Super Mario 3D Land
by Polly

Hey, guys, check it out! It's a new Mario game! Certainly don't see many of those these days!

Of course, I'm now typing this review from the afterlife from having been struck dead for telling the biggest fucking lie ever told! (Side Note: The previous "biggest lie on record" was decoy's proclimation of, "I kissed a girl.")

Anyway, "It's-a-Mario time!" because when you buy a new Nintendo console, that's what you do...You buy a Mario game. Rather than buying the one whose biggest bullet point on the back of the box was "More 'bahs' in the music than ever before for enemies to dance to," I went with the one that promised right in its title that it would take advantage of the features exclusive to the new handheld gaming console that entered my home recently.

Let me just lay it out here for ya, folks: Super Mario 3D Land isn't the game that's gonna make that 3D slider on your shiny new 3DS XL (well...that's what I played it on) seem worthwhile or make you stop and think, "Man, this whole 3D thing is really going somewhere." Yes, the 3D does work in the game as a silly gimmick in a few places, but it's never needed and is only gonna waste your battery life faster. All Nintendo have created with Super Mario 3D Land is a competent and consistent as hell Mario-ass-Mario game that I feel deserves far more attention than "New" Super Mario Bros. 2 will likely be receiving.

The game's strongest selling point is just how well it bridges the decade-plus long gap between NES/SNES-style Mario games and their transition into 3D worlds with Super Mario 64. Whether you're a fan of the old or new, the game feels like a perfect fit for anybody to be able to sit down with and start having a good time. From its presentation and camera angles to how it controls, Super Mario 3D Land is an excellent blend of both styles, combining the titular character's acrobatics and fully-realized 3D worlds found in modern offerings with the linear level designs, precision platforming, and jumping mechanics from the games of the 8 and 16-bit eras. The styles never interfere with one another, and the controls manage to feel even better than the Galaxy series, which I felt was about as good as Mario could ever control in a 3D world.

Beyond the perfect merging of two playstyles, there's not a whole hell of a lot new under Super Mario 3D Land's hood. We got Mushrooms, we got Fire Flowers, we got Goombas, we got a kidnapped Princess Peach, and we've got airships and Bowser. But while all of that may sound a bit ho-hum and by the numbers, Super Mario 3D Land makes excellent use of all the trade tools in the plumber's toolbox to craft the most consistent game of the series in years. Not super refreshing or innovative in any way, just consistently enjoyable enough to wanna pick it up and play for about twenty minutes and end up wondering where the last hour and a half went when you finally shut the system off or you've unintentionally run the battery dead.

The key factors in the game's consistency are its level designs and a difficulty curve that scales fairly (if a bit too slow) from the start to the end of the game. Rather than focusing on gimmicks, star/shine collecting, hats, and suits found in more recent entries of the series, Super Mario 3D Land is almost entirely fixated on its roots as a solid platformer, and its level designs are mostly based around keeping your ass out of bottomless pits, spikes, and lava, or hopping your way across challenging enemy chains. Star Coins also return, and there are three in every stage to help add an even greater degree of challenge to the game. Some are littered around the main path and easy to grab as certain Castles and Airships require a fixed number of them to proceed, while others will require a great deal of tricky jumps or certain power-ups to collect. The extra effort is rewarded with the ability to unlock new stages you wouldn't normally have access to. I found a great deal of satisfaction in hunting every single one of them down in each new stage for the challenge that they add to a game that can feel a bit easy for most of the first half.

Unfortunately, the game may lose people early due to the incredibly slow difficulty curve, over-abundance of extra lives (I had almost 100 before clearing out the first world), and how broken the Tanooki Suit can be in the right hands. For people that TRULY suck however, the game also offers two ridiculous power-ups that can either make you invincible until you complete a stage or simply warp you to the flag pole at the end of a stage with seemingly no penalties whatsoever. These power-ups might not seem so insulting if they weren't offered to the player after losing as few as 3-5 lives on one stage. Maybe after ten or twenty, but a mere 3-5 lives lost was par for the course for these kinds of games in my day and really seems pretty overkill even for children who may be playing.

Back to the point, the first six or seven worlds just aren't all that challenging for seasoned platformer vets, and the game really doesn't break out the devious precision platformer "Nintendo Hard" fangs until you've completed the first eight worlds and gained access to the second eight worlds, which also thankfully exclude the insulting "Baby Mode" power-ups. Difficulty in the back half of the game can range from muttering obscenities under your breath to wanting to throw your 3DS out the window at times, ESPECIALLY if you're like me and love going for those Star Coins. Props to the designers for including that back half of stages for those of us that enjoy a meaty challenge though, and from a content standpoint, Super Mario 3D Land really does offer quite an attractive package with sixteen full worlds and around 100 levels to play around in.

As for its presentation? Well, I've already said it. It's a Mario-ass-Mario game through and through, and you know what you're getting before you even have to look at it or ever hear one note of music played. Bright primary colors, lighthearted stylized character and environment models (which seem mostly plucked from the Galaxy games), and a whimsical soundtrack full of new whimsical tunes that will more than likely feature throwbacks to old tunes you're already familiar with. It looks and sounds good! It's just another part of the game's consistency. It's safe and predictable, but it's a look and sound that's endured and become cherished by gaming as a whole it seems, and I'm not sure there's really much else you could do with a Mario game's aesthetics that wouldn't involve some kind of drastic tonal shift.

Much like almost any title Nintendo releases these days, Super Mario 3D Land may not be breaking any kind of new ground or coming up with interesting new ideas, but it's solidly executed, engaging, accessible, and enjoyable enough of a new old-school romp to definitely call it a "must own" for 3DS owners.

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