It’s-A Me, in A-3D!
So. Turns out, I really missed Super Mario games.
I just bought a 3DS XL a couple weeks ago, and it’s the first Nintendo console I’ve owned since the ‘Cube- so obviously I’m going to buy a Super Mario game to go with it. I picked up Super Mario 3D Land, and from the very first level, I was completely hooked.
From an objective and technical perspective, Super Mario 3D Land is a hybrid of classic Super Mario Land mechanics, such as having timed levels with a flagpole finish, and Super Mario 64 gameplay and art design, and all with a 3D flair. There’s no hub world, as Mario runs along a straight line containing the different worlds’ stages. There are eight worlds, with five stages to each world. There are a number of Toad houses and bonus levels, as well. On top of all that, there’s an additional game’s worth of bonus levels.
As with pretty much all Mario games, the level design is where this game shines. Platforming feels right at home on the 3DS XL, with tight controls that allow for even the most complicated maneuvers to be accomplished smoothly. The stages are rarely frustrating, which is a feat considering how many there are. They ramp up in complexity at a nice pace, and always give the player ample time to prepare for the challenges ahead. While the main 8 worlds were a bit easy in my opinion, the Special levels definitely offered more of a challenge.
The actual gameplay itself is fantastic, as well. On top of the solid platforming mechanics, the game includes a satisfying amount of different power-ups. The fireball is your standard Mario fare, but the tanooki suit really stands out. The suit allows you to float for a bit in the air, making easy work of some of the more daunting challenges, and the 360° tail whip attack is super effective against most enemy types. The game also features a boomerang power-up, turning you into a blue-shelled turtle equipped with the Boomerang of Goombacide© (it can also sweep up coins and other power-ups). There’s also a tanooki suit variant that turns you into an impervious metal statue when you ground pound, a propeller box that sends you soaring upwards, and classic Star Power.
A neat aspect of the power-ups is that while you have one equipped, you can hang on to another as a backup, to be used or replaced as you see fit. Regular Mario can’t punch in this game, relegating his attacks to jumping and ground-pounding enemies into oblivion, so having any of the power-ups can be really advantageous. While the tanooki suit’s return is definitely a centerpiece of this game, I honestly found the boomerang power-up to be both the most fun and efficient. The boomerang tears through enemies, and can be incredibly useful in collecting the three Star Coins hidden across each stage.
Now, there were a few things that disappointed me with Super Mario 3D Land. For starters, while the level design is really well done, with plenty of hidden 1-Up mushrooms and secret coin rooms, the stages all have a “one-and-done” feel to them. No level besides the finale really stands out in my mind. And while the art design is an endearing callback to the original N64 game’s painting worlds, there’s no consistency between them. Whereas Super Mario 64’s worlds had this palpable identity between them, in Super Mario 3D Land, they just come off as simple environment skins. The game feels a teensy bit soulless in comparison to the other main series entries.
The story does literally nothing to stand out, either. Bowser steals Peach, Peach calls for help, Goombas die and thrones are restored. All in a plumbing day’s work. The entire game’s identity basically hinges on how it takes advantage of the native 3D on the 3DS. They make an admirable attempt, as the 3D really does look great and is well-implemented, but it’s by no means necessary to fully enjoy the game.
There’s also not much in terms of replay value outside of the game just being generally fun. There are 3 Star Coins in each level (they’re required to unlock some levels as you progress), but you’ll find most with ease. I was able to unlock every stage I came across until Special World 8-6. After beating the main game, you can play as Luigi, too. He’s a little floatier and jumps higher. Lastly, you can go back and try to beat your best time in each level, as well as challenge friends and rivals via StreetPass.
Basically, once you finish Super Mario 3D Land, you’re pretty much done. The only real reason to go back would be for fun, and thankfully, this game has that in spades. This game is a true Super Mario game, never once forfeiting the core values that make the series great in order to fit on a handheld. I just wish the game had more identity to it. I also wish they had put in Yoshi.
On a personal note, I believe that picking up Super Mario 3D Land was the best decision I could have made as the game to reintroduce me to handheld gaming. The very first world immediately brought me to a place of video game catharsis, a sensory overload where everything demanded my attention. The music was catchy and new yet familiar, while the controls immediately made the game feel like an enhanced Super Mario 64. Even the 3D was used in a meaningful sense, impacting the level design in clever and imaginative ways. I also quickly learned that the retro Super Mario Land world system made this game a choice subway companion. The few shortcomings this game has in no way detracts from one of the best platforming experiences I’ve ever had.
It may not go down in the annals of time like Super Mario Land, Super Mario 64, or Super Mario Galaxy, but Super Mario 3D Land is a phenomenal platformer nonetheless. Any Mario fan who owns a 3DS owes it to themselves to pick it up.