It is a fact of the videogaming world that the worst Mario games are still top tier games when compared to everything else. And fortunately Super Mario 3D Land is not one of the worst Mario games, it’s one of the better ones. Which is to say it’s one of the most fun games I’ve played this year. Ever inventive and laser-focused on providing fun and surprises for the player, Super Mario 3D Land is a must-own title for the 3DS.
Accessible is not the name of the game, but its philosophy
In Super Mario 3D Land Nintendo have done everything they could to make 3D Mario more accessible. The style is 3D with a camera above and behind Mario, but the level formats are 2D in nature – either going left to right or bottom to top (or a combination) with the goal of the level to get to the flagpole at the end. Levels are usually only about 4 or 5 blocks deep (or wide) and follow a straight line, which makes the 3D aspect very manageable for those who normally struggle with it because you don’t have to navigate in 3D space but always know where you’re going.
The 3D of the 3DS screen helps immensely with depth perception too. Where before we had to use tricks like shadows to see how deep into the screen we were, now we can actually see, and it makes the world of difference. There is exploration within levels but not of the same type as the 3D Mario games. Instead the usual 2D Mario timer gives you enough time to look behind every block and overturn every stone in your search for the three big golden coins in each level or the 1Up mushrooms hidden around, sometimes in thin air.
Defeating Bowser won’t take you too long, the first time that is. About 6 hours or so is all you’ll need, but those 6 hours are jam packed with ideas. I’ve said it every time I’ve reviewed a Mario game – Nintendo come up with brilliant mechanics twists and use them once each, as if they have a hundred more where that one came from (which, of course, they do). There might be two or three Ghost house-themed levels but they play out very differently: one has the ground in front of you appearing out of the dark as you walk, while another has a mansion with strange goings-on in each room and a teleporting platform to get to and from them. The only truly reused mechanics are the end-of-world ship levels and the Bowser fights. I think there are possibly a few too many ship levels and I would like to see a new arena for final levels. The Bowser fights never get old, and the final one is suitably epic and happiness-inducing.
More twists than you can shake a koeksister at
Once you defeat the Koopa King there is still much to do. You can collect those gold coins, for starters, and play through the levels you might have skipped because they’re optional. There are close to 50 levels divided into eight worlds in the main game. But there’s also a whole lot of new content to explore, with some twists on the structure (similar in essence to the comets of Super Mario Galaxy). This is welcome; it’s so much fun to play through levels of Super Mario 3D Land that if the new content wasn’t there I would have simply started a new save game and played it all over again.
The accessibility of the game means it is not particularly difficult. It does get somewhat challenging in the second half, but it certainly eases you in when compared to games like Super Mario Bros. The Tanooki suit, which looks like a raccoon and gives you a striped tail that allows you to float very slowly down, makes platforming a whole lot easier and is designed to make the game very forgiving for new players. The controls are also simpler than other 3D Mario games – there is no spin attack, no triple jump, and no need for the long jump (although it is there and useful for speed runs). There is a roll move (crouch and attack) which makes getting in small areas easy (instead of the old run and duck to slide under blocks).
You also always start as big Mario, which means you always have two hits before dying, and in the early stages it’s made impossible to fall off the stage. By the end you will still be challenged to perform accurate jumps and do some pretty complex multi-tasking and speedy maneuvering (especially if you want those golden coins and if you continue past World 8), so there is some challenge for hardened Mario fans. That is, if there is a such a thing – Mario never takes himself seriously and it’s difficult to take myself seriously playing a game like this. Which, of course, is a great thing and the reason I love Mario games – the intrinsic reward of jumping around in these little worlds of invention that Nintendo dream up is almost unmatched in videogaming.
Please Iwata-San, can I have some more?
It is quite remarkable that Nintendo put this game together in 18 months or so. I feel that even with all the great ideas in this game there is probably a whole bunch of even more off the wall stuff that didn’t make it in. One intriguing idea that could be expanded upon (perhaps in a downloadable puzzle title) are “puzzle” rooms that require the use of the 3D screen. In these rooms there are blocks which in 2D mode blend into the block behind them, but in 3D mode you can clearly see they’re in front. These rooms are still solvable without using the 3D screen because you can move the camera and figure out where the block is in space, but the 3D makes it so much more obvious.
Super Mario 3D Land is a tight, colourful, creative game that shows just how much more fun can be extracted from dedicated handheld gaming hardware than any current mobile phone. Crazy stuff happens on every level but it’s a just a day in the life of an Italian plumber made in Japan. Love live Mario.