Review by Ateas
"Super Mario 3D Land is everything a Mario fan could hope for."
Super Mario 3D Land is the latest entry in the long-running Mario franchise, and the first traditional Nintendo-made game on the 3DS that isn't a remake or port. That fact alone makes it noteworthy, but what helps it along is that 3D Land is an outstanding Mario game that showcases what the 3DS is capable of better than anything before it, and might help put to rest any doubts current owners might have about their purchase.
At first glance, it may be easy to confuse 3D Land with a more modern-style Mario game in the vein of Mario Galaxy or Sunshine - one in which you explore vast levels connected to a central hub area in search of Stars by completing various objectives. In reality, 3D Land - like its name implies - has more in common with a traditional Mario sidescroller, but with an added third dimension. Like classic Mario games, your objective is simply to make it to the flag at the end of the level. Standing in your way are obstacles like spikes, wrecking balls, and bottomless pits, alongside classic Mario enemies such as Goombas, Bullet Bills, and Koopa Troopas.
Level design is absolutely fantastic. Every level plays differently, and you'll never really find yourself doing the same exact thing twice in different areas. Most levels are very good, but some stand out and are a blast - I especially enjoyed the Bowser Castle areas which put a new spin on the classic Bowser boss fight, and the final confrontation with Bowser is truly epic, challenging, and fun enough that I've done it more than once solely for kicks. The game is heavily inspired by Super Mario Bros 3 on the NES. Airship levels return, and the Tanooki Suit makes a reappearance and proves to be one of the most useful powerups due to its ability to slow your descent, making accurate jumping easier. Alongside the Suit, you'll find familiar powerups like the Fire Flower and relatively new ones like the Boomerang. Remixed music from Mario 3 can be heard alongside brand new catchy tunes. Level design elements from previous games return in new forms, along with new ones; there's one particularly creative level type that has you platforming across gigantic pixelated platforms in the shape of classic Mario sprites. Older level designs are given new life. Underwater levels in particular are no longer annoyances, and instead are fun and give a breathtaking 3D presentation.
The 3D is really showcased here and adds a lot to the game. I expected to mostly play in 2D mode, but ultimately I left 3D on most of the time because it really does help. Some areas are deliberately tricky in 2D - platforms that look like they're on an equal plane in 2D mode are revealed to be rather far apart with the 3D turned on, which can result in some untimely deaths in 2D mode. It's a neat trick, and a perfect example of Nintendo making good use of their own hardware. There were a couple of levels that have you jumping long lengths downward - they're fun in their own right, but these areas were a real rush with the 3D enabled. The more I play my 3DS, the more natural the 3D "sweet spot" becomes, and the less apparent the "ghosting" image effect becomes.
The gameplay is excellent, but might take some getting used to. The controls are slightly off from previous games. I can't really explain it, but early on I felt like I missed some jumps that weren't entirely my fault, but the longer I played the less this happened. The ability to move in 3 dimensions also takes some getting used to, especially since some of the platforming areas seem to be designed with 2D navigation in mind. Regardless, 3D Land has an excellent difficulty curve that starts off breezy easy and ends up pretty damn challenging. Thankfully, if you die too many times on a level you're given the option of entering the area with a special Tanooki Suit that makes you invincible. It sounds cheap, but due to the linear nature of the game it's refreshing. Getting stuck on a level you can't quite beat is beyond frustrating, and that won't happen in 3D Land.
As for collectibles, each level has three star coins to find - some of which are hidden or in tricky spots - and some later levels require you to have obtained a certain number of star coins to unlock them, so it's in your best interest to make an effort to grab as many of 'em as possible. After completing the first eight "normal" worlds, another eight "special" worlds are unlocked and provide a much stiffer challenge than the previous ones. Some level designs are similar but with an added twist, such as a killer shadow mini-Mario chasing you throughout the stage, or an extremely strict time limit that has you racing as fast as possible while collecting clock pickups to extend your time. They add variety, but the gimmicks might irritate some players. The shadow Mario stages are among my personal least favorite.
There are some elements from previous games I felt were missing. The 16 world maps are completely linear; there are no secret exits or hidden levels to find, and no shortcuts or special areas. I would've liked to see the complexity of the Super Mario World map here. People who played Super Mario World in the pre-Internet early 90's will likely remember the rush of discovering the Cheese Bridge secret exit, or finding the Star World, or discovering it was possible to bypass almost the entire game and take a shortcut to Bowser's final castle. It definitely would've made the game more interesting, and would provide incentive to revisit completed levels beyond collecting missed star coins or beating your top clear time. Each world map also seems to have a theme similar to Mario 3 - such as grasslands or desert - but the levels within the world don't follow a theme at all. In any one given world you could have a desert level, a snow level, a water level, and a grassy level. Some thematic elements would've given each world its own distinct feel, which was something I enjoyed about Mario 3. However, some players will likely appreciate the unpredictable variety found in each world.
Overall, Super Mario 3D Land is a shining example of a platformer done right, and is currently one of the best reasons to own a 3DS. It's a game that should be in any 3DS owner's collection, and one that should not be missed out on.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 04/05/12
Game Release: Super Mario 3D Land (US, 11/13/11)
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