When I first caught the debut trailer of Super Mario 3D Land, my hype-train left the station. It seemed like a blend of old-school Super Mario Bros. platforming and Super Mario 64 collecting. And you know what? That’s exactly what this game is, and it’s incredibly fun.
All was peaceful in the Mushroom Kingdom, but in a shocking turn of events, Bowser kidnapped Princess Peach! …yeah, story is never important in a Mario game. It’s all about the platforming, and that platforming is back in full swing.
As stated, 3D Land is a fusion of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario 64. Levels consist of going from point A to point B, but the layouts and graphics are that of the Nintendo 64 classic. In fact, Mario can do every action from 64 except for punching and triple jumping; he even has a new roll manuever. This game is Mario 2.5D Land, if you will.
Places to Go
Of course, the true draw of Mario games is course design. Players will traverse the usual environmental levels like lakes, deserts, and mountains, as well as what I call “building blocks” levels – those that consist of isolated, floating platforms. The expected Bowser’s Castle levels also make a return (duh), and each one concludes with a new take on the classic “dodge Bowser on a bridge and hit a switch” formula. To strengthen the SMB3 feel, airship levels make a triumphant return. Players will have to take on classic bosses Boom Boom and Pom Pom during these stages.
All stages have their gimmicks, of course. Some are laid out in an isometric Zelda style, and some are clearly modeled after existing levels in Super Mario 64. One of the trickiest courses has a series of red and blue platforms, where only one color is tangible at a time: every time the player jumps, the platforms switch. Another gimmick, which is possibly the coolest in the whole game, is a series of platforms that appear and disappear with every beat of the stage’s music. A set of binoculars can also be found on most stages, which players can use to get a telescopic view of the level. They can even search for Toad somewhere in the level; find him, and he’ll grant some kind of bonus.
When not hopping around courses, players can visit Toad Houses and Challenge Boxes. Inside every Toad House is a free power-up, but the house can only be visited once. Challenge Boxes, on the other hand, can be visited until completed. Inside, players must clear all enemies within the time limit for coins and other prizes. These Challenge Boxes can also pop up in courses occasionally.
The usual coins litter every course, and every 100 collected grants players an extra life. Red coins also make a return: if the player collects all five within the time limit after activating them, they gain a prize. Musical notes are new to the series, and they can be found in most levels. Once activated, the players have a limited time to collect them all as they create a trail around the stage. If the player manages to snag them all, they are given yet another prize.
Players of New Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. Wii will be familiar with Star Coins (called Star Medals this time). Three are hidden in every course, and collecting them all is well worth the effort. These are used to open up optional courses and – once in a while - needed to progess in the game, akin to required stars in Super Mario 64. Aside from giving players a good reason to replay levels, these Star Medals are a great way to track overall percentage of completion.
The Many Faces of Mario
If you don’t play Mario for the courses, you play it for the power-ups. The classic Fire Flower returns, along with the Propeller Block from New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which gives players a large boost to their jump. Boomerang Mario is a fantastic addition, allowing players to toss boomerangs that both damage enemies and collect items. It’s like an upgraded Hammer Brothers ability. There’s also a Question Mark block that can be worn on Mario’s head; while worn, the player gets a coin every few seconds.
Of course, the biggest power-up is the return of the Tanooki Suit. Fans were bummed when it was revealed that it merely allowed the player to flutter jump and attack with their tail; however, there are more uses for the suit in the post-game (which I’ll keep spoiler-free). Even with this debuff, the Tanooki Suit is simple fun to use. The flutter jumping allows for easier platforming, and the tail attack comes in handy against enemies and for exploration.
A Few Bad Jumps
Super Mario 3D Land is a great game, but it’s not perfect. For one, the game starts off incredibly easy, with a bit of a difficulty spike later on. Things are only made easier by the addition of the White Tanooki Suit, which grants permanent invincibility, and the P-Wing, which simply carries Mario to the end of the level; these appear whenever the play dies multiple times. Second, going from course to course is completely linear until the post-game: there’s no real moving around the overworld, a la New Super Mario Bros. This is extremely odd considering 3D Land is on the DS’s successor.
The biggest faux pas, however, is the camera, which follows Mario around at a fixed angle. This hides secret items in the courses, but it can also hide Mario from the player’s view. Knowing where to jump and not being able to see oncoming enemies is an issue, and backtracking is nearly impossible in some levels becuase of the camera angle. All players can do is turn their view slightly left or right. This limited control not only breaks the illusion of Lakitu following the player with a camera, but it also leads to some unnecessary frustrations.
Super Mario 3D Land is a perfect blend of old-school platforming and next generation worlds. A few courses even clearly represent classic Super Mario 64 levels like Tick Tock Clock and Shifting Sand Land; Mario even enters courses by jumping into them, much like diving into the old-school paintings. A variety of courses and a surprising amount of gimmicks make each level a new experience, and the power-ups used to traverse these levels only further the fun. Though a few issues are present, the sheer amount of fun to be had out of this game tips the scales in a good way.
Super Mario 3D Land is an absolute must-have for 3DS owners. I wouldn’t quite tell someone to buy one just for this game, but I wouldn’t fault them for doing so. The surprising amount of post-game content makes renting this title obselete: buy it now!