17th November 2011 - Super Mario 3D Land is Nintendo's first original title for their new handheld, the 3DS, which has been in desperate need of some new blood. After its first initial months of having its releases being either remakes of popular games from Nintendo's history, or ports of other more recent games, 3D Land is hoping to put the 3DS back on the market. But can this game really pull back consumers to the 3DS as the Smartphone gaming boom becomes more and more of a competitor?
Super Mario 3D Land is, in the most basic sense, a return to form for the Mario series all the way down to the basic story. Princess Peach gets kidnapped, and Mario must rescue her by methodically and urgently running and jumping through the various obstacles left by Bowser. As for the gameplay, if it weren't for the 3D level design and the different power-ups, one could easily be fooled into thinking that they're playing an HD version of an old Mario game. There are eight worlds, each one with about five or so stages, there's a time limit on each level, and the end of each level is marked by a giant flagpole that gives you a bonus depending on how high you grab it. It's with these many details that it would not be surprising if one were to look in the instruction manual they would see the phrase, “move correctly, do not die.” Thankfully the core is solid and the additions just help to add to the fun.
The small changes to the formula this time around are the inclusion of Star Coins. Three are hidden in each level and are partially there for a completionist challenge but mostly used as currency to unlock more levels. In addition to the return of the Tanooki suit from Super Mario Bros. 3, there's also the Boomerang Suit power-up which is used very creatively for certain puzzles. While on the topic of creativity, 3D Land goes out of its way to justify the use of the 3DS's... 3D. There are multiple occasions throughout the game where various optical illusions are performed, and if the 3D is on, the addition of depth helps navigation through an otherwise 2D looking obstacle easy. An example is seeing a pyramid of blocks but the last two blocks on the second highest row are actually further out and floating in midair, just in time for you to mess up. Thankfully, this use of 3D isn't done all the time or to an aggravating degree, but the fact that Nintendo is experimenting with the prospect of 3D gaming as opposed to using it as simple visual spectacle is enough reason to be cautiously optimistic. Another thing of note with the game is that the game's use of cut scenes, as well as small intermissions between worlds, paints 3D Land in a very light-hearted, almost self-aware demeanour. There will be cut scenes where the Princess appears to have attempted to have escaped and failed for example.
Unfortunately, there is one thing that leaves me bitter about Super Mario 3D Land and it's the use of the Super Guide, or lack thereof. Past Mario games had a mechanic where if you failed at a certain level eight or so times, a special block would appear at the beginning that would allow the computer to guide you through the level, but not all of the special secrets would be found. Personally, this worked. It allowed new players to get through tough spots and it allowed Mario veterans to feel genuinely challenged because the entire game wasn't “dumbed down.” 3D Land however, goes a bit too far. Instead of a Super Guide that would just take you through the levels, instead you get a special version of the Tanooki Suit that makes you invincible to anything but falling off the stage, essentially neutering the level's challenge. Furthermore, if even that upgrade does nothing and the player still manages to die, another upgrade is revealed that skips the level all together. There's a difference between watching a computer controlled Mario go through a level so a player can pick up certain tricks, and skipping the level completely so the player doesn't improve period. This one issue aside, the gameplay is exceptional.
For an original 3DS title, Super Mario 3D Land is a great look into the graphical capability. Fantastic whimsical aesthetic aside, Super Mario 3D land is gorgeous. The levels are expansive, the frame rate is smooth and consistent, and while Mario never was known for high level graphical fidelity, I can't deny that it is visually impressive.
The musical score of Super Mario 3D Land, excluding remixes of old tracks is the musical equivalent of an energy drink. It's exuberant, full of spirit and addictive. The sound effects are as well implemented as always, from the sound of grabbing a coin to the jingle of grabbing a Power Star.
Super Mario 3D Land is a very big game. Playing the main game to the story's end takes about 10 or so hours, but that is only half the game. Once the main story is finished, another scenario happens that basically doubles the number of default worlds. The difficulty curve is also so well assembled that it won't matter how many extra lives you've stocked up, only how many you've wasted getting through one level. When compared to iPhone App Games, Mario 3D Land's heavier financial investment is well worth such a long and engaging title.
Super Mario 3D Land is exactly what the 3DS needed. A solid, well-designed Mario game with a great mix of fan service, experimentation with 3D, and a big juicy single player experience. If you have a 3DS, buy this game.
+ Solid level design
+ Expansive length and appropriate difficulty curve
+ Gorgeous eye-candy
- Level Skip Power-Up Far Too Intrusive
Reviewed and Written By Tyler Chancey