When the Nintendo 3DS debuted earlier this year, I have to admit I was very disappointed with the launch title selection. They just didn’t appeal to me, and the ones I did play didn’t seem to really showcase the capabilities of the 3DS system. When The Ocarina of Time did come out for the 3DS in June, it looked fantastic, and played as well as I remembered in the original game. While I immensely enjoyed playing that classic game again, I was still impatient for a brand new first-party Nintendo game made for the 3DS that would really show what all the hype was about when the 3DS was first revealed at E3 2010. Once I started playing the game, I discovered that Super Mario 3D Land does not disappoint. In fact, it delights.
Super Mario 3D Land is classic Mario — running and jumping in levels full of goombas, koopa troopers, and piranha plants. Once again, Bowser has Princess Peach, and it is up to Mario (you) to rescue her. Just as in the original Super Mario Bros., the objective of each level is to find the flagpole and jump on it before time expires. There are coins to collect, power-ups to find in order to aid your way, and also Star Medals to find. There are three Star Medals hidden in each level, and you will need to spend these in order to unlock certain levels as you progress through the game. Some of the Star Medals are tricky to find, and I found myself repeatedly playing through certain levels in order to find every last one.
In addition to the classic Super Mario power-ups (Super Mushrooms, Fire Flowers, and Super Star), Super Mario 3D Land features the return of Super Mario 3’s Tanooki Suit. Find the Super Leaf, and Mario dons a raccoon suit, which allows Mario to attack with his raccoon tail and float in the air for a short time when jumping. There are also new power-ups featured in this game: the Boomerang Suit and the Propeller Box. The Boomerang Flower gives Mario the power to throw boomerangs. The Propeller Box turns Mario into a peculiar little box with a propeller, allowing Mario to reach high places.
Super Mario 3D land is very heavy on the one-ups. You rack up extra lives pretty easily — there are tons of coins to find (as always 100 coins = one-up). There are lots of one-up mushrooms hidden in the levels and if you land at the very top of the flag pole you are rewarded with an extra life. These extra lives definitely come in handy, as some of the levels can be quite challenging. In order to keep the game accessible to players of all ages, if you die several times in the same level, you have the choice to employ the Invincibility Leaf, which turns Mario into Tanooki Mario with unlimited invincibility. You can still die if you fall into lava or down a pit, so if that’s not enough help, there is also the P-Wing, which allows Mario to travel instantly to the end of the level. I’m sure this is something that many older and advanced gamers would scoff at, but it keeps the game fun for younger and more inexperienced players by limiting frustration.
There is quite a variety in the style of the different levels in terms of perspective — side scrolling, top down view, and three-dimensional open-world movement (first seen in Super Mario 64). All these camera views help avoid the game from becoming repetitive. The different levels really maximize the 3D effect, but without it being annoying or difficult to look at. I never once felt that the game was straining or tiring my eyes. The 3D environment can initially make some movement, such as jumping diagonally from platform to platform a bit trickier, but you get the hang of it. It’s hard to describe exactly what the 3D effect brings to the game — it doesn’t just make the game look amazing but it is incorporated into the design of every single level. The look, feel, and gameplay of every level is fantastic. There are plenty of levels I replayed, not only to ensure I found every Star Medal, but to explore every part of it and find every hidden area or alternative route. The gameplay is not just fun, it’s addictive. Some levels are surprisingly tricky and I made good use of a number of my extra lives. I didn’t want to just complete all the level, I wanted to master them.
Super Mario 3D Land also makes use of some of the 3DS’s other features such as the gyroscope. This allows for motion-controlled binoculars found in some levels, which are used to find Toad and/or look at what the level has in store for you ahead. If you zoom in on Toad, he will place another Star Medal, one-up mushroom, or power-up into the level.
This game also makes use of the 3DS’s Streetpass system. Mystery boxes are found on the World Map and within some levels. Inside, you are given a limited amount of time to grab coins, power-ups, or a Star Medal. Once you’ve completed the Mystery Box, it can be shared with other Super Mario 3D Land players via Streetpass. Essentially, if you pass by another player, they will be sent the last Box you played. Even if you Streetpass with someone who doesn’t own the game, you will sometimes receive a gift in one of the Toad Houses.
Like all Mario games, the controls are simple, straight-forward, and intuitive. You can easily pick up and play this game straight out of the box without any reference to the instructions. In fact, the game comes with only a one page guide on Mario’s controls (there is a full manual that can be accessed in the game if needed).
I’ve probably played just about every single previous Super Mario game, and this one felt incredibly nostalgic, yet also like a fresh, brand-new game-playing experience. There are so many other things that made this game great including the details such as the flowers bursting into flames after they’re scorched by one of your fireballs; Toad’s humorous reactions when receiving various forms of abuse from Mario; and the inclusion of various elements from Mario games of the past. This game made me smile a lot because it’s just so much fun.
As previously mentioned, I really enjoyed playing the same levels over and over to make sure I found every hidden area and item. And while the game may appear short with only 8 worlds, there are additional worlds available once you initially finish the game.
Super Mario 3D Land’s graphics are amazing and beautiful to look at. The 3D effects are used very well to its maximum potential so much so that after a while you become so used to it that you sometimes forget it is 3D. The colours are vibrant and well defined. The levels are well designed and done creatively with always a surprise around each corner. Mario and the other characters look dynamic and smooth and just seem to really pop. The game is as fun to look at as it is to play.
The sound in Mario seems to be largely unchanged from previous games with some of the same classic music and sound effects they’ve used for the last few decades which I think is a good thing. The music remains very good and really illustrates the tone and pace of a particular level. There is very little voice acting except for some occasionally yelling and laughter by the characters. The sound effects are satisfying and go well with the actions.
Overall, Super Mario 3D Land alone is one of the best reasons to buy a 3DS. The gameplay is fun, creative, friendly, but also challenging at times. At this point, it is THE 3DS game that everyone was hoping for and it did not fail expectations. In fact, it is so good that it really makes me look forward to what other first-party games Nintendo will offer in the future but I don’t see how they can top this one at this time. My only criticism is that it wasn’t released earlier along with the launch of the 3DS; however, one thing is for certain the extra development time certainly payed off.