Super Mario 3D Land Review
If you've owned a Nintendo 3DS since launch, you have undoubtedly noticed that it hasn't exactly become a must-carry device for your day-to-day activities. The sad fact is that the handheld has not had the sort of software support that fans had hoped. The two major releases since launch, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and Star Fox 64 3D were well-made ports of classic games, but they were still ports. Those eager for entirely new experiences haven't had a whole lot of options. That changes with Super Mario 3D Land, a brand new Mario adventure that is easily the best game on the 3DS so far.
The concept behind Super Mario 3D Land is to take the core gameplay of classic Mario titles (question mark bopping, goomba stomping, coin collecting), but give Mario the ability to travel in three dimensions instead of just two. If this sounds like Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy, it's not. Super Mario 3D Land is more focused. Instead of sprawling levels with multiple objectives, it's all about getting from the start to the ending flag pole in one piece. There's occasionally some minor exploration when it comes to finding hidden coins, but for the most part it's a point A to point B affair.
What that leaves you with is a very classic-feeling platformer, where well-timed jumps are the only way to succeed. This is not a complaint. Retro Mario fans will feel like this is a return to form, while the added dimension allows for considerably more level variety than was seen in New Super Mario Bros..
Playing With 3D
Another common observation 3DS owners have made is that they hardly ever play games in 3D. Because, really, why would you? Apart from looking cool, the 3D adds limitations on your viewing angle and makes the screen darker.
The developers of Super Mario 3D Land must have realized this, as the game frequently gives you reasons to turn on the 3D. Brain-bending, M.C. Escher-esque levels play with perception in such a way that an ordinary cube is actually a multifaceted octagon when viewed from another angle. There are non-3D ways to finish these puzzles, such as blocks that shift the camera around, but if your 3D is turned on, you'll likely get through them a lot faster.
3D also helps out when trying to gauge the distance of a jump or to see whether you're lined up for a butt stomp. Again, it's not mandatory, but with it on, you'll likely have an easier time with certain platforming sections. Personally, I found myself turning it off and on throughout a given level. There are even settings to change whether the 3D goes into the screen or pops out at you. The latter, I found, was better for lining up jumps, while the former made world exploration a bit easier.
That being said, the added depth does add some challenge to otherwise simple tasks. Occasionally a death would arise from misjudging exactly how far an enemy was from me...something that would never happen in 2D. But that's the price you pay for an added dimension.
A Staggering Amount Of Content
When Super Mario 3D Land begins, you're greeted with a level select screen which hints at eight worlds. Each of these worlds has around six levels. Forty-eight levels ain't too shabby for a Mario game, but the truth of the matter is that those eight worlds are only the beginning. Completing the game and saving Princess Peach opens up...well...apparently Nintendo doesn't want us to talk about it quite yet, but suffice it to say, there are many, many more levels once you complete the initial worlds. The game also dramatically increases in difficulty and adds new power-ups, so hardcore Mario fans who probably found the initial levels too easy will have no trouble finding a challenge in the later levels. Getting 100 percent in this game will easily take you 20 hours, and that's assuming you're a pretty experienced plumber.
If You Buy One 3DS Game...
It's hard to imagine that Nintendo pulled any punches with this release. The graphics are stunning, the levels are consistently unique, and the game plays out like a Mario fan's dream come true. New pick-ups, like the propeller block cap and the boomerang suit, fit right in with classic power-ups like the tanooki suit and the fire flower. Toss in a clever, gameplay-laden reason for utilizing the 3D screen and you have a title that's the best demonstration of the 3DS so far. Super Mario 3D Land is, quite simply, unmissable.