Mario is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable mascots in the history of forever. He has invaded just about every gaming genre- sports, platforming, RPG, racing, party… Just about everything except shooters and hack- n- slashes. Mario is, at his core, a platformer, though, so each new release brings with it a wave of excitement and anticipation. Super Mario 3D Land was one of the original hits on Nintendo’s 3DS, and it has aged fairly well over the years it’s been out.
Anybody familiar with the Mario games know their traditional layout- you race against time to make it to an end goal, collecting coins, power ups and beating baddies along the way. The way this game is structured is similar to the classics like Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World. Each level is a bite sized challenge that has its share of secrets and challenges to overcome. However, the big change with this game is that it takes place in a 3D plane, like Super Mario Galaxy. This new way of playing is a lot of fun, and gives the game some depth.
And since this is a Mario game, it looks and sounds fantastic. The graphics are eye popping, Mario animates really well and the game runs at a very consistent, smooth frame rate. It looks even better when the 3D effect is turned all the way up; words pop off the screen and the levels have a ton more depth to them. The music is a mixture of old and new, and each theme is catchy and fun to listen to, even though there doesn’t seem to be as much variety as in other games.
The aforementioned 3D effect does more than just make the game prettier. It actually enhances the gameplay. Turning it on actually makes the platforming in the game easier. For instance, in one level, there is a series of long hops across a chasm near the end, seen from a top down perspective. It’s incredibly difficult to gauge how far away Mario is in 2D, which could lead to some deaths. Turn the 3D on, and suddenly you can tell how far away he is. I was skeptical when I read that the 3D is actually a necessity, but was surprised to find that it really is. I don’t think I ever played in 2D.
The level design itself is also solid. A neat aspect of the levels is that unlike in past games, where each world was constricted to one theme, the levels in this game can be anything and everything. So, in world two, the desert world, you might jump your way through an auto scrolling sky level. This gives the game variety since each level can be its own thing. The only issue is that, for Mario veterans, the majority of the game is very easy. The first eight worlds are almost never challenging, even if you go out of your way to collect the 3 star coins hidden in each one. After beating those, the Special Worlds open up and, while they do add a bit more challenge, they still aren’t ever too tough (although there were a few levels that I died a lot on).
Still, the Special World is a welcome addition. It took me maybe three hours to clear through to World 8, and the Special levels definitely extend the life of the game. However, a lot of the Special ones are rehashes of old ones, just with a new gimmick. For instance, I think one of the castles in World 8 was repeated twice over the course of the 8 Special Worlds. One of them was a speed run, where you had a very limited time to beat it and had to continuously collect timer clocks, and the other had a Mario clone following you, mimicking your movements. The fact that they took me a few times to clear was nice, but I almost wish for more new levels than more challenging versions of old ones. I will say, though, that there is an unlockable super level that does indeed pack a challenging punch.
Complementing the levels are the power ups. Old classics like the Fire Flower and Tanooki Suit return, and they are as fun to use as ever. There’s also the new Boomerang Suit, which allows Mario to act like a Boomerang Bro. It’s actually a very useful power up and is a lot of fun to use. Still, undoubtedly the most useful is the beloved Tanooki suit. It allows Mario to slow his descent, which allows for much more precise platforming. It never feels too overpowered, though, which is a good thing.
Overall, Super Mario 3D Land is a solid paltformer that is elevated greatly by the 3DS. It’s well worth playing for fans if for no other reason than to see the Tanooki suit in action in 3D. But it’s a well-designed game that makes good use of the 3D effect, and has a solid amount of content on offer. Just don’t expect to be wowed like with the Super Mario Galaxy games, and you’ll have a good time.