Review by Rango

"Same old Mario? You're in for a surprise."

With every game Mario has been in, there's been a legion of fans behind it ready to play a new adventure. Many of these fans have been playing the games since the NES and SNES days, often comparing each adventure to the plumber's glory heydays on the 2D systems. "Is it as good as Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World? What about Super Mario 64?" Mario games have rarely failed in quality, and 3D Land is as good as they come. Whereas Super Mario 64, Sunshine, and the two Galaxy titles took Mario into a slightly new direction, timing his powerups and gathering stars, Super Mario 3D Land brings the gameplay back to 2D form.

On a 3D plane, you gather Mushrooms, Super Leafs, Fire Flowers, and the new Boomerang Powerup, which lets you throw Boomerangs and collect coins from afar. The Super Leaf has finally returned from Super Mario Bros. 3, only now it relies on hovering alone; you no longer fly through stages, which is a great thing for the sake of challenge. In Mario 3D Land, levels consist of one stage in eight different worlds, and your goal is to simply reach the finish. You're no longer thrown in stage segments hunting for stars and exploring a large area. The classic style of 2D Mario gaming has returned, complete with a clock to make you finish before time runs out. Granted, this is almost never an issue, because the stages are never too long to finish in the time frame, which is usually around 5 minutes or so. One of the best things about playing is the ease of the controls. Running around has never felt so smooth in 3D, and you even have a new rolling jump that can give Mario the ability to do a long jump without momentum. This helps players who are stuck on small platforms and need to make the leap.

Visually speaking, Super Mario 3D Land is Mario's first foray into full 3D. With the 3DS' abilities, you can see blocks from a new angle, which makes the 3D effect useful for finding Big Coins behind said blocks. The system itself is far more powerful than the original DS, so the polygonal models all look like they were on the GameCube rather than the Nintendo 64, making Mario's model, and other character models, look more detailed and vivid. You get good detail of the variety of stages, such as the sunny beaches, the snowy ice stages, the castles filled with lava, and the underground labyrinths.

The sound production of Super Mario 3D Land is as good as ever. The soundtrack won't be as varied as Super Mario Galaxy's, nor will it be orchestral, but it's standard 2D Mario fanfare, and honestly, it sounds a lot better than the recent 2D New Super Mario Bros. series. It feels like you're in a platformer, not just strolling around in an easy game. I found the Beach music to be very enjoyable with a fast beat, while the last castle stage keeps a pace that makes you want to endure the challenge. The underground remix is probably my favorite version of the classic underground theme, and the classic SMB1 theme and the Athletic SMB3 theme make a return as well. The sounds you've come to know and love, from coins to mushrooms, are still as pleasing to hear to this day, all the way to the 100th coin and the 1-up that comes with it. The day a Mario game has sloppy sound design is the day the series falls.

The good thing is that once you beat the game, you get to do the Special World; beat the game again with the stages being assorted and more challenging. Each stage is almost the same, but not quite. Enemy placements and platform placements are different, giving you the general idea of the original stage, but it is otherwise entirely new. These new challenges, like the main game, aren't terribly difficult, but they're enjoyable enough to keep the game fresh, unlike Galaxy, which essentially cheesed the replays by making you beat the game again. To 100% the game, you will have to beat it again as Luigi, but the replay is completely worth it because the game's true challenge awaits at the end; literally one of the hardest stages in the series. Can you do it?

Super Mario 3D Land is what you would expect from Super Mario Bros. 3; varied, clever level designs, ranging from flipping and rotating platforms, to music blocks and jumping tightropes, frem eerie ghost house mazes and evading spike traps underground, to riding on elevators and avoiding fireballs to confront a Bowser or an airship battle against Boom-Boom. It also brings back the Toad Houses and the ability to transform into a Tanooki. The gameplay has its roots in Super Mario 64, controlling Mario in complete 3D. Although it's not as free-roam as the original 3D Mario title, the level design focuses entirely on platforming, so there's never a dull moment.

I found the game to be very compelling. To anyone who enjoys Mario games, the reason it's so good is because it's not a stale formula. Each level brings something different and never feels monotonous. Perhaps this is why Mario enjoys rescuring Princess Peach after all these years.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/29/12

Game Release: Super Mario 3D Land (US, 11/13/11)

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