Super Mario 3D Land

Mario's 3DS debut takes few chances, but it's every bit as fun as its predecessors.

By OnMercury, Posted 28 Nov 2011

Mario’s gotta be getting tired of his job by now. It seems he can’t go a year without having to rescue his favorite lady from the nefarious Bowser’s clutches. It’s a wonder he hasn’t given up on Peach altogether by now. But his predicament works out for us, because tight controls and superior level design once again make Mario’s newest adventure is a worthy one.

You’ve heard it all before: Mario is enjoying what seems like an average day when he learns Bowser’s at it again. To save Princess Peach, he chases his nemesis across eight themed worlds, stomping the endless hordes of Goombas and Koopas sent his way. And no spike trap, no lava pit and no awful camera can stop him.

Each world contains four to five regular stages and a boss. Living up to recent series standards, most of the levels are exceptionally well-designed. In a given world you might be soaring high above tiny platforms with a propeller box, navigating precarious islands on a sea of lava or scurrying away from relentless, invulnerable ghosts. As you progress, the stages get cleverer, culminating in some of the most devious levels Mario’s ever faced—but more on that later.

Super Mario 3D Land, Review, 3DS
After decades in hiding, Tanooki Mario resurfaces.

Three Star Medals are scattered throughout each stage. Collecting these coins allows you to use them as “currency” to unlock each world’s boss. Boss stages are reminiscent of classic NES Mario games: They’re either lava-filled fortresses or airship fleets. Sometimes you’ll fight Bowser on a bridge (again, just like in the classics) while others you’ll fight beefy Koopas with special abilities. It all leads up to a lengthy, over-the-top battle with Bowser atop a crumbling citadel.

After you finish the first eight worlds and the credits finish rolling, you unlock eight special challenge worlds packed with tough levels. Some of these are previous levels with added obstacles and enemies or time limits, while others are completely new. It’s in the challenge levels that Super Mario 3D Land is at its best. The wicked traps and brief reaction windows bring back memories of both the classic NES games and the more recent Super Mario Galaxy 2.

The level design is great, but  Super Mario 3D Land has a nasty habit of treading old ground a little too often. It feels very familiar at times, but it usually manages to liven things up, particularly in the Lost Levels-esque special worlds. Straddling the line between paying homage and being derivative is difficult, but Super Mario 3D Land is generally successful in this effort.

Super Mario 3D Land, Review, 3DS
It's not strictly self-referential: There's also a Zelda-inspired dungeon level.

Of course, it’s not just the levels themselves you’ll have to contend with: Super Mario 3D Land’s camera seems hellbent on getting you killed at every opportunity. When things directly out of frame aren’t killing you, onscreen threats are obscured or poorly framed, leading to several unwanted deaths. Luckily, if a little trial-and-error doesn’t help you through, the tight controls will save your skin on multiple occasions.

While the levels play out in 3D, the stages follow a more linear path, emphasizing speed and timing over exploration. Not that there’s no reason to stray from the beaten path: You’ll need to keep collecting Star Medals to advance, especially in the special worlds, where the entry fee for boss stages increases dramatically.

There are also Mystery Boxes scattered throughout each world, some in stages and some outside. These contain special challenge rooms where you can find Star Medals, 1-Ups, coins and any of several powerups. Mystery Box challenges vary from hitting coin blocks to defeating enemies within a time limit; some of the later ones even reward you with two Star Medals.

Of course, every Mario title needs cool powerups, and Super Mario 3D Land brings a mix of old and new ones. After a decades-long hiatus, the Tanooki Suit is back; it allows Mario to slow his descent and use his tail as a club. But there’s a catch: Goombas, Bob-ombs and even Bowser can use the Tanooki Suit against you. The Fire Flower also makes a return, though it lasts indefinitely unless you’re hit, rather than a few seconds. A new powerup, the Boomerang Flower, allows Mario to attack enemies and snag distant items with a boomerang.

Super Mario 3D Land, Review, 3DS
The Boomerang Suit is a welcome addition to Mario's arsenal.

In lieu the Super Guide from New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns, Super Mario 3D Land uses two powerups that fill similar roles. The first, the Invincibility Leaf, appears when you fail a level five times. It transforms you into a shimmering Tanooki that can only be harmed by pitfalls; otherwise, enemies and environmental hazards are deflected or destroyed on contact. The second, the P-Wing, is unlocked after you fail 10 times. When activated, it immediately transports you to the end of the level. Neither of these items are mandatory, and you can skip them altogether if you want to beat the levels without assistance—they also don't appear in the special worlds.

Technically, Super Mario 3D Land doesn’t stack up against its Wii brethren, but it occasionally looks close. This is easily one of the best-looking games the 3DS has to offer right now, and it’s certainly the most compelling case for 3D. Though it’s not often used in fresh, creative ways, activating 3D gives you a greater awareness of Mario and his surroundings, which enables you to jump more accurately onto platforms and enemies.

Super Mario 3D Land, Review, 3DS
The use of 3D is occasionally inventive, but it's mostly for show.

StreetPass doesn’t do much: As you encounter people, you’ll find gifts in your Toad houses. You’ll also gain new Mystery Boxes, which give you more opportunities to earn Star Medals and 1-Up mushrooms. It’s not a bad idea, but the implementation doesn’t add anything of substance. You can also use the built-in gyroscope at "observation decks" in some levels. Using a binocular apparatus, you can move the system around to spot hidden Toads who'll toss you Star Medals or powerups, or lead you to hidden Mystery Boxes.

It’s hard not to recommend Super Mario 3D Land. While it’s not the first good game for the system, it is the first original release you’ll want to own. It plays well to the strengths of the 3DS and boasts some of the best Mario platforming in recent memory. For Mario fans and starving 3DS owners alike, this is a title you won't want to miss.

Aaron Kinney, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): 3DS
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Developer(s): Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Genres: Platformer
Themes: Platformer
Release Date: 2011-11-03

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