The power behind Super Mario 3D Land is astounding, on all fronts. The gameplay is smooth, the graphics are unmatched on portable consoles, and the sound is nostalgic with a modernized twist. All of these combine to make one of the best, albeit short, games I have ever played on a handheld.
If you’re playing this game (or any Mario game, for that matter) for the deep and moving story, you are in the wrong place. The story is a callback to the classic Mario games like Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3. Basically, Bowser kidnapped Peach and now it is Mario’s job to go rescue her. He does this by traveling through worlds, with levels that lead up to a castle, or the classic airships.
All of these levels look great. They are varied enough so that you won’t know what to expect jumping into each one, but there is also enough familiarity to keep you feeling at home in the Mario universe. The best thing about the levels is the implementation of the 3D tech. The platforms and other moving variables in the level can seem like they are in a straight line, but turning up the 3D slider may show some slight displacement, illustrating the difference between that last Star Medal, and losing a life. That said, I have two slight complaints about the level design. With the new Mario games like the Galaxy series, we have been seeing more mini-bosses that involve a little more puzzle solving, but those are absent here replaced for the classic “jump on their head three times” Koopalings. I also wish the game used a hub world instead of world map, because the Mario series has always been interesting in the way they use their hub worlds.
The controls feel a little odd when you first pick the game up, but once you get to World 1-4, you will be platforming with ease. The circle pad feels right at home, and the dash button will take some getting used to at first, but eventually you will be pressing it without even realizing it. The power-ups add some variety to the gameplay, too. The usual Mushroom, Invincibility Star, and Fire Flower make their return, but it is the new additions that feel the best. The return of the Racoon Suit from Super Mario Bros. 3 is welcome, and it adds a new element to the platforming. The suit is also taken into the spotlight, but this can sometimes be a problem. There are some levels where the suit is necessary to get a Star Medal, but the suit may not be available in that level. The Tanooki suit also makes a triumphant return, but only in the special levels, which are even more interesting then the normal levels. I highly recommend finding all the star medals so you can see them. The boomerang suit is new to the power-up arsenal and it fits right in with the others. It is a lot like the Fire Flower, but (obviously) it will come back to you, and you can dodge it to hit multiple enemies in one throw.
If you are a skilled enough player, you will not see the other two power ups the game introduces. One is an Invincible Racoon Suit powerup that will appear after you die five times in one level. The other is the coveted P-Wing, which appears after an unfortunate 10 deaths. I would recommend that, given you have enough lives, deliberately try to get them at least to see them once.
The sound compliments the levels and feel of the game perfectly. My favorite game music has to be on the levels where you platform on the 8-bit versions of the characters. It feels a lot like the Super Mario Sunshine throwback levels. The sound effects and character sounds are all the same as past iterations, which is not a bad thing. There is just no moving narrative through talking characters; mainly you’ll be hearing more of Mario’s “Yahoo!”s.
Super Mario 3D land is the first big original title on the 3DS, and it doesn’t disappoint. I highly recommend this to all 3DS owners and/or Mario fans. Finally, Nintendo put out a real system seller that isn’t a remake.
The Good: Really shows off the power of the 3DS. One of the best looking portable games I’ve ever seen. Controls are smooth and feel great.
The Bad: The levels and game are generally short, but the Special levels add extra life into it.
The Ugly: The return of the Raccoon suit garners so much attention that it overshadows other elements of the game.
Final Score: 9 out of 10