After my time with Super Mario 3D Land, I can confidently say Mario’s latest adventure on the 3DS is not only the best reason to own the handheld, but it is the best evolution of the series that still stays grounded in it’s roots. New Super Mario Bros. was a terrific game, but it always felt like a re-hash of the original games. And while Super Mario Galaxy is also one of the best series on the Wii, I was never really sold on why the hell Mario is running circles around planets. Galaxy always felt like a new platformer that Nintendo stuck Mario in to sell the title. With 3D Land, I feel like I’m finally playing a real, new, MARIO game.
As always, the game begins with Princess Peach getting captured by Bowser and the way-too-happy plumber has to go rescue her. No surprise here, and that’s okay. All Mario needs is a Princess to save and we have a game. The game does add some nice art after every world a-la letters sent to Mario that let you see what’s going on with Peach while she’s trapped.
3D Land is clearly an evolution of Super Mario 3 and Super Mario 64, with a couple bits of World thrown in there for good measure. The biggest, most used piece of Mario 3 returning is the Tanooki suit, allowing Mario to spin attack with his tail and flap your tail to float. The sad part is that you can’t fly, but honestly, the game is set up in a way where you really don’t miss it. In fact, I didn’t notice the power was missing until I was halfway through the game. All the levels seemed to be meticulously designed to keep the player engaged at all times without having your mind wander.
The levels range from outdoor green hill lands to strange floating platform stages, to castles, to flying ships. Everything you play feels very familiar but completely new. Graphically, the game will not blow you away, but through a colorful scheme and great design, 3D Land still turns out to be one of the best looking games on the handheld. The only part I was disappointed in was that each world doesn’t really follow a theme like it did in Mario 3, each world varies up the pace by giving you some haunted mansions here, some water places there, and some dessert lands sprinkled in there, etc. Some people might like the variation, but personally, I just like a whole world to have a similar theme.
The game is set up similarly to how New Super Mario Bros. was, which is a nice layout. There are 8 worlds shown through tabs at the top of the touch screen and 8 stages within each world (although some stages are no more than a mushroom house.) This makes for easy navigation and you always know just how far you have left.
While playing the game, I was surprised to see just how much you could actually do. Almost all the moves from Mario 64 return including a long jump and wall jump, and for the most part, you will have to use all these moves in order to complete the game. There are tunnels to crawl into for secret coins to collect. The gyroscope in the 3DS is even used to launch yourself from cannons or look around levels with the viewfinder. You can use the control stick to do these actions, but I actually enjoyed looking around for Toad (if you find him he usually drops an item!)
There are still costumes to use and vary up the gameplay, but I pretty much stuck with the Tanooki suit all the time in order to perfect my landings. The new Boomerang suit gives you some more long range attacks but in the end, felt a bit tacked on and to me, it seemed like it rarely appeared. There are also different Tanooki variations, one that lets you turn to stone, and another that pretty much makes you unstoppable, which I got on the last level and have no idea how, or why.
One of the last things I’d like to touch on is the platforming. I loved it. Like I said, the levels are designed wonderfully for what the 3DS is capable of. Sometimes you need to time your jumps appropriately but that’s with every platformer. Stay aware of your shadow and you should be good. My fellow Average Joe I know had trouble with some of the camera angles and I’ll admit, some feel a bit awkward at times, but they never really deterred my experience, or lasted long enough for me to care.
I don’t know how most people will play but it is worth mentioning this game is MEANT to be played with the 3D on, especially in certain areas a 3d icon will show up in the corner of the screen. These areas really show off the depth the handheld is capable of achieving and actually helped me sometimes get a better sense of where I was in relation to the world. So if anybody plays without the 3d on, you MAY run into some missed jumps here and there but I don’t think it will ruin the game.
On top of being one of the best Mario games from beginning to end, after you watch the credits roll you are treated to the fact that you can play through 8 new special worlds that are even more challenging. Talk about content! And if you beat the first special world, you get a special surprise unlock that I won’t ruin for you.
In the end, I was wary about my Black Friday purchase of a Zelda 3DS because I thought, “What the hell am I going to play on this thing?” When I picked up Mario 3D Land I was expecting a good game, but somehow I was blown away. This has been the Mario game I’ve wanted to play for years. Even with a couple very small gripes I think Nintendo outdid itself here and shows that they will always know how to create amazing games with their mascots. If Super Mario 3D Land is just a precursor of what the 3DS has in store for me, I will never have another doubt about the purchase of it.