Review by mildare_el_rayo
"One of the best Mario experiences out there. Fun, original and charming."
I like Mario games. I think they're fine products: Every time a new one comes out, I don't necessarily go out and buy it, but they're definitely fun experiences. More importantly though, they are, to me, to me, primordially aesthetic experiences.
I've always been a fan of Super Mario World: Its visual style just gets me and its soundtrack is superb. It's one of the most complete soundtracks in gaming history and its sounds go perfectly well with the rest of the game. It's simply nice to look at and listen to. This can be especially true for the more recent Mario titles: better graphics and a higher budget have done the series well. Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 both have superb visual styles and soundtracks and offer incredible experiences.
They're radically different from each other, however: Super Mario Galaxy 2 is much more linear, provides less free-roaming and has had its story all but cut off. Super Mario 3D Land seems to follow suit in every one of this aspects: the game provides a much more streamlined experience than previous Mario titles, has basically no story to speak of, has absolutely no dialogue, is level-based and has no explorable overworld. However, it has also several virtues to make up for it.
Above all, Super Mario 3D Land is a polished experience. It's so polished it shines: Every aspect of it is tighter than a nun's ass. The gameplay is constantly fun and rewarding, It never ceases to be beautiful and keeps on impressing constantly.
The game revisits some mechanics used in previous titles and smoothens them. For instance, this is the first 3D Mario game where you don't have a health system, but actually a system where damage either takes away an upgrade or makes you small. Secondly, this is the first 3D Mario game to feature the Tanooki Suit, which lets you glide, therefore allowing you to make very long jumps. This is by far the most used upgrade in the game, and is extremely fun to use.
The game also revisits a specific mechanic from Super Mario Galaxy 2: combining 2D platforming and 3D platforming. This is an especially charming mechanic in the game that adds versatility to the gameplay and keeps it from getting stale.
The streamlined nature of Super Mario 3D land makes you miss the Super Mario 64 days, where you could explore and freely roam each world to complete certain, more adventure-based tasks. This is definitely gone now: Super Mario 3D Land is a distilled platforming experience, no digression is to be found here. I suppose this allowed the developers to really focus on tightening up the platforming mechanics, since they're genius, though, to be fair, there are very few major mechanics that are repeated over and over throughout the game, and several minor ones.
Amongst the notable major mechanics is the blue-tile, red-tile mechanic: In several levels throughout the game, there are blue tiles and red tiles whose appearance alternates whenever you jump, so if you see a blue tile you want to jump onto, when you jump, it'll disappear and an adjacent red tile will appear, making you fall to your death. This is the most innovative platforming mechanic to be found in the game and my personal favorite. There's also several rhythm-based levels, which can be cruel and daunting yet fiendishly engaging and entertaining.
It's important to note that this game is extremely lengthy. It is comprised of over 100 levels. Once you think it's over, it's not: The end-game comprises 50% of the game's length, allows you to play as Luigi, and provides nice rewards for completionists, much like other Mario games. It is true that the latter half of the game recycles previous stages, albeit with new mechanics, but it's a lot more challenging than the first half of the game. I entered the second half of the game with 1110 lives and ended up with 910. So, yes, it's very challenging, but it's also extremely rewarding. And playing as Luigi is much easier than playing as Mario, so there is, in fact, a subtle "easy" mode to be found in the game.
As mentioned earlier, Super Mario 3D Land never ceases to be aesthetically pleasing. There's always a wide range of color palettes displayed, and the 3D effects are especially powerful for a game so pretty. It's amazing how much sliding on the 3D effects in this game can add to its visual appeal, though they add little to the gameplay. The game has got a few neat tricks up its sleeve, like sleek referencesto MC Escher, but it never really explores them. It just mentions them in passing and soon forgets all about them. They're definitely not essential to the game, and as this is Super Mario 3D Land, it would certainly have been nice to see some actual importance given to the 3D aspect of the game.
It seems that folks over at Nintendo crave to go back to Mario's roots, and while this definitely affects gameplay in a positive manner, the rest of the game suffers from it. As polished and fun as Super Mario 3D Land may be, it's just a neat little platforming game. It's got no emotion, no story, no real appeal to someone looking for a meatier experience that doesn't just focus on the gameplay. It's really fitting, however, that Super Mario 3D Land is a portable experience: Rarely do you look for a deep and emotionally meaningful experience to play on the subway. In that sense, this game does its job extraordinarily well, and meets every expectation there is to meet for a Super Mario game. It's one of the best Mario titles there is out there, and I highly recommend it.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/09/13
Game Release: Super Mario 3D Land (US, 11/13/11)
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