I try to beat all of the games I review before I review them, but usually that just means getting passed the storyline and perhaps uncovering a few secrets or at least researching the rest. This game is no exception, as I got this game bundled with my 3DS and have since put a total of twenty-four hours and fourteen minutes into it. This is more than enough time to get everything there is to get in the game. I will have more on that later, but let’s suffice it to say that I have beaten this game and essentially done that a few times, effectively accomplishing most of what there is to accomplish.
This is a very early 3DS title rising off of the popularity of old Mario games and Super Mario Galaxy 2. Here I will tell you what I thought about this particular rehash of Super Mario goodness.
The soundtrack is great but nothing to really write home about. Most of it just borrows melody lines and themes from old Mario games, because not only are we living in a decade where Mario games have been copying off each others’ gameplay mechanics and designs, but apparently soundtracks are no longer sacred anymore either. There’s nothing terribly obnoxious about the soundtrack, it sounds great, but the majority of it lacks creativity.
This I suppose is made up for by the nice visuals. The camera is fairly easy to control and the game is designed great around where the camera will default regardless. There are also a few depth perception tricks played by the system’s 3D gimmick that offer little tidbits of fun. Most of the game can really be done without it, which is probably for the best considering the visuals tend to look a bit blocky here and there when put in 3D. The 3DS doesn’t have the best graphics to begin with, but some things such as character models tend to look less clear when in 3D. The visuals are not anything revolutionary either but they are at least very fun and colorful to look at, and without 3D put into the equation, the graphics look very smooth for a handheld Mario game. The 3D graphics of this game do have a great sense of depth perception, but the actual use of this depth perception in the game is very rare and only used as a cheap ploy to show off what the system can do.
I guess the reason the soundtrack and visuals grind my gears a bit in this game is that they are essentially a cookie-cutter rendition of something that has been done anywhere between one and twenty-eight years before this game’s release. I suppose I will rant more about this later since I have a section to talk about originality, but not necessarily making an even remotely fresh world could have at least been remedied slightly by the soundtrack and visuals, but they decided to play it way too safe and stick to what has sold prior to this game as opposed to making a new experience.
Say what you will about the Mario franchise churning out far too many rinse-and-repeaters over the past decade or so, I can’t deny that the overall gameplay is very nice. From the very beginning Mario finds out that Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser for the five-millionth time. This one is a bit different though because they actually show Mari o in a genuinely panicked state, giving incentive to go on your adventure. In between worlds there are photos from Peach sent to Mario which spur you on even more.
The gameplay has you feeling very safe in the happy-go-lucky world that is modern Mario, but simultaneously dangerous. You’ll be started from proportionately great heights where you know you must drop down but know that slipping up once could be your downfall, or thrown into the unknown in a Boo House. It feels a little weird that a few of 3D Mario’s trademark abilities are not present in this game, such as triple jumping and back-flips, but it’s still easy to get used to because it still holds true to running and jumping.
You progress through a linear map of worlds until you finally of course reach Bowser, but there are things trying to spice the game up along the way. There are blocks that you enter on these that give you a very small window of time to collect whatever bonuses may be in the block. Different layouts of blocks can also come to your system via the 3DS’s StreetPass feature, but the only thing you really need from these blocks is Star Coins. Star Coins allow one to access various worlds that could not be accessed without the set amount, but you only need that many star coins, you don’t spend them. It eventually comes to the point where you can’t advance the main plot without a set amount of Star Coins, forcing the player to retrace his/her steps. There are three star coins hidden in each main stage, some of which just require a certain amount of skill, observation, or just a certain power.
There are six Mario forms in this game (if you don’t count the invincibility of the star or the handicap suit given to you for dying in a level too many times). Standard Mario (or Tiny Mario), Super Mario, Fire Mario, Tanooki Mario, Boomerang Mario, and some sort of Steel Tanooki Mario that you won’t find until after you beat Bowser. This leads to one of my least favorite aspects of this game. Fire Mario and Boomerang Mario are fine, but they are essentially just an extra hit and another way to hurt enemies. What else have they ever been? They certainly feel insignificant in this way though because the game gives way too much power to the Tanooki suit. With the Tanooki suit, you can essentially clear any stage, puzzle, or find any secret with ease. This of course makes you want the Tanooki suit really bad, on the other hand, and you’ll strive to get the suit to get uncover secrets easier, but when I sit and think about it, I find it a little cheap that one power can make the game that much more bland and less challenging overall. There’s also plenty of Tanooki to go around, and although powers progressively become less common as you get mid-way through the main plot, a lot of the power-ups you find will be Tanooki leaves. I also believe that 1-ups are far too accessible. When I started a second file on this game to get a better handle for this review, I had already breached 40 lives by the time I reached World 4. The game is still challenging and a fun experience, but I feel it has way too many handouts, which not only take the challenge away from the game but constantly remind you that you are just playing a game rather than having an experience or exploring a 3D world.
REPLAY VALUE: 2/2
The main storyline does consist of the standard 8 worlds and then yet another spar with Bowser, but this is actually disappointingly short. However, the replay value brings you right back in. After beating Bowser you are presented with Special World 1. There are 8 Special Worlds, which essentially doubles your short play time, but it doesn’t stop there. Beating Special World 1’s castle will unlock Luigi, and then your next goal should be to get to the very last secret stage. To do this, you must acquire every Star Coin in the game, beat every stage as Mario, beat every stage as Luigi, and hit the top of the end-of-stage flag pole in every single stage. After this, the first dot of the last Special World will become a golden flag, followed by an extremely challenging level that throws out all the stops, makes it extremely easy to fall off of the side of the world, makes you fight the repetitive mini-bosses splayed through each airship level again, and the cherry on top is that there is not a single checkpoint throughout the stage.
It’s a worthy challenge, and certainly a reason to come back to the game, but keep in mind I’ve already made it to this point in less than thirty hours of gameplay, so the game still isn’t any Skyrim, but it does give you a fun challenge to come back to, and I tip my proverbial hat to that.
I don’t think there’s much to say here that I have not said through the rest of this review. Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser again. It makes you feel this aspect anew, arguably even better than any other Mario game I’ve ever played. Even in Super Mario Galaxy my honest goal was just to see what else the beautiful universe had to offer, and Super Mario Bros I just had a blast playing through these increasingly challenging worlds and had essentially forgot about the Princess. Super Mario 3D Land periodically reminds you of what your objective is in a different way every time with little to no real dialogue, and I think that’s something worth noting. You don’t need high-definition, five minute cutscenes to stir emotion in a player, there are many more subtle ways to produce internal incentive, but using them in a fresh way is something really exciting.
Needless to say, the story itself is unfortunately pretty bland and overdone from the outside looking in, which brings me to the thing that I think I hate the most about this game.
This game is just a concoction of used Mario mechanics. Even the new things don’t really feel new. Giving a Thwomp or a Goomba a tail does not make it a new enemy. There is a new enemy but it is essentially a Goomba if you take away the exterior design of it. The only reason I’m giving any credit towards creativity is because a few of the puzzles or fun platforming sections do feel fairly new or find some way to boost your adrenaline, but there are so few of them that they might as well not even be there. Even these exciting instances are forgettable. Not to worry, the replay value is mainly based on repetition, since you’ll have to play every stage as Luigi again you will have to experience your favorite puzzles at least one more time.
This game is strictly just another Mario game, and if you asked me what’s the difference between this one and any other Mario game released since the Super Nintendo, I would probably just tell you that it’s in 3D and the Tanooki suit isn’t momentum based but rather just a cute crutch. There are little shreds of creativity and tweaks to old mechanics to better fit the handheld world, but beyond that the game is a tasteless grab at Mario fans’ wallets for either nostalgia or just a false hope that a Mario game will wow them like it did back in the 90’s or even with Super Mario Sunshine or Super Mario Galaxy, and even those dangle an old Mario homage or two in the faces of its deprived fans. This of course is something that has been ailing the franchise for years and years, so for old fans this should not really be news, but for newcomers, there are many better modern platformers and many better Mario titles.
OVERALL SCORE: 6.5/10
Now when the 3DS was new, I might have recommended this to people, but now that the 3DS has a slightly larger lineup of more innovative games stretching the system’s limits, this game seems more like a nostalgia-whore tech demo than a new Mario title. This game is still fun, and if you just need something to play at your bedside or on a trip, then Super Mario 3D Land isn’t the worst thing you can do for yourself, but if you are looking for something new and interesting, a great Mario title to start off on, or some sort of amazing platformer, you should definitely look elsewhere.