Super Mario 3D Land Review

Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher: Nintendo
MSRP: $39.99

The New Super Mario Bros. series has had two iterations, both of which played like a soulless combination of every 2D and 3D Mario game made, while also sporting the least interesting visual style. Other than the clumsy multiplayer, nothing about these games were memorable. No interesting mechanics were added, leaving them feeling hollow, which is something I’d never call a 3D Mario title. Then Super Mario 3D Land was announced and I became instantly worried that this would play like a ‘New’ 3D Mario. Seeing as how it too is an amalgamation of every Mario game, my initial concern was founded. The boomerang power-up looked as silly as the penguin suit, small ‘last hit’ Mario returns, the levels are timed, flagpoles end the levels, etc. But after playing it, I now realize it is a far more successful attempt at merging the various Mario styles into one game.

For whatever odd reasons, Nintendo still refuses to make explorable overworlds. Galaxy 2 was super straightforward, but SM3DL is simply left to right with no secret levels. I miss Peach’s castle, Delfino Plaza, and even the world of Super Mario World. There are about five levels per world and there are sixteen in total. Levels are now timed (you’ll never run out of time) and feature the three hidden star coins from the New series.

The main difference between this game and other 3D Mario’s is in how Mario controls. He’s slower and less nimble. Even when holding Y to run (a point of contention for some but not for me you weak thumbed pussies) he still doesn’t run as fast as he does in Galaxy. Long jumps and tall crouch jumps are still possible, but they’re far less effective. Their inclusion only highlights the difference in physics. What this means is that there’s less room for improvisation, and a larger emphasis on well-timed jumps. So while you may not be performing exciting, death-defying gymnastics (the reason for most of my deaths in Galaxy…well that and my general lack of patience) the game isn’t any less engaging.

Challenge isn’t 3D Land’s selling point. Difficulty spikes only appear once the first eight worlds are beaten. The really hard ones involve Shadow Mario and a small time limit that must be boosted frequently in order to survive. Those levels are tough, but there are only a few that are hard. Getting the star coins in every level is rarely taxing either, mostly because their locations seem obvious (or maybe that’s an instinct I’ve picked up from playing every Mario game that comes out) and uninspired. The coins are supposed to represent optional challenge, but getting them isn’t ever a real challenge.

The lack of challenge would be more of a problem if the levels weren’t as fun as they are. Each level introduces a simple idea that is explored more deeply as the level progresses. Mario games have such elegant stages, and this title is no exception. The slower pacing even increases the enjoyment. Because I couldn’t skip certain portions with more advanced jumps, it forced me to take my time, if only because stages are littered with coins, blocks, power-ups and 1ups.  Question mark blocks are, for whatever reason, really fun to hit this time around – I couldn’t resist getting them all (well, until my second playthrough).

Apparently Nintendo wanted the Tanooki suit to be more prominently displayed in this game. Getting this power-up is great for the player. Floating across difficult sections is convenient but ultimately too useful and attempts to bring down the entire experience. Luckily the reward outweighs its degenerate game design. The new boomerang suit adds little to the game, as it’s not as effective as the fireflower. It can also grab any of the items located in levels, even star coins. Some star coins can only be collected with this ability – a game design that I find annoying. The game shouldn’t keep information from you like that because it forces you to replay it. Replays should happen if you didn’t find the coin or couldn’t figure out how to get it.

Super Mario 3D Land’s visual style is blander and less complicated than Galaxy’s. Its sense of depth sets it apart though. Nintendo knows how to fully utilize the sometimes-odd features it adds to its hardware, and this game’s use of 3D is no exception. The camera is constantly being manipulated in order to frame the action in new ways that let the stages feel dense. Backgrounds are often tall structures that add to the effect. But the best use is the propeller block power that has Mario skyrocket upwards, forcing the camera to point downwards in order to show what’s below. I would never want to play this game without the 3D on and it never once gave me a headache.

Over the past few years, we’ve been blessed with Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2. Nintendo has seemingly perfected the Mario platformer, so it’s unfortunate that Super Mario 3D Land focuses more on nostalgia rather than on innovation. Its minor changes don’t stop this game from being a must have Mario title, bursting with wonderfully imagined blocks to hop on.

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