Convincing anyone that the 3D in the 3DS was vital to gaming has been a challenge. Nintendo impressed everyone with its glasses-free technology, but ever since launch, it has become more of a bullet point than an effective feature. That is, until now. Super Mario 3D Land is the first game to take full advantage of the technology and make it integral to the gameplay. Sure, you can play the game without it, but the way it utilizes the technology makes it more than a visual alteration. If you love platform games, or Mario games in general, Mario 3D Land is probably the best the series has had to offer since the glory days of the N64.
On the surface, the setup is nothing special. Bowser kidnaps the princess once again, and Mario is traipsing through levels attempting to catch up and save her. There are 8 worlds from the outset, and each one can last anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on how much you explore or collect items. This is perfect for handheld gaming and something some developers still don’t comprehend. Being able to play one level at a time when you have a spare second is one of the reasons I kept coming back for more. Difficulty ramps up slowly. The early levels offer up little challenge, and by World 5, I had a surplus of extra lives at my disposal. This might sound like a turn-off for hardcore Mario fans, but I assure you, this was only the beginning.
You see, Super Mario 3D Land is cute and harmless on the surface, but once you peel it back and open up the levels after the initial 8 worlds, things change. The platforming becomes brilliant, and your skills will really be put to the test. One area that was sort of a buzzkill, though, happened part way through my trek of the first set of worlds. There are golden coins, three per level, that are optional to collect, or so it seems. That was until I reached the castle of the fifth world, only to be stopped cold by a requirement of 50 coins to progress. This meant backtracking through previous levels. Some people won’t mind, and those who have to collect everything on the first go-round won’t even notice, but for players like me, it was a real momentum drainer.
This might have been a deal-breaker if the levels weren’t so brilliantly designed. Mario can move entirely in any direction, but the levels are mostly laid out in a linear fashion. The exploration and coin collecting comes by mostly going off the map or using the included tools. For instance, Mario can don the Tanooki suit, allowing him to float and spin attack enemies. There is also the boomerang suit, which allows you to toss projectiles that return to you. Of course, the fireball flower makes a return, joined by a block that works like a helicopter that is usable on certain levels. All of them combine to create gameplay possibilities and become even more imperative when tackling the post-main levels that open up after World 8.
Probably the most impressive aspect of the game comes in its use of 3D. For the first time since the inception of the system, 3D is actually a viable aspect of the gameplay. Some levels actually become much harder without it because of the perspective. Anytime you see a little 3D box in the corner of the screen, it is best to pay attention and use it. The game uses neat perspective effects to round out the platforming and make use of the feature. No longer is it simply for creating an immersive visual effect; it now has an impact on the gameplay itself.
Visually, the rest of the game looks great. The bright colors and well-designed levels really accent the Mario flavor. The 3D effect looks good, but I still found myself playing with the option turned off during sequences that didn’t require it. This wasn’t because the effect is done poorly, but mostly due to the fact that having to hold particularly still to see the 3D is harder than you think. The post-main levels are still some of the most challenging and brilliant I have seen in a platformer for some time. Everything just looks so clean and elegant here. Music is good, with new tunes mixed in with remixes of your favorites. This is a Mario game all around, and you never forget that in its presentation.
If you own a 3DS, this is one game you simply cannot miss. Everything about it is so well designed and fun to play that you won’t remove the cartridge for months. We all know the system has not had the best lineup of games, but as always, leave it to Nintendo to deliver the goods. Making great use of the 3D built-in, and offering up the best Mario gameplay we have seen since the N64, makes Super Mario 3D Land the must-own game for the system, and another reason to carry your system with you wherever your go.
Review copy of the game provided by publisher.