Super Mario 3D Land Review

Mario’s status in gaming has long surpassed legendary and iconic.  In essence – despite what some Call of Duty faithful might attest to – Mario and friends have become synonymous with video games as a whole; which is why nearly every major Mario game raises the bar for interactive entertainment and enthralls more and more new comers and die-hard fans alike with each passing year.

Despite arriving on a handheld platform, the new Super Mario 3D Land shares many trappings of its predecessors that have endeared fans to the venerable series.  That said, the generally excellent game lacks some of the finer touches to detail and refreshing innovation found in its older console brethren, reminding us that this is still a mobile game: and in that respect, it’s the one of the best the 3DS currently has to offer.

Nintendo is not one for nuanced story lines – and gamers are generally alright with that.  Princess Peach gets kidnapped by Bower and Mario must once again be the stoic and unrelenting hero, rushing headlong (or feet first!) into countless dangers.  3D Land sheds the little exposition which could be found in Super Mario Galaxy in exchange for quick and linear gameplay that many will probably feel is suited for a handheld.  You progress along a series of levels that are broken up into 8 different worlds, each of which tries to keep some semblance of a theme – however loose and abstract as it may be.  Certain worlds have forest-like levels with grass and flowers, others take Mario to a desert oasis, some take him to islands and underwater caverns. Some of the levels within these worlds stick to the overlapping theme while others are simply a series of rotating platforms or gears that wouldn’t be out of place in some abstract dream.

Many of Mario’s familiar adversaries return, goombas, koopa troopas, boo’s, bumble bees, and a plethora of others are thrown at Mario at every possible opportunity.  Luckily for Mario, he’s got a new set of tools, or should I say suits, to help him beat the baddies.

The tanooki raccoon suit, first introduced in Super Mario Brothers 3, is back as one of the central power ups in 3D Land.  Donning the furry tailed costume – which animal rights group PETA recently slammed as being pro animal abuse – Mario can float mid air and spin his fluffy tail to knock out baddies.  Less substantial, and often less useful, are the fire flower and koopa boomerang power ups.  The former lets the chubby plumber shoot bouncing fireballs, while the latter drapes him in a turtle shell complete with a returning boomerang.

Instead of collecting three different stars in each level, Mario must hunt for star medallions to unlock certain levels, and eventually complete the game and defeat Bowser.  Each level has three medallions which can be collected as Mario runs through –some are conspicuous and can be grabbed easily while others lay in subterfuge, waiting to be discovered.

Jumping around the levels is incredibly fun and intuitive – like it should in a Mario game.  There are only three buttons used to control Mario: jump, run, and crouch.  The camera can be slightly rotated with the touch screen but never really needs to be due to the tight, fixed perspective camera.  .  Though simple, the controls still need to be mastered to pass some of the game’s more difficult later levels.

3D Land, of course, wouldn’t have its name were not it taking advantage of the Nintendo 3DS’ 3D capabilities, which it does quite well.  The depth may not be as prominent as what’s used in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, but it certainly aids in gauging distances between platforms, allowing jumps to be more precise.

3D depth alone isn’t enough to impress if the actual 3D graphics disappoint.  Fortunately 3D Land does a great job of imitating the stunning Super Mario Galaxy in visuals. While it’s certainly not as impressive, with a much smaller scale and less visual dazzle, it stands out as one of the 3DS’ better visual outings.

The first time through the game can take players a truly disheartening 4 to 5 hours depending on skill and mastery of the controls.  Upon completion, the game unlocks an additional 8 special worlds that ramp up the difficulty and give the game’s console bigger and betters a run for their money, as well as letting players tackle all of the levels with Mario’s brother, Luigi.

Unfortunately, the majority of the special stages aren’t entirely new, but rather are remixed versions with alternate level design and enemy placement.  Some are exactly the same, albeit with a stricter time limit or a deadly doppelganger chasing Mario.

As Mario’s first 3DS adventure, 3D Land pieces together the best that Mario has had to offer in a sort of greatest hits compilation. Most of the levels feature some great platforming segments though a few are over just as you hit your stride. Additionally, with the exception of the seminal boss battles against Bowser, the rest of the big honchos, including an angry spinning turtle and his boomerang slinging sister, unfortunately leave something to be desired.

While being exceptionally well crafted and designed, the somewhat anemic 3D Land doesn’t offer enough content to all but the most ardent completionists – who will likely search every nook and cranny for each of the star medallions – to justify the $40 price tag.  It’s a lot of fun while it lasts, especially as a handheld game, but I just can’t help but wish that there was more original content in the otherwise excellent package.