Since its launch, the Nintendo 3DS has been a funk. The lack of games, especially first-party, has topped the list of stumbling blocks currently plaguing Nintendo’s new handheld. This has created a situation that will likely make or break the 3DS this holiday season, especially with the Vita on the horizon, where a slew or first party titles begin to hit store shelves; The first in that line up being Super Mario 3D Land. Mario’s newest adventure has him jumping and stomping in beautiful 3D visuals, but is it enough to give the 3DS some much-needed momentum going into the holiday season?
It’s hard to believe that, since the debut of Super Mario 64 fifteen years ago, that Super Mario 3D Land is actually the first original 3D Mario platformer to be released on a handheld system. Nintendo however made sure it was worth the wait providing a good mix of simplicity, challenge, and nostalgia all in one package. The basis of the story hasn’t changed either; Princess Peach has once again been captured by Bowser and of course it’s up to our red and blue clad plumber to save the day to rescue the princess and save the mushroom kingdom. The story is shown in brief interludes between words and is told in pictures drawn in a style reminiscent of Super Mario games in the late 80s and early 90s.
Super Mario 3D Land does a good job mixing and matching different elements of both retro 2D Mario games with today’s 3D platformers. Unlike most games today like Super Mario Galaxy the game is divided in to worlds, each with its own separate set of levels, toad houses, mystery boxes (bonus challenges that reward you with star coins if you can defeat all enemies within ten seconds) and ends with a castle or an airship. Each level implements the old “point A to point B” style of progression, with each level ending with a familiar flagpole that rewards you the higher you grab it at. That being said, each level is designed with more modern features in mind, as if to ease some of the retro players that have never played into the world of 3D platforming. The result sometimes ends up with 3D worlds being displayed in a more 2D-like perspective at points which when combined with the stereoscopic 3D effects can make it very difficult to judge depth at times, which can make it hard to land precision jumps.
3D land also seems to borrow a lot of its inspiration off of Super Mario Bros. 3, commonly using elements from the hit NES title from 1989. Starting from world 1-1 it comes to no surprise as many of the visual elements from 3 are faithfully recreated here in 3D Land, with varying elements throughout such as music blocks, (including rainbow music blocks that send you up into Coin Heaven) donut lifts, and even more notably in the airships and the return of Boom Boom as a boss. A lot of the music also comes straight out of SMB3, with a new Jazz-like arrangement for the ground theme as well as faithful recreations of the athletic and airship music. All this aside, probably the most notable addition taken from SMB3 would have to be the return of the tanooki suit which makes its first appearance in an original Mario game in 22 years. Though the tanooki suit found throughout the eight main worlds lacks the statue ability that the original had, a suit with this ability can be obtained in the special worlds that become available after finishing the game.
Super Mario 3D Land through the main campaign tends to be a bit on the easy side, only bolstered by the fact that it is so easy to get lives in this game. The main reason for this is the fact that since this game does not keep a running score, things that would have earned you points in older games (time left on the clock, where you grab the flagpole, etc…) now earns you coins. The game does encourage life hoarding in a way though as it will allow you to build it up into the three figures, and for the less seasoned platformer, these extra lives will become essential near the end of the game where it starts to get challenging even for the average gamer, and even more in the special stages where the “super tanooki suit” and the P-Wing won’t be there to help you if you start dying a lot at a certain part. Even so, the seasoned gamer will likely get through most stages in the main game and collect all three star coins on each without breaking as much of a sweat.
The real challenge starts with the final fight against Bowser, and starts to ramp up in the endgame when you gain access to the special worlds; Eight totally new worlds harder than that found in the same game. Among these post-game areas you’ll find new stages based off of earlier worlds with a bit of a twist, as well as replicas of older levels from the main game with added challenges, such as having to run away from Cosmic Mario or starting with a 30 second timer, which forces you to keep moving and collect time pickups along the way. (Think of challenges similar to those caused by prank comets in both Super Mario Galaxy games) Add that along with the game’s ability to keep track of your fastest times through each level post-game and you have a game with some good replay value and will have you coming back long after you’ve beaten Bowser.
Super Mario 3D Land sports some impressive visuals on the 3DS to date, and is one of the better games when it comes to 3D effects. (A few aspects of the game will recommend that you have 3D on) The effects themselves are that much more customizable with the combination of both the depth slider and the D-pad which allows you to switch between two preset depth settings. Other than that, for a man who usually has little words about graphics it looks great for the kind of game that it is.
With the rocky start that the 3DS has gotten off to, it feels like Super Mario 3D Land is that first big step to getting it out of the hole that it has dug itself into early. It’s very rare that you see such an all-around game that can tailor to both new players with its simplicity and older gamers with such a big nostalgia factor. If you own a 3DS, this is a game you won’t want to pass up, especially when it feels like the early fate of this system may depend on the success of this and Mariokart 7.