Super Mario 3D Land
November 3, 2011 (JP)
November 13, 2011 (NA)
November 18, 2011 (EU)
November 24, 2011 (AU)
After all these years, gamers pretty much know what to expect when they get a new Mario game: Bowser kidnaps the princess and it’s up to Mario to save her. Along the way you can expect solid platforming, a bunch of varied, disjointed environments, and lots of little secrets hidden all over the place. Yet it always seems fresh because Nintendo changes things up with each entry – whether it be the gravity mechanics of the Galaxy series, FLUDD in Sunshine, or the many various suits and branching paths of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World.
Super Mario 3D Land does nothing to set itself apart. Yes, it gives us everything we’d expect in a Mario game, but it really doesn’t do anything new, and it often comes across as bland and uninspired as a result. While the Galaxy series pushed the series forward with its epic scale, gravity-bending gameplay, and incredibly creative level design, 3D Land seems like a step back.
That’s not to say it’s not a good game. The platforming is as solid as ever, and the game brings the best parts of the 2D Mario games and adds a spattering of 3D Mario as well. It also makes the best use of the 3DS’s 3D effect yet, constantly incorporating it into the gameplay and accentuating the presentation with subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) 3D effects. Often it helps quite a bit when trying to judge distances or jumps, and many of the levels are designed to make the maximum usage of the capability. Some of the levels even dabble in the realm of cubic optical illusions, where you have to rotate the camera in order to uncover blocks hidden in plain sight.
The controls are tight and the camera is near-perfect. The 3DS’s circle pad performs admirably and the camera angles almost always afford you a comfortable view of your surroundings. The only niggle is Nintendo’s decision to map a separate run button to X or Y – a design holdover from the 2D Mario games. While the slower-paced Mario is much easier to control than the faster-paced Mario from the 3D games when it comes to precision platforming, there are several sequences that require you to execute that same precision platforming while running, and it’s just outright awkward to execute such precise jumps in 3D while holding down a run button.
Level progression is standard for a Mario game. There are eight worlds before the final showdown with Bowser, and beating him unlocks another eight. Unlike previous Mario games (well, the 2D ones, at least), each world does not have a set theme such as ice, water, or desert. Instead, the levels are disjointed – in the same world you could have a desert level next to an ice level and a Ghost House right after. There’s no cohesion between the levels, and so the progression feels even more arbitrary than in even past Mario games. Hidden in each level are three star coins, and a certain number of these coins is required to advance in the game – much like Galaxy 2’s star requirements. The number of coins required to advance is nowhere near as high as in that game though, ensuring that you won’t have to do too much backtracking if you don’t want to, and leaving enough hidden coins for completionists to have a field day.
Each world culminates in either a trip through Bowser’s Castle or an airship level. The Bowser’s Castle stages end with a battle with the Koopa King himself, and these battles are all throwbacks to the original Mario games where you would have to get around him and press a switch to make him fall into the lava. These are often hectic, and the final of these confrontations is one of the most epic boss fights ever seen in a Mario game.
Less impressive, however, are the other boss battles. The game recycles the same two bosses over and over, with the same attack patterns and the same arena. Minor alterations such as lava pools or spikes attempt to add variety, but it still comes across as lazy game design, especially when compared to the epic boss encounters from the Galaxy series, or even the Koopaling battles from New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
The game won’t take you long to beat: the first eight worlds leading up to the confrontation with Bowser offer little challenge and aren’t particularly lengthy. The game ramps up the difficulty in the eight bonus worlds unlocked after beating the main game, however. While many of these stages are remixes of earlier stages with extra challenges thrown in, others are brand new, tough-as-nails platforming gauntlets that will try even the most seasoned gamer. Experienced Mario players will likely rack up extra lives in the triple digits in the earlier levels, but expect to burn through a good number of those later on. Clearing all sixteen worlds and finding all the star coins in each gives players plenty to do and ensures the game will last a while.
The underlying theme of the whole game is the Tanooki tail. Almost everything has a tail – from Goombas to Bullet Bills to even Bowser himself. It doesn’t really affect their attack patterns too much though, so it seems like more of a forced throwback to previous games. Of more interest is the Tanooki suit, which allows Mario to swipe at enemies with the tail and float above the landscape with ease. There’s a Tanooki suit in almost every level, and while the stages are always designed in a manner that allows for completion without the suit, it makes things a lot easier for novice Mario players. You need the suit to get some of the hidden star coins, as well, so it’s worth hanging on to it as much as possible.
The graphics are technically some of the best we’ve seen on the 3DS, if not the best. There’s quite a bit of detail and the game maintains a consistent framerate throughout. Artistically, however, the game is a bit bland – the environments are fairly cookie-cutter and there’s very little to make the game stand out. The biggest standouts are the Paper Mario style cutouts between worlds that serve to advance the story. Not only do they use the ingenious Paper Mario style, they incorporate some fun 3D and gyroscopic effects. If this is a glimpse of how Paper Mario 3DS will look, then bring it on right now.
On the audio front, the game is fairly standard Mario fare, with both remixes of popular Mario tunes and some new stuff thrown in to fit the theme of each level. The music is fairly impressive, but the constant yips and yaps from Mario can be grating at times – but then again we’ve come to expect that as part of the character himself.
After this review, it might come across that I hated the game, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Despite my nitpicking, it’s still a solid game at heart, and it’s a worthwhile purchase for any 3DS owner. The main issue with Super Mario 3D Land is that it just feels bland and uninspired, without any real identity or anything to set it apart. That’s frustrating, because this could have been Nintendo’s chance to really push the envelope and do something really fresh. Instead, it seems like a standard issue 2D Mario game, with a few little hints of influence from 3D Mario. It would have been nice to see a better balance between the two – especially a bit more of the exploration aspect from the 3D Mario games like Super Mario 64.
But at the end of the day, 3D Land is another incredibly solid, tight Mario platformer. It offers quite possibly the best use of 3D on the system yet, and there’s plenty of content to keep you occupied for a while. Just don’t expect to see anything that you haven’t before.
Fluid, responsive controls.
Best use of the 3D effect yet.
Lots of content.
Does nothing new and often feels bland.
Uninspired boss fights.