Nintendo’s newest Mario game was finally released last Sunday. But does the plumber’s latest adventure justify the purchase of a 3DS; and more importantly, does the 3D actually work? Take a look inside to see how Super Mario 3D Land stacks up to past games of the franchise.
This year marks the 30th year since Mario first appeared into the gaming universe. I was not even born when the original NES game was released, not getting my first taste of the franchise until Super Mario Bros Deluxe on the Gameboy color in 1999. I was hooked after my first death in World 1-1 and have been loyal to the Mushroom Kingdom ever since. But my loyalty doesn’t come without its criticisms, as I will be the first to tell you that I was disappointed in both the “Galaxy” games. But first, how does the gameplay and level design of Super Mario 3D Land compare to previous renditions?
Much to my dismay, the levels are designed similar to Galaxy. Consisting of a single linear route to the end of each course with the only objective to pull down the flagpole at the end. I can assure you right now though that I’m in the minority with my distaste for this level design. Most gamers prefer this classic “just get to the end” way to play, whereas my favorite Mario games: Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine both implemented open level world design that encouraged exploration with multiple stars to get in each individual world. Super Mario Land takes the “wacky obstacle course” direction.
But that isn’t to say that this gameplay style is not fun. While I like it less than the large levels of Sunshine, it’s still a blast to run through the levels jumping on goombas and collecting coins; every level also has three star coins that you can find to unlock special levels later on. Most levels can be finished in about two to three minutes but the amount of variety that you see in those little snippets of playing is staggering. As always, the levels are smartly designed with amusing obstacles to navigate through. One minute you’ll be crossing platforms that flip over whenever you jump and the next you’ll be bouncing on tightropes dodging fuzzys.
The iconic mushroom and fireflower power-ups are still ever-present, with two special power-ups making an appearance, Mario can now throw boomerangs like an Aussie and the Tanooki/Raccoon suit from Super Mario Bros 3 makes a triumphant return. I’ve always been more partial to the yellow cape from Super Mario World but Nintendo knew it’s fans wanted to see Mario back in fur (sorry PETA) and my gosh did they deliver. The suit is possible to get in practically every single level, and you will most likely be wearing it any chance you can get. Not only can you have a tail now, but so can EVERY OTHER ENEMY in the game. Goombas, koopas, EVEN BOWSER, sports a raccoon tail at one time or another. At times I felt like it was being thrown in my face, but at least now Tanooki suit fans can finally shut their pleading mouths. On the other hand, the boomerang suit is not used nearly often as it could be, appearing just barely enough to not feel like a gimmick (cough Cloud/Bee/Boo Mario cough).
Most of the original cast of baddies is there (no shyguys though), with the interesting addition of Baby Thwomps that block your path through mimicking your movements like an annoying mime. Thankfully enemies do damage the classic way with one hit turning fire Mario to normal Mario, normal Mario to small Mario, or small Mario to dead Mario. This damage system is much better then the rather redundant and annoying coin health bar that has been present in every 3D Mario to date.
Boss battles at the end of each world are hit and miss. At the end of the last level in the first world, Bowser falls from the sky to jump into your path as you traverse the final segment over lava. This plays much like the Bowser boss battles in the original Super Mario Bros. You must wait for Bowser to jump before you can run underneath him to hit a button and knock him into the lava below. This homage to the original game is much appreciated and well done with the 3rd dimension giving it an amusing twist. But, sadly every other boss battle (except the final battle) has you navigating air ships to fight either a spinning koopa kid or one that throws a boomerang. These boss levels are nowhere near as fun as Bowser’s castles, and due to the koopa kids repeated appearances, they get somewhat boring after the third time.
Super Mario Land’s fun level design is also it’s own downfall though. With such linear level progression and amusing rather than annoying obstacles, you will rarely find yourself having a hard time reaching the end of the course. This game suffers from the same problem that I had with both the Galaxy games: it’s too EASY! I reached Bowser 111 lives strong and dying maybe only 15 times along the way, with most of my deaths resulting from trying to get a hard to reach star coin on the very last level. If you’ve ever played a Mario game before, or heck any video game before, you’ll find yourself flying through the game if you don’t try to get the bonus star coins in every level. For those of you that find yourselves impaired gaming wise, or perhaps you’re thinking about getting this game for a young child or a new gamer, then by all means pick it up. Nintendo does all it can to make sure that any player, no matter what skill level can enjoy all the game has to offer. If you die more than five times in a level a block that contains an invincible Tanooki suit will appear next to you. Thankfully Nintendo makes using the suit optional as running through a level with it on makes you virtually unstoppable, even objects that would normally push you off the course halt as soon as they touch juiced up Mario. If you die another 10 times after that another block will appear with the famous P wing on it. I have no idea what it does as I already felt like a pussy even trying out the other handicap power-up. Seriously, there is no excuse for anyone not to beat this game, for some that may be a good thing, but as I said I’m on the other end of the spectrum and would have rather had my butt handed to me a few more times.
The easiness of the game also makes the main story a relatively short play through, it took me about 4 hours to complete the main worlds with 100% star coin collection. Thankfully, thankfully, thankfully, once you beat the game you have access to 8 special worlds, in turn doubling the content of the game. I’m much more satisfied with these special levels as they are more difficult and challenging, I only wish that the game had reached the level of difficulty present in the special worlds in the main worlds much sooner.
The over world or rather lack of an over world is annoyingly present as well. You progress to each new world left to right across the screen with no deviation in path along the way. I find myself thinking how much better the game could have been if Nintendo had implemented even a simple over world, even copying and pasting the basic over world of Super Mario World would have been ok with me. Instead we are treated to a bland background with amusing little diagrams of each level behind Mario. Not cool Nintendo, not cool. But biased gameplay issues aside, how does the game control and look?
To be blunt, after playing Super Mario 3D Land, Mario could stay on handhelds for the rest of my life and I would be perfectly happy. The game proves that you don’t need to have a tv screen and a controller to enjoy platforming fun. Besides the issue with playthrough time, Super Mario 3D Land feels and looks like a console game. The thumbpad works flawlessly, navigating Mario around each level is even easier then it was in Galaxy. You can easily pull off Mario’s various moves such as wall jumping and crouch jumping without any problem whatsoever, although Mario’s iconic triple jump is noticeably absent. The bottom screen/touch screen is used to store an extra power-up which you can access just by touching. This is useful because you can switch between your current power-up and the one you have stored below at any time for more variety in your attacks when taking down enemies. The internal gyroscope of the 3DS is also used to observe your environments through binoculars or to aim canons you can shoot out of, while fun I would have liked to see this concept used more often, as it used sparingly and feels sort of gimmicky because of it. Although my hand got a little cramped after extensive playtime, I had no problem with controlling the plumber at all.
“But Daniel, we want to know about the 3D! That’s the only reason why this Mario even seems remotely interesting to me. Tell us about the freaking 3D!”
Alright fine, I will tell you about the glorious, amazing, perfect and incredible visuals that you get with Super Mario 3D Land. I will tell you how I was wowed over and over by what I was looking at. I will tell you about how this 3D is so revolutionary that any platformer that comes out after SM3DL is immediately inferior. Yes, it is seriously that amazing. This review was flawed from the start because there is no way I can accurately describe the awesome that playing in 3D is. Seriously, if you’re on the fence about getting this game because you don’t know if the 3D is for you, go to GameStop or whatever game store is near you and try it out. If it doesn’t blow you away, then you my friend are obviously missing out on something. I was cautious getting this game as the 3D in Ocarina of Time3D, albeit interesting, wasn’t necessarily stunning. The 3D in Ocarina also seemed to slightly mess with my depth perception and I would have to hold the 3DS absolutely still or my brain and eyes would go all wonky. This problem is absent in SM3DL. At any time you can change the 3D using the d-pad from inward to outward 3D. Outward 3D is the default setting and is supposedly less powerful. The inward 3D is the same that was used in OoT3D and still messes with my head so I’ve opted to play on outward 3D, and honestly I can’t tell the difference between the two. I can move my 3DS around while I play and find the 3D sweet spot immediately.
The 3D itself looks amazing as well. Mario and his environments look crystal clear, even his moustache is beautifully rendered, and navigating platforms has never been easier thanks to being able actually perceive the depth and length of each jump in the 3D space. Maybe it’s possible the game was so easy for me thanks to the 3D itself? It’s an interesting concept and going back to play any platformer in 2D will be definitely be much more hard now. Trying to play the game in 2D is pretty much impossible, but why would you? The camera is fixated and levels are designed in such a way that not being able to perceive that depth will make jumps baffling. There are even rooms designed liked artistic perspective box drawings that are physically impossible to complete in 2D because the whole room will mesh into a flat surface. Sliding the 3D slider on the side of the 3DS in these rooms absolutely messes with your mind in a good way, as boxes seem to appear out of nowhere when the 3D increases. It’s like having your own optical illusion at your fingertips.
It is when this incredible 3D is paired with excellent level design where Super Mario 3D Land really becomes a masterpiece of gaming. Nintendo surprises you throughout the whole length of the game with amazing and amusing uses of the 3D effect. Everything from Bullet Bills to fireballs will seemingly fly right at you if you get in the way, and in turn make the obstacles in the game seemingly real at some points. There is a level early on that masterfully uses this pop out effect, Mario runs through a dungeon top down a la Zelda (with matching sound effects) and whenever he jumps he appears to hop right out of your screen. I went back I was so amazed and found an area in the level where I could jump on top of some blocks and then jump as high as possible. I almost threw my 3DS in the air it surprised me so much. Mario’s hat got so large in my vision I went cross eyed like you do when someone or something gets really close to your face and I had to stop playing because I just had to show my roommate how amazing this effect was. On the other hand, the 3D is also used to portray heights surprisingly well. There are multiple levels where you jump off of platforms to ones that are way, way far below the map. When you jump off a ledge into the vast space below it can be sort of frightening, as it actually feels like you are looking off of a really tall building. You find yourself squinting at the tiny platforms below because it seems like it really is that far away. I would not be surprised if some people could actually suffer from vertigo by playing this, and if you do take this as a warning and make sure you get the Tanooki suit on World 1-3 so you don’t feel like your plummeting to your doom. I can not stress enough how well the 3D works through words alone, so promise me reader that you will go and try the 3D for yourself, I promise in return you won’t be disappointed.
And of course that usual Mario charm is there. There are many references to past Mario games and even games from other series. As I mentioned above in one level, after you light a group of torches with your fireball, the recognizable “dododo do da de” when you open a door in Zelda plays. During the last boss battle Bowser pulls a barrel out of nowhere and throws it at you just like Donkey Kong. All of your favorite Mario themes play but each with their own unique musical twist on them, which is always interesting to hear. Mario still is the amusing character we all know and love with great animations and facial expressions, with good but not over the top voice acting from Charles Matinet. There are some levels with 8-bit scenes from the original game that are fun to compare alongside the surrounding 3D visuals. Of course pulling down the flagpole at the end of each level is satisfying as always, although it was weird getting used to being able to jump over and walk around the flagpole; even after beating the game it feels awkward yet amusing to me. This is definitely the Mario we know and love, the subtle humor is still there.
But does this game suffice purchasing a 3DS? First of all, if you have a 3DS and don’t have SM3DL, what is wrong with you? Go out and get it right now, you can only play flight simulators and remakes for so long you know. If you’re a casual gamer who is interested in what the 3DS has to offer, I would say go for it. You can probably spend more time trekking through the game itself and in turn get a longer play time out of it, surely there are enough small snippets of gaming included in SM3DL to hold off a casual gamer until Mario Kart or Luigi’s Mansion. If you’re a hardcore gamer or Mario fan and were waiting on getting a 3DS until some decent games come out, I would tell you to wait on it. You’ll probably fly through the title as fast as I did and finishing wanting more, eventually leaving your 3DS on the shelf to collect dust until the next big title. But in the end it’s really up to you. Just be aware that even though it’s short, Super Mario 3D Land is simply revolutionary in the realm of 3D technology. And even if the 3D isn’t a major selling point for you, it’s still a decent and amusing though very relaxed platformer.
The final word:
Super Mario 3D Land is relatively short and fairly easy with a lackluster over world,
but bonus levels and the stunning use of stereoscopic 3D make up for it. A must buy for 3DS owners.