Review by neonreaper
Good use of 3D, good level designs
Mario games have often set the bar for platforming level design. To say a Mario game excels in level design is to say "the bar is set higher", pretty much. I wasn't a fan of NSMB level designs, so I was worried about handheld Mario's future. The interviews I read about NSMB's design and development seemed to stick on how often people could save the game, which seemed like a bad thing to focus on. Nintendo oddly tried to keep Mario 15 years in the past on that aspect, yet their business plan was to explore the casual market like never before with the DS and Wii. Why use an old save system while focusing on having levels dumbed down? It seemed like Nintendo spent much of the aughts decade tripping over pointless design decisions. As we hit the new decade, the new handheld... would Nintendo go back to worrying about minor details while level design suffered?
Luckily the answer with Super Mario 3D Land is "no". The physics are terrific and level design is at a minimum "fun". I wouldn't put it on par with the best Mario games, but it's an improvement from the most recent Mario handheld effort, handily. There's quite a variety in levels, and the use of 3D is great. Many levels don't just look nicer, they benefit from the 3D because it puts everything in proper perspective. This is a terrific game for Nintendo to have out for the 3DS, as you probably want to see why they even bothered putting the 3D on the device. Many levels I would switch on and off just to get an idea, and thought "ohh very nice" when I turned on the 3D. The game is very playable if you don't like the 3D, though.
The one caveat to the level design is that it is very forgiving, and most deaths I suffered were due to my own mistakes or just being a dope. So while the levels are creative and a joy to play, it was rare to feel compelled by any sort of difficulty, especially during the first 4-5 levels. I feel like this is Nintendo's way of keeping a flagship title casual-friendly, which is OK, but the bonus worlds and star coins should have had a little more challenge. The bonus challenge worlds at the game will benefit the player looking for something to accomplish, but, again this could have been spread out with optional content along the way.
The other issue I have with the game is the presentation. Worlds are just straight lines from level 1 through the end, and you save whenever. The plot is just a picture of Bowser kidnapping the princess, basically. Mario doesn't need an excuse to go hopping through the mushroom kingdom, but we've seen plenty of personality and charm from the Mario Galaxy and Paper Mario games. This felt rushed and/or lazy, so I think of the overall experience as being slightly diminished due to the lack of personality.
So I think Mario 3D Land accomplishes some important things for a Mario game - fun levels, fun gameplay. It lacks the type of personality previous entries have had, but it's quite fun and easy to play. It's also good because you can take it in small bites, so if you don't feel like committing to a long game experience, or even a moderate one, you can pick this game up, play a level, and put it away. Given how easy the game is, sometimes that's all it will hold your attention for.
I'm gonna say this is around an 8.5/10 game. It's enjoyable and shows of the 3DS pretty well, but beating the game sometimes seems like a formality and Nintendo didn't exactly go the extra mile with the presentation.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Super Mario 3D Land (US, 11/13/11)
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