Super Mario 3D Land 3DS Review
Super Mario 3D Land is the latest Mario platformer and the first for the 3DS. It plays most similarly to the original's DS's and Wii's New Super Mario Brothers, with linear on track levels where the goal is to reach the flag pole at the end of each stage. Unlike the New Mario Brothers games however, movement is no longer limited to just a 2D plane, and you can have 3D movement like in Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine or the Mario Galaxy games. This makes avoiding enemies a lot easier, but jumping to platforms a bit harder. Mario Land 3D is a fun, but short experience that you'll likely to enjoy while it lasts. As a side note I keep wanting to call this game Super Mario Land 3D, which I think would be a much better title.
At the start of the game Bowser has once again kidnapped Princess Toadstool, and the burden of saving her once again falls to Mario. At the end of every World you'll receive a postcard from the Princess showing you how she's doing. Meanwhile a mysterious tree that grows tanooki suit leafs has appeared in the mushroom kingdom and now everyone's wearing raccoon tails like they're going out of style. The plot is thin, and the story really only exists as an excuse for the adventure. It is adequate and does have a few cut scenes, which are sometimes pretty cool and have good camera direction. Although I don't like the post card receiving cut scenes.
Like the classic Mario games you'll travel from one end of the level to the other in order to reach the goal post. Along the way you'll bounce on enemies heads, avoid obstacles, and precisely jump to many platforms. Occasionally you might also climb or swim as well. You'll start levels as Super Mario, and if you get hit you'll shrink to hatless tiny Mario, and if you get hit again you'll die and lose a life. This is in contrast to other 3D Mario games where you had a health bar. Also different from 3D Marios is that each level has a time limit to complete it in, usually four minutes. The time limit is rather generous though, since most of the time stages can be beaten in one or two minutes and there are also time extension power ups can be found in some levels. Mario can also use several power ups, the classic Fire Mario which allows Mario to shoot fire balls at enemies, the tanooki suit which gives Mario a glide jump, lets him whack enemies with his raccoon tail and temporarily turned the stone to avoid getting hit, Boomerang Mario which is a lot like fire Mario only worse since you can only fire 1 boomerang at a time and they move a lot slower, and the propeller box, which gives Mario a soaring spring jump and a glide ability. I was a little surprised that there isn't a Hammer Mario power up, and while we're on the subject of missing power ups, I've always preferred regular Raccoon Mario to the tanooki suit version, and I wish that was in the game as well.
At first I thought the game was too easy, but things finally got a little challenging by World 6, and as I progressed further the game became fairly difficult. One problem is that most of the difficulty comes from inexperience. When you first play a stage you won't know what's coming, or when the right time to jump or dodge is and might suffer from a cheap hit or death. But once you know the stage it becomes very easy, and you could beat it every time. By the time I got to World 5 I realized that I was more than half way through and it had only been a hour. I guess the game designers realized this too, so they put some limitations on how far you can advance. Every stage has 3 large star coins hidden in them, and the game keeps a running tally of how many you have. Then certain stages, most notably Castle stages require a certain number of star coins to unlock them, for example 50 or 120. In another effort to make the game longer you can also replay the game in the special world which has stages with slightly altered paths and more enemies. Even if you played each stage four times and got everything the game probably wouldn't last you over 6 hours, about two for a single play through.
Most of the classic Mario enemies appear such as gombas, koopa troopas, bullet bills, boos, bombs, dry bones, cati, thomps, magic koobas, fish and of course Bowser himself and there are also a few new enemies. Notable exclusions however are shy guys, latuis, birdo the koopa kids and even though I hate him, Bowser Jr. Absent allies include Yoshi, Toadsworth, Roslise, Toadtte, and frenemy Wario.
People looking for the open ended, puzzle based star colleting platforms, like Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine should look elsewhere. On the plus side at least you don't have to collect 100 coins on every level anymore. I hated the coin stars.
Levels feel like an awkward mixture of the abstract stages of Mario Galaxy and the conventional fare from the New Super Mario Brothers. Levels aren't too detailed and often feel a bit like there're half done. I find that the better stages are the ones that require more exploration, as the straight platforming levels feel too short and easy. Another problem is that stages just don't feel unique or memorable, there's also no theme or consistency to the worlds.
I guess Nintendo was worried that the game would be too hard for children, so they made optional powerups that make the game even easier. If you die three or five times you'll unlock a tanooki suit that also makes you invincible. Then if that's not easy enough for you can use the P wing to skip to the end of the level, but only if you've died ten times before hand.
Spoiler warning I discuss unlockables from beating the game.
My main complaint with the game is that it's either too easy or too hard, and rarely finds the perfect mix of fun and challenging. Early levels have very few hazards, power ups are plentiful, and the platforming is rather simple. But in later levels unnecessary gimmicks are added to artificially spike the difficulty like rapidly scrolling stages, disappearing platforms tied to the music, platforms that change position every time you jump, or only having 30 seconds to beat a level, but getting 5 sec extensions by killing enemies. My most hated one however is definitely Shadow Mario who copies the exact route and jumps Mario made about 2 second earlier, meaning you can't stay still since touching him hurts you and he's invincible to everything but stars. There's even levels that throw all of this at once at you, it's crazy, and more frustrating than fun. Some of these stages are so filled with cheap hits and crazy jumps that your practically forced to use the tanooki suit to turn to stone to avoid damage or fly over hard parts. OK now for the really spoiorlery part; after you beat the game you'll unlock another 8 worlds, with some new levels, but mostly the same ones as before but with new gimmicks to make them harder as I described earlier. After beating the first special world you'll unlock Luigi, moves faster than Mario and jumps higher. This sounds like a advantage, but most of the levels were designed with Mario in mind, so the timing of jumps is different and you often overshoot where you wanted to land and fall to your death. His quick speed and therefore greater momentum also caused to accidently run off the edge of tiny platforms a lot of times as well. Still I commend them for making Luigi playable, unlike in say Super Mario 64 or Sunshine, because he is fun to use and adds to the replay value. One side quest in the game is to collect every all three star coins in every level in the game, the other is to land on the very top of the flag pole at the end of every level. Both tasks are made easier with Luigi's higher jump. Annoyingly every stage in the special world must be unlocked by collecting a certain number of star coins, and to have access to every stage in every world you pretty much have to collect all 300 star coins. There's usually at least one star coin per stage that's hard to find, typical hiding places are in corners, behind a wall or block, inside enemies, and every time there's a fork in the road you know there's a star coin in the other direction. To make things easier you can get extra star coins from toad houses that are refilled every day by the 3DS's clock. collecting star coins especially in the special world usually means performing a difficult risky jump that can get you kill so to make things easier you don't have to collect all three coins in the same run, just as long as you finish the level, whatever coins you collected will be saved to your overall total.
The graphics for Super Mario Land 3D are bright and cheery. Colors pop and textures look lush. I would say that the graphics are on par with Super Mario Sunshine or the Game Cube Mario Party games, but not quite as good as Mario Galaxy with its better lighting and shadows. If you look closely at the screen you'll notice that the game has a lot of aliasing, which is bothersome, but most of the time you won't notice it.
The music in the game is well composed and performed nicely. It sounds great coming from the system's speakers. But most of the soundtrack is remixes of classic Mario themes. Most notably the Super Mario Brother 3 theme song. I don't really have a problem with them remixing some old tunes, but I do have a problem with them using the same song for multiple levels. Super Mario Brothers 3 theme must be used for at least 8 stages, and there are many more overplayed tunes as well. Mario doesn't talk much when compared to other games. It seems like Mario Peach and Bowser say maybe three words throughout the course of the game which is disappointing, since I think it's hilarious and awesome when Mario speaks.
The circle pad moves Mario, The A button is jump. The X, Y, and B button are dash or run, and if you have a power up attack. L and R button cause Mario to crouch, and while jumping to pound the ground. crouching and pulling back then jumping will cause Mario to do a back flip, which looks a lot less graceful then in other games. The control of Mario Land 3D isn't as fluid as I'd like. The circle pad is capable of analog control, but for some reason you have to hold down a button to run. This wouldn't be a problem if you didn't have to run very often, but because jumps in the game are often momentum based you can have to make running jumps, which requires you to hold down Y or B while pressing the run button also makes movement less precise, you'll sometimes run off a platform to your death, even though you let go of the dash button, and pulled back on the analog stick due to that pesky momentum. You can still bounce off two facing walls, but can no longer propel yourself a way from one with a wall kick, since the basic punch attack has been removed.
Super Mario 3D Land is a good fun Mario game, but it's not as fully developed as I would like. It feels more like a timed jumping trial, then a actual adventure with the abstract levels similar to the galaxy games and the little threat from enemies. I guess my problem is that my expectations were wrong; I wanted something like 64 or Sunshine with a lot of exploration or varied intricately designed action stages like Super Mario 1, 3, World, or even new super Mario brother. 3D Land tries to mix elements from all of these games, but the lack of focus makes the experience never excel at any one point, leaving me disappointed. I get the feeling that the game was rushed to move systems in time for Christmas and if it were given more time in development, and came out in say the Summertime of the fallowing year that it would meet the quality standard set by previous Mario titles. Super Mario 3D Land has great graphics, decent controls, and is pretty fun to play, but the lack of true analog control, minimalist level design, repetitive music, and all over the place difficulty stop it from being a high point in Mario history, so I give it a 8/10.