Super Mario 3D Land somehow manages to be two things at the same time. On one hand, it’s a remarkable achievement in a series filled with remarkable achievements. On the other, it’s a scathing indictment of just how badly Nintendo botched the launch of its 3DS system. They either needed to delay the release of the 3DS or bump up the release of this game so that the two coincided. It would have sold a lot more systems for Nintendo, and maybe they could have avoided the embarassment of a ho-hum launch and subsequent costly price cut.
Yes, somehow even releasing a fantastic game like Super Mario 3D Land can make Nintendo look bad. But that’s only because it’s so good.
The Parent Stuff
Content-wise, if you’ve seen a proper Mario platformer before, then there will be no surprises here. The violence is limited to Mario stomping on enemies, shooting them with fire or boomerangs, and falling to his doom. Oh, and Bowser falls in fire as he does in most of the games. Somehow, I don’t think this qualifies as a spoiler.
After being butchered by the New Super Mario Bros. games (both DS and Wii versions), and having some struggles with Super Mario Galaxy, it feels like Super Mario 3D Land is the easist Super Mario game I’ve played in quite some time. That’s not to say it’s a cake walk, but it’s definitely more manageable. The difficulty ramps up nicely and only becomes really frustrating towards the very end. One of the nicer features that younger gamers might like (oh heck, even older gamers with little skill) is the manifestation of Nintendo’s recent paradigm of providing “help” when you’re having trouble with a level. In this case, after failing a level a few times, you see a new box appear with a Super Leaf that changes you into Invincible Tanooki Mario if you’d like to use it. If you’re still having trouble, especially navigating some of the trickier platform-heavy levels where you keep falling to your doom, you’ll also see the return of the P Wing, which will take you directly to the end of the level. That P Wing is particularly nice in that one problem level won’t stop your progress, and considering the game’s overworld is linear (you won’t see the branching paths or world options of previous games), this is especially important.
Another help is that the game really gives out 1UPs like candy. Remaining time in a level when finished gives you coins in addition to those that abound on each level. The Red Coins are back and most of the time are easy to get for another 1up. If you have a Tanooki Suit by the end of a level, you’re almost guaranteed to hit the top of the flagpole and the 1UP that that effort brings. Most players will be able to accumulate a nice cache of lives, and Nintendo have dropped that somewhat annoying practice of resetting the number of lives you have every time to come back to the game (Super Mario Galaxy, I’m looking in your direction).
The 3D is done extremely well and will help with navigation. The caveat here, of course, is to ensure your kid(s) are old enough to handle seeing in 3D. You can always turn this off with the slider or parental controls, though the game really shines brightest in 3D. Of course, you’ll have to hold the screen still lest you suffer from an untimely blind spot moment.
The levels in Super Mario 3D land are relatively short, which makes for an ideal mobile gaming experience. You can likely finish off most levels in under 5 minutes, letting you pick up and play any time you feel like it without having to devote too much time in any one sitting.
There have been 3D Mario games before, and most of them (aside from Super Mario Sunshine, and even that game wasn’t all that bad) have been superb. Super Mario 3D Land continues that tradition by finally providing for true 3D platforming. Sometimes 3D platforming games are problematic due to trying to play them on a 2D screen. By adding a “real” third dimension, the 3DS has made this game much easier to control and play. And the game isn’t shy about showing off its new toy. Besides just basic level navigation, sometimes you’ll see the next part of the level in the background, and the depth is outstanding. You’ll alternate between side movement and moving “into” the screen, and even get the odd top-down perspective. With top-down, Mario really pops out of the screen when you make him jump. Nintendo doesn’t overdo it, but every so often likes to say, “look what I can do.” As well it should, the 3D is almost universally fantastic in this game.
Level design is top notch. It never really felt like I was playing the same level over and over as the settings were always fresh. The developers obviously knew what they had to work with and took full advantage, creating wonderous 3D worlds to play in. Helping out are the nice, tight controls which fans of the series should be able to pick up with ease, and even newer gamers can figure it out quick (only three buttons are needed). Plus, even though your first instinct is to press down when you’re on a pipe, the game does a nice job of reminding you that you need to use the L shoulder button. Some other nice new 3DS touches are using the gryo controls to aim a cannon to shoot Mario to another platform. There’s also cameras in certain levels that you can use to check out what’s coming, and also look for a helping hand from a Toad. This aiming camera is implemented as a faux augmented reality and works most times, though I found it didn’t always respond well and I needed to use the circle pad to get where I wanted to look. Still all the new capabilities that the 3DS provide are used well, and rarely feel gratuitous.
The main suit you’ll end up getting a lot is Tanooki Mario, which plays more like Raccoon Mario from Super Mario Bros. 3. For the hardcore Mario purists who will complain about not being able to turn into a statue, I’d like to suggest in the most spoiler-free way possible that you might want to complete the game first and stick around a bit. The Tanooki Suit is a big advantage for navigating those trickier platforming sections. Another suit I found particularly helpful was the Boomerang Suit, which gives Mario the ability to throw boomerangs like a Hammer Bro. The inventory system is much simpler, as you can hold just one item in reserve (which you can deploy using the touch screen).
Super Mario 3D Land isn’t shy with fan service. There are lots of callbacks and homages to games past. You’ve got the classic flag poles at the end of each level that reward coins and/or 1UPs depending how high you can get. The airships are back at the end of many worlds, and for the other end-of-the-world levels you have crazy 3D Bowser Castles which have a rather familiar way of defeating him. Extra celebrations occur when you end a level with a certain number left on the timer. Parts of famous levels past pops up from time to time. Sure, maybe it’s meta to reference yourself, but fans of the series should enjoy it nonetheless.
While you could complete the main campaign in a relatively short amount of time (4-5 hours maybe), don’t fret about value. Beyond replaying levels to try and get all three Star Medals, sticking around past the credits will show you just how much value is in this game. By the way, it’s in your best interests to try and find as many of those Star Medals you can get as you go along as you may find yourself stuck on the road to victory. See, some levels will require you to have a certain number of Star Medals to unlock them. It’s nice as a challenge, though players who didn’t try to get Star Medals as they went along may find themselves unable to continue, forcing them to replay levels. The requirements aren’t brutal, but you will want to explore every level a bit as they’re not easy, either.
The GamerPops Recommendation
Super Mario 3D Land is an instant classic and a system seller. This is the game that should have been released day and date with the 3DS hardware. It doesn’t have the sheer scope, wonder, and grandeur of a Super Mario Galaxy, but you can’t expect that on a handheld system. It sets a new standard for 3D platforming games and is easily the best game on the system we’ve seen yet, and it deserves a place alongside other loved Super Mario games. Perhaps the most exciting part is that there’s room to grow. For all that it does well, it feels like an early generation title that just scratches the surface of the platform’s capabilities. Levels can get more complex. Worlds can be more lush. More secrets can be buried. Super Mario 3D Land 2, if (ok, more like when) it comes out, will probably blow us away. But Super Mario 3D Land has already set the bar incredibly high. If you own a 3DS, it’s pretty much mandatory that you own this game. If you don’t, now might be the time to have a good look at it.
This is the 3DS’s killer app. The real question is why we didn’t get it sooner.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops by the publisher.
ESRB Rating Summary
Content descriptors: Mild Cartoon Violence
Rating summary: This is a platformer game in which players assume the role of Mario on a quest to rescue Princess Peach. As players run and jump through levels, they use an assortment of moves and power-ups (e.g., jumps, spin attacks, fireballs, turtle shells) to defeat roaming creatures that inhabit the themed 3D environments. Some enemies crumble into pieces when jumped on, get momentarily stunned, or disappear amid puffs of smoke and scattered coins.