Super Mario 3D Land Review
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On 11/21/2011 at 12:00 PM by Travis Hawks
Taking fun to another dimension.
It’s time to rise up, my friends! It’s time to storm Nintendo HQ and liberate the concentrated fun they slowly leak out to us, the common man. We’ve been waiting years for the next proper handheld Mario game, and they finally deigned to give us… Super Mario 3D Land. Now that we have it we know what we’ve been missing out on and can only wonder what else they must be keeping from us. Super Mario 3D Land is a delicious feast from Nintendo’s fun hoard that is not only a worthy installment in the Super Mario Bros. oeuvre, but it also evolves the series, makes good use of the 3DS’s capabilities, and offers a flawless platforming experience.
From the start, it is not only obvious that this is a carefully crafted Mario game, but its aura reminds you that it was handled by the same team that created the Galaxy games on Wii. Creating those two three-dimensional Mario adventures was the best preparation imaginable to properly bring Mario to the 3DS. Instead of featuring Galaxy-esque levels that encourage roaming around, 3D Land is an extension of a two-dimensional experience, where the levels have been stretched and sculpted into something between two- and three-dimensions. Throw in the creative use of stereoscopic 3D, and classifying this game into an existing category becomes impossible. Deviating so far from existing level design paradigms could have been troublesome, but the Galaxy team pulled it off perfectly.
Each level is compact, and each one has its own new mechanic or maneuver as its focus. Those new mechanics are explained to you in the classic Nintendo fashion we first experienced when the goomba scooted across World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros. Through example or easing you to a logical conclusion, the game teaches you what a propeller box does, why you would want to use a telescope sitting on a ledge, and how to boost Mario into the clouds atop a stack of goombas. There is no reading or laborious tutorial to slow you down here; it’s all learning by doing. Each new lesson pushes you to keep moving from level to level to discover what crazy thing Mario will have to do next.
That drive to keep moving forward is essential to the game since the maps and hub worlds we’ve grown accustomed to have disappeared. At first, it is somewhat disappointing that the map with various routes and options from New Super Mario Bros. DS is gone and replaced with the straightest of lines leading between levels. Complete a level, and the next one is now available to you. Turns out you don’t have a chance to breathe and think about taking any other route anyway; you are compelled to plow ahead and tackle each level one by one. The only impediment to forward progress comes when a couple of levels require a set amount of star coins to move forward. Some of the more casual players may bristle at this, but concessions are made for them as aid will appear after several failed attempts to complete a level. These aids are completely optional, so you are free to prove your mettle by leaving the glistening power-ups behind. Some of these power-ups are more helpful than the ones you come across throughout an unassisted session though; at least they'll keep kids and casual players moving forward.
As expected, the power-ups are a blast! Even the normal power-ups that you come across in the course of a game (Tanooki suit included) are fun and add different twists to how you can approach different challenges in each level. There are certainly spots where a particular suit is the ideal thing to have on at the time, but there’s plenty of room for experimentation. There was much complaining about the Tanooki suit not letting Mario take flight in the Super Mario Bros. 3 tradition, but once you float around in the levels it’s easy to see that a flying ability would have made the semi-open design a nightmare. In addition to the power up suits, 3D Land introduces the propeller box, which is worn along with whatever suit is equipped at the time. The propeller box behaves pretty similarly to the one in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, allowing Mario to soar straight up and float slowly down. It is used to great effect in many of the most heart-pounding levels toward the end of the game.
The other major addition 3D Land brings to the series is harnessing the 3D capabilities of the device. Whether you keep the 3D effects switched on or off, there is no denying that the presence of this option was a heavy influence on the level design. Some levels start off from a side view and then switch to a behind-the-back view with platforms stretching out into the distance. Others stay on a constant bottom-left corner to top-right corner trajectory in a tangible sort of isometric view. Some even keep the camera planted directly over Mario’s head as he jumps up towards the screen with every stomp of an enemy. These different angles differentiate 3D Land from all other Super Mario games. Camera movement is limited, consistent with the two-dimensional aspect of the design, forcing you to make some risky moves to explore off the main route and hunt for star coins and 1-ups. None of the levels require the 3D effect to be turned on, but when in use, it feels like an enhancement to the game and not just a thrown-in gimmick. The only time when 3D is almost necessary are in small bonus rooms, which could probably be mastered with some random jumping if you are unable to see 3D effects. Even with the 3D slider set to off, the graphics still look gorgeous.
The 3D also offers some delightful moments when the levels toss in some great throwbacks to previous games. Fan service is nothing new in the series, but it’s done with a quick wink to long time fans. The Bowser battles, for example, are a nod to the first game in the series, forcing Mario to jump and run past Bowser to flip the switch on his bridge and dump him into the lava. Other callbacks abound, with another return of the airships, a select set of Koopa Kids (thankfully sans Bowser Jr.), and of course the Tanooki suit. There are just enough lava pits and note blocks to tweak your nostalgia, but not so many that it feels like a lazy copy and paste from past games. The same goes for the enemies, with a big batch of old favorites (occasionally with an added Tanooki tail) and a smattering of brand new baddies to get accustomed to.
Once you battle all the way to the end of the game and defeat Bowser once and for all, you’ve still done less than half of what there is to do. Recent Mario entries have given us bountiful embedded challenges of things to collect, actions to perfect, and remixed levels to explore. Super Mario 3D Land is no different. Without spoiling any of the details, there’s plenty here to keep even the most obsessive players busy for quite a while, including Street Pass functionality that lets you try to beat other players’ bonus room records.
After all of the waiting we had to do for this Mario handheld game, it is a huge relief and an enormous pleasure that everything turned out so well. Nintendo, from within its fortress of fun, made a big deal out of specifying that this game is dubbed “3D Land” and not “Land 3D” to clarify that it was not part of the lineage of quirky Game Boy Mario games. It seemed a silly detail at the time, but now that the game is here, it was a valid and important point. Super Mario 3D Land is a grand adventure with as much care and detail as any console Mario game, on par or surpassing all of its predecessors.