a Nintendo classic: Goombas, Fireflowers, moving platforms, and more jumping and well-known sound effects than you could wave a Mario-shaped stick at.

We played through three different levels - some solo, others with an extra one and two players using Wiimotes - to get a feel for the game. Full of all the usual cutesy, stylised Mario failsafes - blue skies, green-topped platforms, rocket-launched giant bullets and more - the moment the controller entered out hands we felt straight at home playing. It's this accessibility and immediacy of the game that will see it appeal to all ages, while a difficulty curve will be enough to challenge hardened gamers too.

Sometimes the 3D world can throw your depth perception - but focus on your shadow and it's easy to position jumps. After working through a few levels we were totally comfortable with Mario's abilities.

New to 3D World is the variety of characters available, each of which has their own special ability: Mario is the set standard, for example, whereas Princess can float for short periods, Toad is a little faster and Luigi has his trademark high-jumping (and slippery-footed antics that we know all too well). The combination of special abilities can help in completing certain levels cooperatively, but at its core the game is a single player.

When playing multiplayer - it's possible for up to four players to take part - with different characters the correct path of the level is given the camera's precedence, i.e. the camera doesn't fix onto Player 1, it follows the most correct path. If your characters drift off screen away from your co-players then you'll reappear in a floating bubble rather than losing a life - it can get a bit frustrating, due to the disengage from play, but that's the way it is. We quizzed Nintendo about whether online multiplayer would be available but they declined to comment further on how such features may pan out.

In addition to the usual Mushroom, Fireflower and other classic power-ups, 3D World introduces the new cat transformation. That's right: Mario can be a cat. Scratch at enemies and climb up vertical walls for a short period - the power-up changes the dynamic for certain sections of levels. Whether we ever thought Mario would be a cat, however, is a different story.

Transparent pipes with multiple entrances and exits add another slightly different feel to the game, but this is still very much Mario. If there's a pipe with four exists, for example, you'll need to use the directional pad to select which exit you wish to take - sharp eyes are required to see what's in each of those pipes to avoid enemy nasties or to obtain desirable power-ups. We can see the potential for such a device to get even more complex in later levels where enemies also roam in the pipes.

So there we have it. It's Mario. It's 3D. It's familiar, immediately accessible and puts a sunshine-like smile on the face. Nintendo's still got it, but whether it'll be a little too late by 2014 - when the game is due for release - is yet to be seen.