Super Mario 3D Land Review
Super Mario 3D Land is my first 3DS title. This game inspired me to buy Nintendo's struggling handheld, and as I expected, it's a worthy killer app. Super Mario Land 3D is not perfect, but it is without question an essential purchase for any 3DS owner, particularly in the current retail market where original, worthwhile games are hard to come by. Championing all the achievements the franchise has made over the years, Mario steps boldly into 3D - true 3D - for the first time, and succeeds in delivering a unique platforming experience.
It all starts the same - Mario is sent off to rescue Princess Peach after she's abducted by his arch nemesis Bowser. Along the way, Mario will stare down ghouls, swim with the fishes, and float through the sky on his way to defeating Bowser and all his dastardly cohorts. While these are all things we've come to expect, Super Mario 3D Land differs in some significant ways, most obviously perspective. The action is viewed from fixed camera angles that generally provide a look at the action from a vantage point found more commonly in sidescrollers. But the game embraces the more traditional style of Mario platformers since Super Mario 64, allowing the plumber to fully explore his environment.
It's a great combination, though very ocassionally imperfect. There are times where you'll wish you could manipulate the camera, but your only options are to nudge it to the left or the right a little bit. I had some trouble moving across tight ropes, and would have had less trouble had the perspective shifted to an over-the-shoulder angle instead of a side view. This gripe aside, the camera works nearly flawlessly the vast majority of the time. And, as someone who has loathed platforming segments that require players run at the camera, a chase from Bowser in 3D was really, really intense and quire enjoyable. I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear when I survived.
The biggest and only real issue with Super Mario 3D Land is that half of the game is too easy. When I rescued Princess Peach, I had 121 lives. I burned through them on the eight challenging special worlds that unlock once you save her highness, but I think I would have preferred that the difficultly level rise steadily over the main quest rather than having to play for hours to unlock a real challenge. I think I would have also prefered if progression through the game were handled in the same manner as Super Mario World, with distinct themes that tie each level of each world together and gave the worlds identities independent of each other. As it stands, Super Mario 3D Land's level rotation is kind of like playing music on shuffle - you'll hop from an ice level to a water world to a scorched desert and back again.
The best levels usually demand a fever pace from players. The most interesting moments see Mario simply running because all of the platforms are falling away underneath him. There are moments of incredible tension, with the game demanding you dodge flying Goombas as lava flows threaten you from below. You'll confront Bowser's minions in levels that evoke Super Mario Bros. 3, with the camera pushing you forward as you dodge their dangerous floating fortresses. Super Mario 3D Land provides a very compelling adventure.
The 3DS is put through its paces as Nintendo has very carefully crafted each level to take advantage of the system. Many of the secret areas use 3D tricks to challenge players trying to reach elusive coins. The levels are also very large, sharing more in common with the Galaxy series than Mario's older work. There are tons of secret areas to find, and all of it is twinged with a healthy dose of nostalgia. It's a fitting fusion of Mario's past and present, the perfect game to attract people to a handheld that's struggled to establish a unique identity from its predecessors.
Super Mario 3D Land is a very distinct and important release for Mario. Mario's first 3DS outing establishes the benchmark by which all other platformers on the system will be compared, introducing a solid camera system that limits player frustration while allowing a fully explorable environment full of 3D effects. It's also a title that gives the 3DS something distinct to brag about when, so far, the library has been full of excellent Nintendo 64 ports. It may be a little too easy at times, but even the levels that you can breeze are still interesting and provide a lot of worthwhile sights. Super Mario 3D Land is an essential purchase for all 3DS owners, and a good reason to pay attention to the system if you haven't yet.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.