The princess has been captured and it’s our duty as gamers to get her back, safe and sound. It may require some running, jumping and fire-ball evading, but that’s fine. After all, a plumber needs his princess and will do anything to get her back. Such is the familiar premise found in Super Mario 3D Land – the Nintendo 3DS exclusive platformer, starring everyone’s favourite overall-wearing Italian plumber. Capturing elements which have made the series iconic for decades, it aims to bring Mario into the third-dimension, using high-tech viewing abilities.
Having captured Princess Peach once again, the yellow and green brute known as Bowser has all intentions of keeping the blonde beauty to himself. Of course, that last fact is an impossibility considering that the Mushroom Kingdom’s sworn protector is always up for a challenge. As Mario, players must traverse eight varied worlds, each with several levels to conquer. Getting to the well-fortified final fortress is a lengthy and arduous journey, requiring hard work and precision-based jumps.
It’s almost a given now that all gamers have played a Super Mario Bros. series release. The inaugural title captured families’ hearts and made their thumbs tired, when it was released alongside the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Since then, there have been countless games released under the brand, engrossing several different genres. To say that Nintendo struck a goldmine when they drew these mechanics and their supporting plot line up on a drawing board, would certainly be correct.
With Super Mario 3D Land, gamers will see a return to the classic Super Mario Bros. formula, though there are some noticeable new ingredients added in. Developed by the folks who created a personal favourite, Super Mario Galaxy, it brings the old get from point A to point B formula to three-dimensional worlds. No longer is the overall-donned man running from left to right. Instead, his latest adventure will require much more varied moves and directional wandering. In many ways, it’s a mix of the old and the new, acting as a combination of the original game and Super Mario 64. That is all complemented by a hint of this console generation’s colourful space-based adventures.
The lengthy campaign found within this grey cartridge is colourful and memorable, carrying on the series’ penchant for incredible creativity. Within its eight worlds and post-game challenges, gamers will discover one quality level after another. Although each one is admittedly short, lasting only five minutes or so, it’s what we’re prone to expect from a standard side-scrolling Mario adventure. Despite their brevity, players will still find a lot of fun and adventure inside of each varied stage. Taking on elemental properties and creative takes on the aforementioned, each level feels very different from its predecessors. Running through blanketed snow, disturbing pollen flowers amidst hills of green and swimming underwater, are just a few examples of what you can look forward to here.
Every stage has its own set of three secret coins which can be discovered and collected. Some are quite easy to collect, though others require quite a bit of searching. It’s important to try and pick-up as many as possible during your first run through, as those golden medallions become a necessary piece of currency at certain points in the game. Instead of finding ways to get to secret stages, the development team has placed them directly onto the world map. Arguably some of the best stages found on the cartridge, they can be opened up by spending a certain amount of your collected wares. This same form of golden currency must also be used to open up world-concluding boss stages.
Returning from a lengthy absence is Mario’s incredibly popular tanooki suit. The raccoon-like fur coat provides the plumber a chance to hover in the air for brief periods of time. It joins a roster of special ability upgrades, which runs the gamut of both old and new. The requisite fireball and red mushroom make a return, though the most notable abilities come in the form of new additions, as well as the aforementioned returning gem. Joining the fray are two new upgrades: Boomerang Mario and Propeller-Head Mario. The former allows the use of thrown boomerangs, while the latter is used to skyrocket the plumber into the air. Using the propeller to carefully descend from vertical reaches can assist in the discovery of hidden secrets and vertically-placed coins.
Playing through Super Mario 3D Land and its several hour-long campaign, it’s easy to notice how self-aware this franchise has become. More than a new journey, this outing is also a nod to past successes, with lots of neat homages spread throughout. It starts with the music and gameplay, but carries over into level design. For example, one of the best nods to the past comes at the end of a certain stage. The flagpole finale is decked out in eight-bit styling, reminiscent of memorable finales from decades ago. This is just one of the retro showcases found inside of this game, which make it more than just a new campaign. Fan service is plentiful here.
Keeping with the homage trend, the worlds’ final encounter stages take on a couple of different forms. Reminiscent to the series’ debut, a three-dimensional twist has been placed upon the bridge-destroying boss battles found in the original Super Mario Bros. Other boss stages take the form of what we’re used to seeing in Super Mario Bros. 3, forcing players to traverse a dangerous floating ship before battling its boss koopa. Utilizing the classic, three-hit and you’re dead formula, the jump-based battles are retro, fun and challenging. My personal favourite was the new take on the classic bridge-destroying button scenario, though both types make quality and enjoyable finales.
One of the most identifiable telling points of a good game is the player’s interest in returning. That, and how memorable the experience is. Super Mario 3D Land hits a home run in both categories, delivering a finely-tuned and exceptionally well-polished game world that simply cannot be matched. There are many unique stages which are so interesting that they absolutely beg for another run through. Arguably the best and most interesting is a pine forest stage, where saws are placed on each platform. When the player lands on one, the spinning blades roar into action, slicing the safe haven away from its base. This carries on into some puzzles and secret area designs, found later on in the environment.
If there’s one major drawback to the experience, it comes in the difficulty department. Super Mario 3D Land is almost too easy throughout the first six or seven worlds of its campaign. Most seasoned gamers will hardly break a sweat as they jump, swim and propel their way through each different stage. The only difficult parts tie into secret coin collecting, where some challenging jumps and danger-evading moves are required form.
It would’ve been nice to have had an extra bit of challenge throughout this majority session, although that doesn’t diminish the charm found inside. This ease of completion early on is altered near the end of the core campaign and also becomes a forgettable element in post-game challenges. However, its cake-walk nature did make me become somewhat complacent, eliminating some of the requisite tension found in previous releases.
Evidently, the decision to make a lot of the core experience rather easy was for accessibility sake. Taking this into account, it’s safe to assume that separate camps will feel differently. While seasoned gamers may be disappointed, newcomers and casual gamers will be happy to know that this is something they can play without having too much previous interactive experience. The latter part of the game does pick up its devious haunches, which is important to note. Then again, those who like to go for every last hidden collectible will find difficulty in the secret areas’ required perfect jumps. It’s quite easy to fall to your doom, resurrected by a colourful flag marking the level’s half-way point.
Since day one, the Super Mario Bros. series has had its own look and feel, helping it to become an iconic piece of pop culture. With Super Mario 3D Land, that continues in beautiful and vivid form. To put it bluntly, this game is absolutely stunning, utilizing a rich colour palette that pops. Every character, item and design element found within has been created with great attention to detail. The result is what I would refer to as the best-looking 3DS game yet. Complementing its great look is a perfectly stable frame rate and precise controls that mark the return of the dash button.
This release debuts the classic side-scrolling formula’s makeover from two-dimensions to three, in more than just one way. Already discussed is the move to much more open and varied environmental designs. That’s just the start of it, however. Super Mario 3D Land has also been created from the ground up with its exclusive device’s 3D visual effects in mind. The feature adds noticeable depth to the game world, making some tricky jumps just a bit easier to define and make. Text-based indicators pop out of the screen just a bit, as do some environmental elements found in each stage. The 3D effect is pretty well-established, though it is not as incredible as expected. This game is fully playable in 2D without a huge visual change in most cases, though there are parts where the extra-dimensional effects stand out more prominently. Where the effect looks its best is when the player is viewing static postcards dropped by Bowser, which have been included to add a bit of story-related tension.
Making sure to take advantage of the 3DS’ visual abilities, the game’s developers (Nintendo EAD) went to the camera angle drawing board. Many of the title’s stages employ different camera angles which add a new perspective to the action, in an attempt to harness visual depth. With this technical addition comes the use of more vertically-inspired environments. Jumping off of platforms in order to get to clouds far below is just one example of this, with the landing platform and its peers spaced quite far below the player’s starting point.
Earlier in this review, it was mentioned that Super Mario 3D Land pays homage to its roots. Perhaps the most obvious part of this tribute is found in its musical score. Using remastered versions of classic tunes, it brings back fond memories of past platform adventures. Added tunes and some great sound effects complement the game’s auditory experience, which is top-notch. Polish and experience are easily-noticed assets when one takes the time to listen closely to what is coming out of his or her 3DS’ speakers. The quality, power and variety of the included score blew me away.
Hoping to spur sales of its highly-touted hand-held device, Nintendo has released Super Mario 3D Land at the peak of this year’s holiday gaming season. With its exceptional amount of polish and exciting creativity, this release is certainly one of the best games available for the system. Fans of the iconic series and its recurring tale of heroic destiny, will certainly want to check this one out. Not only is this a great but occasionally easy game, it’s also a memorable experience full of great nods to some of our past favourites.
This review is based on a Nintendo 3DS copy of the game which we received for review purposes.
Super Mario 3D Land is an extremely polished and creative game, which features some great homages to past series releases. It's colourful and vivid, with a lengthy campaign and bonus challenges that are sure to keep players busy for a while.