Super Mario 3D Land

It’s well known that the 3DS had a shaky start in life, launching a with a few good but not really great games. Then came a 3D Zelda remake and all was forgiven for a short time. Then the lull returned, Nintendo said sorry, dropped the price and gave us early adopters a pile of free stuff. Last week something quite magical happened, a copy of Super Mario 3D World arrived in the post. Could this be the game the 3DS was built for? Will this game finally blend all the features of the hardware into a coherent and enjoyable game? The short answer is ‘Yes’, the long answer is ‘About time, Nintendo! All is forgiven. I love you’.

Many, including myself, thought that Super Mario 3D Land would be based upon the Mario Galaxy gameplay model. While this might seem like a good idea, I think striving for that level of freedom throughout the game would have been a struggle. What we have in 3D Land is very much a traditional Mario platform game set in upon a 3D path. There is some level of exploration but you are essentially sticking to a single path with the occasional shortcut or secret room to discover. Super Mario 3D Land pulls its gameplay ideas from many different Mario titles both 2D and 3D but its heart quite obviously belongs to Super Mario Bros 3 and those of you that know their Mario we know that this is a very good thing. Obsessive fans may have to make a few minor concessions to evolution, though. Along with the standard Super Mushroom and Fire Flower power ups we have the the Super Leaf; essential to both gameplay and the story as Bowser has stolen most of them. Back in Super Mario Bros 3 this power up would give Mario a raccoon tail to swing about, a slow glide and, given enough running space, the ability to fly. In 3D land the Super Leaf bestows upon Mario the much rarer Tanooki Suit that used to allow Mario to turn to stone to protect himself. Here the suit behaves much like the old Super Leaf but it loses the flying mechanic that would most likely break the game. It’s all good, don’t worry too much, I only bring this up as it sparked a half hour conversation between me and my son the other day. Despite what PETA might think, Mario looks as cute as a button in the suit so any Mario lore indiscretions are easily forgiven.

The worlds and levels of Super Mario 3D Land are served up across a linear map with some levels being locked off if you don’t possess enough of the hidden Star Coins that are scattered liberally about, so there are some levels you will not automatically have access to but you can usually bypass these. Oddly, though, some of the boss levels are also ‘Star Coin Locked’ and unskipable. On my first playthrough I found myself a few coins short at the end of world five. I had foolishly assumed the Star Coins were entirely optional, but with every level being replayable it’s not a problem to jump back and grab a few more.

I got a real feeling that the designers had created the worlds in the order they are presented for play, taking more chances as they progressed. Once you’ve seen some of the later levels the first third of the game might seem a little pedestrian in comparison. Perhaps it was intentional easing in of the player; after all there has never been a game quite like this before. Environments are often familiar but always fresh and the few tricks of perspective the game uses are a bit of a let down when compared to the often inspired level design seen throughout. The game works best when it’s not trying too hard.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for was how well the 3D effect works; trust Nintendo to be the ones to finally master their own hardware. For comparison I played a little of the game with the 3D off and although it worked fine I missed the depth. Perhaps it was in my mind but the game seemed a little tougher in 2D. I very much doubt the 3D effect makes the three dimensional platforming any easier; that is taken care of by employing a much simpler conceit, very obvious shadows. Coins, enemies, power ups and of course, Mario himself, cast bold shadows across horizontal surfaces making movement in the 3D space much easier to judge, leaving you to enjoy some classic Mario gameplay in some beautifully designed levels. As a Mario game it’s hardly ground breaking; it draws upon many of the previous titles but what it takes from them is what made those games great. You’ll need to stick with the game to see the best it has to offer and it’s not really the type of game you will replay as soon as you’ve finished it but I can see myself playing though Super Mario 3D Land a couple more times over the next year or so.







One response to “Super Mario 3D Land”

  1. […] Dan Bendon assures us that there ARE a few games for the 3DS worth playing in his review of Super Mario 3D Land: […]

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