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REVIEW - Super Mario 3D Land

Posted December 13th 2011 by Adam Grayson.

Don't you miss the days when a Mario game releasing with the launch of a Nintendo console was a given?  Yeah, me too.  The Nintendo 3DS launched nearly nine months ago now, and gamers have been wondering where all of the "good" games are.  Thankfully, it's the holiday season, and Nintendo has finally started giving 3DS owners the games they've been waiting for.  Super Mario 3D Land is one of those games, but was it worth the wait?  Yeah, I'd say so.

While Super Mario 3D Land shares the name of its handheld brethren, it introduces something new to the Super Mario Land table—3D environments.  Joining the ever-increasing console Marios, Super Mario 3D Land allows players to explore its levels by moving in any direction rather than just the traditional side-to-side movement seen in every other original handheld Mario.  Even in the areas where the camera moves to a side angle, there is still enough room in front of and behind Mario to allow players to move toward and away from the camera (like your typical arcade beat 'em up) which differs from, say, the sidescrolling bits of Mario Galaxy 2 where the player can only move left and right.  Really, it seems like the logical middle ground between sidescrolling Marios and Marios that use 3D character movement, and it turned out great.

When the camera goes above Mario, it can sometimes be hard to tell how high he jumps which often makes platforming more difficult than it normally is.

There are certain levels with binoculars that Mario can look through.  Tilting the 3DS or moving the circle pad will change the angle that Mario is looking.

The camera angles aren't the only thing that make the game feel like a great mixture of old and new Marios.  The powerups and items, the levels and their designs, and the enemies are all reminiscent of past Mario games.  Many of these familiarities, such as Bowser's airships and henchman Boom Boom, Music Blocks, and Toad Houses, are derived from Super Mario Bros. 3 (hence the double meaning of the 3 in Super Mario 3D Land).  Going back further, there are influences from the original Super Mario Bros. such as the Fire Flower, timed levels, jumping on a flagpole to raise a flag at the end of each level, and, my favorite, dodging the fire Bowser spits out in his castle levels.  Then, of course, there are newer influences such as Propeller Boxes (from New Super Mario Bros. Wii) and enemies that resemble Super Mario Galaxy 2's Cosmic Clones.

It's really neat to see these traditional scenes from an entirely new perspective.  Even with the new camera angles, the game still feels remarkably similar to its sidescrolling predecessors.

The biggest of these additions are one new powerup and two "old" powerupsBoomerang Mario, Tanooki Mario, and Statue Mario.  Boomerang Mario is very similar to Fire Mario.  Really the only difference is that Boomerang Mario throws out—you guessed it—a boomerang instead of fireballs.  However, the boomerang is able to grab far off objects for Mario which is often times better than failing to pull off a really difficult jump trying to get said object.  Tanooki and Statue Mario are the most prominent influences from Mario Bros. 3 and are perhaps the most desired by fans.  That said, these two powerups are a bit different than they were back in Mario Bros. 3. In Super Mario 3D Land, Tanooki Mario is more similar to Mario Bros. 3's Raccoon Mario, but instead of being able to fly after running for long enough, players can hold the jump button as Tanooki Mario to have Mario flutter his feet and slow his fall.  And, of course, he can still whack enemies with his tail just like he could in Mario Bros. 3.  Statue Mario, on the other hand, is just like Tanooki Mario from Mario Bros. 3.  He has all of the same abilities as Tanooki Mario (this game's Tanooki Mario) with the added ability to turn into an invincible statue for a few seconds.  Oh, and he gets a stylish little bandana too.

Even Mario is celebrating Zelda's 25th Anniversary thanks to his new boomerang powerup (left) and this Zelda-themed level (right).

Tanooki Mario (left) is obtained by getting a Super Leaf and Statue Mario (right) is obtained by getting the rarer Statue Leaf.

As far as the game's visuals go, they're surprisingly impressive.  The first time I turned the game on, I was taken aback by how good the graphics are.  In fact, the game simply looks like a console Mario game on a small screen.  I suppose it really shouldn't be that surprising given how powerful the 3DS is, but it's still a pleasure to see such good graphics on a handheld system. Then, of course, there is the stereoscopic 3D.  The 3D effect is just what one would expect (nice amount of added depth), but the game adds a cool little feature that hasn't been used before on the system.  Whenever players want, they can change the game's 3D effect by pressing down on the D-pad.  The two viewing modes are called Normal View and Extended Depth.  Basically, Normal View is when the 3D makes things on screen "pop out" while Extended Depth "pushes them back."  It's a cool little feature that makes the already impressive 3D even better.

The game doesn't just look good; it feels good to play too.  The game's controls are very easy to use and are flexible at that.  What I mean by "flexible" is that players have a few options in terms of button layout.  The Y/X buttons are used to dash and use a powerup's ability (shoot a fireball, swing the Tanooki tail, etc.), B/A are used to jump, L/R are used to crouch or perform a ground pound, and Select/Start are used to pause the game.  This allows players to hold the 3DS in whichever way is most comfortable to them, and allows them to be able to switch where their hands/fingers are at any time without having to go through any in-game menus to switch the controls.  While all of Mario's actions can be performed with these various different button combinations, movement is handled solely by the circle pad (as opposed to the D-pad moving Mario as well), but this is for the better.  Because Mario moves in three dimensions, it would feel awkward to use the limiting eight directions of the D-pad to move.  Instead, the circle pad allows for movement in any direction, varying degrees of speed, and large to slight changes in movement which are especially useful when platforming (i.e. the entire game).  Mario also retains many of the moves he's gained over the years such as the long jump, back flip, wall jump, and side somersault.  Curiously though, he is not able to perform his triple jump which I, for one, think is more of a staple Mario move than the ones above...  Mario's triple jump has become such an integral part of platforming since Super Mario 64 that I would often find myself missing platforms because Mario would not jump as high/stay in the air as long as he should have (compared to games utilizing the triple jump).  This leads to the jumping, which is the game's primary mechanic, feeling off.

Not having a triple jump, however strange it seems, is something that players can quickly adjust to.  That said, there is another part of the game's mechanics that makes platforming feel weird: Mario moves abnormally slowly.  Even when players hold the dash button, it feels like Mario is running slower than he does in other Mario games.  Maybe he should lay off the pasta...  What's more likely is that this decreased speed was intentional.  It seems like a way to help players navigate the levels more easily.  Even though many of the levels are open like those of Mario 64 or Mario Galaxy, they are not nearly as big.  The levels in Mario 64 are very open ended (they don't have a specific "goal" or "end"), whereas the levels in Super Mario 3D Land have a very linear design which leads players from start to finish rather than allowing players to freely roam around the environment.  So while the levels seem big and open, they're actually quite compact (which seems appropriate given this is a handheld game).  The point being that if Mario were to move faster, his speed and jumps would be too big and too fast for the design of the levels, causing players to overshoot platforms.  Sure the level design could have been tailored to allow for this kind of faster movement, but even then, the quickness of Mario's movement may have been too fast for players to easily follow due to the small screen size and quickly changing 3D images.  This is, of course, hypothetical.  The fact is that Mario moves slower than he usually does, which also causes him to not jump as far as he usually does.  Like not being able to triple jump, this decreased speed, particularly not being able to jump as far, caused me to miss platforms more often than I expected.  But again, like the non-existent triple jump, players may be thrown off by Mario's speed at first but will get used to it as they spend more time with the game.

Now being a 3DS game, Super Mario 3D Land uses the system's two screens to display various bits of information.  The game's bottom screen is very similar to that of New Super Mario Bros.' on the DS.  During levels, the bottom displays the world number, the collected Star Medals, the number of lives, two touch buttons to rotate the camera (which can also be accomplished with left and right on the D-pad), and the stored item (if available) which can be used by touching it.  It also displays the pause menu when the game is paused.  While not in a level, the bottom screen only displays the worlds/levels which Mario moves to after players either press left/right on the circle pad/D-pad or touch them on the touch screen.  Really, the few things that the bottom screen displays could have been easily moved to the top screen while its handful of touch functions could have been mapped to buttons.  In fact, the only function that's not already mapped to a button is tapping the bottom screen to use the storage item.  This minimal focus on the touch screen may seem kind of odd given that this is a first-party Nintendo game on the system that boasts its bottom touch screen, but it actually fits quite well into the game's charming simplicity.  The placement of certain information on each screen makes it so neither one is overly cluttered, and the (mostly) optional touch screen functions go hand in hand with the flexibility and customizable nature of the controls.

If players have a powerup in their storage (left), they can tap the bottom screen to have it appear in front of Mario (middle).  If Mario already has a powerup and obtains a new one, the first one will go into the item storage (right).

Speaking of the game's simplicity, Super Mario 3D Land is ridiculously easy, at least at first.  You can imagine my surprise when I beat the game in just over two hours, including collecting all of the Star Medals.  I thought to myself, "Well that was fun, but did I really just pay $40 for this?"  Fortunately, after beating the game once, a whole new set of "special," much harder worlds is unlocked, doubling the game's number of levels.  Some of the levels from the special worlds are simply harder versions of levels from the normal worlds, but most of them are completely new levels.  Either way, the special worlds are much harder than the normal worlds and will take players much longer to complete.  This increased difficulty is accomplished in a variety of different ways.  Many levels simply introduce harder platforming.  Some levels start with only 30 seconds on the clock and require players to collect additional time (found throughout the level or by defeating enemies).  Still other levels are home to Super Mario 3D Land's version of a Cosmic Clone who follows Mario's every move and who hurts/kills Mario upon touching him.  As if these weren't enough alone, many of the later special levels combine all of these to make the levels even harder.  So, readers, don't let the first half of the game fool you as it did me.  Super Mario 3D Land is a hard platformer and, because of that, will last longer than expected (it took me around eight hours to beat both normal and special worlds as well as collect all of the Star Medals).

This level starts off with 30 seconds on the clock, and a Cosmic Clone will follow Mario's every move, hurting him if they touch.  Think that's hard?  Wait until some of the later levels...

Still, some may find the $40 price tag to be a bit much.  Even though the game is a fun, good looking, and solid Mario platformer, once you beat the game, there isn't really that much more to do.  There are really only two things that boost the game's replayability.  One is that Super Mario 3D Land uses the 3DS' StreetPass to swap information with other players.  This isn't nearly as exciting as it could be though.  All it does is "respawn" Toad Houses and Mystery Boxes (timed one room "levels" that hold Star Medals).  What's more likely to get players to replay levels is the fact that Luigi is unlockable.  But even then, the only thing that's different is that Luigi can jump higher than Mario.  Of course, because Super Mario 3D Land is so easy to just pick up and play, it's a great time killer.  Only have a 10-minute break?  Flip open that 3DS and play a few levels.  In the middle of a level but need to go do something else?  Close the system and resume exactly where you were later.  This may be all the replayability some need.

All in all, Super Mario 3D Land is a great Mario game and a great 3DS game.  It does a wonderful job of being a new Mario experience while at the same time reminding players of older Mario games.  On top of that, the visuals and 3D effect are great, the controls are flexible and easy to use, and the game is perfect for either long or short gaming sessions.  Nintendo sure made us wait a long time for our first 3D Mario experience, but it was worth the wait.  Super Mario 3D Land is definitely a game any Nintendo 3DS owner should have in his or her collection.

  • System game is available on: Nintendo 3DS
  • Game reviewed was a RETAIL COPY of Super Mario 3D Land

Tags: mario, Super Mario Land, Super Mario 3D Land, 3D, Nintendo, 3ds, tanooki, Bros, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Bowser, Goomba, Koopa, Super Mario

Posted in: Reviews, Entertainment, Gaming

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User Comments


Fun fact: Other Nintendo consoles that launched without a Mario game were NES (Japan and Europe), Game Boy (Europe), Game Boy Color, Virtual Boy, Game Boy Advance (save for a port), DS (save for a port), Game Cube and Wii. Basically SNES and N64 launched with Mario. Just saying, because the claim that Nintendo used to start all their systems with Mario keeps popping up.

Wednesday, December 14th 2011



Good point. But that doesn't mean we can't still miss it!

Thursday, December 15th 2011

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