Super Mario 3D Land review
It's-a Mario IN 3D
What's a Nintendo platform without a solid Mario platformer backing it up? No matter whether it's 2D like Super Mario World or an adventure in 3D like Super Mario 64, you can pretty much guarantee this to be a top seller and a key reason for many to invest in Nintendo's hardware. The 3DS is no different and delivers Super Mario 3D Land, an awkwardly titled game that promises much in the way of platforming excellence.
The story is... well, it's Mario. It's no exaggeration to state that the plot is literally identical to that of the original NES Super Mario Bros. Bowser kidnaps Peach and so you must rescue her again. There's something to be said for simplicity, but for *bleep*'s sake does it have to be the exact same thing every time?
Graphics are excellent, as you might expect from Nintendo. The typical Mario themes of grass, fire and ice worlds are beautifully crafted using the engine of the 3DS, lending to it that smooth colourful vibe throughout as you're busy stomping enemies in the clouds or launching yourself off walls in desert regions. The variation in the locations is fantastic, ensuring that you don't get bored of looking at the game world before you. Naturally the special touches of the game are really what sets it apart. For example you get special pirahna plants spit globs of ink at the screen, obscuring view for a few seconds, flowers sway as you dash past or through them and Mario starts somersaulting under the effects of a power star.There's also some pretty good use of perspective, including a few bonus rooms intentionally screwing with the mind of players.
Yes, the game comes equipped with a great soundtrack. Not an amazing one you'll be humming to yourself hours after you've switched the game off, but the kind of peppy music that fits in so well in the series. Of course, most of the music essentially being remixes of older tunes helps a lot there. Mario lets players hear him vocally enough to be good without edging into annoying.
Nintendo have toyed with both 2D and 3D games for the plumber in recent times with success in both areas. In an effort to stand out from the rest of the games, Super Mario 3D Land opts for a combination of the two. Does it work? Well, kinda. The controls are brilliant with the control nub offering excellent analogue control for the plumber. The other buttons are logically assigned and respond well. It is strange though that you have to hold a button to run instead of more naturally leaving the input to the tilt of the analogue nub. The camera angle is also mostly perfect. The game doesn't offer much in the way of actual control over the view, limiting you to tilt the camera to the sides, but the angles chosen are usually the best for getting a good view on the action. I say mostly because sometimes I found that having the camera fixed made some platforming much harder than it should have been if you were allowed to actually move the camera around to get a good view of where you're leaping to.
The level design plays a large role in making it fun to play through. Early in the game you have simple things like ledges to bounce along and enemies trying to bump into you. As you progress the game adds new types of challenges such as platforms that switch every time you jump, objects that appear and disappear in time to the music and cogs and wheels that rotate based on Mario's position on them. These elements are easily the most fun the game has to offer as you work out the best approach and require all sorts of different thinking to succeed at. Enemies also litter each area and present their own type of hazards. Basic types like stomping goombas exist but you tend to progress to more difficult baddies like the floating magikoopas that fire magical spells at you and the dry bones that just won't stay down. Bosses tend to be a bit of a letdown though. Unlike previous games, you only really have a small number of recurring bosses to deal with in this entry, leading to some repetition when you stumble into a room and think "here we go again". It's not like the fights are particularly creative either outside of maybe the final boss battle.
Powerups exist that players can grab to help them in their quest. There's a mix of new and old on offer here, like the fire flower letting you lob fireballs at enemies or the new boomerang flower that lets you hit enemies and collect items from a distance. The obvious draw is the tanooki leaf, which comes in two variants. Both lack the proper flight we enjoyed in the old Super Mario Bros. 3 but still offer the ability to whack objects with the tail and to float gently downwards in the air, which I'm sure will be a godsend to many players during the more trickier platforming segments. The second variant also brings the return of the ability to turn into an invincible statue, resulting in a lot of fun as you stomp down on things previously unstompable. There's nothing amazingly creative here but these powerups function well. Just don't be surprised if you turn in the other two for a tanooki leaf at the first given opportunity. You also get the ability to store one powerup in a window on the touch screen, which is handy if you've just accidentally stomped on a spike or something.
The way in which this game merges the ideals of 2D and 3D style gaming comes in the way it is laid out. The game is level based and the primary aim is to get from A to B and hit the flagpole at the end of each level to proceed. To this end every level is largely linear in nature, making it simple to know where you're going but limiting exploration at the same time. However, what exploration it does offer often yield a star coin that forms the game's collectable side. There are three in every level which can unlock extra levels, although the majority of the levels don't require any of them. This is where the game feels weaker than other games in the series, in that while it doesn't handle either element badly it does feel like it should have focused on one or the other. Exploration is far more limiting than I would like and the star coins are rarely off the beaten path. In most cases I've picked them up on my first runthrough of a level and while I can appreciate some of the tricks involved with them, such as looking for their shadows on the floor to find any out of sight, it still feels inferior to similar collectables hidden around in other Mario games. That said, when a star coin is hidden well then it's brilliant. Solving a puzzle ala Legend of Zelda or having to drop down and then wall jump back out of a pit were excellent and I just wish more had been along those lines. The more linear style handles things much better, even if it does suffer slightly from the aforementioned camera issues at rare times.
The difficulty is an interesting element. For most of the initial eight worlds you play the game is disappointingly easy, especially as the game throws extra lives at you to the point of making the life counter meaningless. The game does become a little more challenging towards the end, although veterans will likely feel it's not enough. It isn't, but when you do complete the game another eight worlds open up which continue to ramp the difficultly up, including some more unique challenges. Here you can find yourself racing through remixed levels with a 30 second timer trying to grab time extensions throughout or find yourself relentlessly chased down by an evil doppleganger as you navigate small platforms. As you near the end of these special worlds I'm sure you'll have had plenty of challenge to deal with. For players who may struggle with certain levels Nintendo have included their optional super guide style feature in the game. Die enough times in a row on a given level and you're given a special powerup. Continue to die and you get an even better one. It's nice to see the game cater well, even if it takes an awfully long time to warm up. I must say though that I do wish the game wouldn't put quite as much focus on instant-death-if-you-fail platforming as it does. Losing lives isn't a problem but it can be a little annoying to get kicked back to the start of a level or a checkpoint sans powerup just for one little slip in almost any area of the game. Especially as some of the later special levels can be far harder to tackle if you lack the tanooki powerup.
Needless to say, you're not going to be short on content. There is a total of 16 worlds and 4-6 levels in each world. With all the star coins to collect too and the game's other challenges such as getting golden flags on every level then it is safe to say you'll be busy for quite some time before you've done everything the game has to offer. There's also some limited StreetPass functionality on offer. It's nothing fancy but you can repopulate inactive Mystery Boxes and Toad Houses using it, letting you grab bonus star coins and powerups from them.
So I do like Super Mario 3D Land - enough to complete it in its entirety. It's a great game but I do feel that it lives in the shadow of earlier entries in the series. By trying to offer two styles in one it ends up with flaws in both areas. By virtue of its excellent design the flaws are kept minimal and the result is still one of those games that you should play on 3DS.
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- New Game Ideas: Super Koopa Troopa 3D Land (SKT3DL) and series starring Koopa Troopa 4
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