A Bold New Dimension
22 years after the series' conception on the Gameboy, Nintendo is finally revisiting the Super Mario Land series' moniker with Mario's first foray onto the 3DS, but is this newest game necessarily following in the footsteps of its predecessors? The answer, you'll soon discover, is "no." Though this game borrows the "Land" part of its title, it's actually more akin to a mix of Super Mario 3, Super Mario 64, and Super Mario Galaxy, and it quickly proves to be a winning combination.
Basically, Super Mario 3D Land takes what was once a strictly 2D or 3D based gameplay formula and mashes it together. In fact, you could say that it follows the linearity of the 2D games, but is realized in a 3D world. For example, imagine playing through the levels in Super Mario Bros. 3, only now you can see the whole playing field in a three dimensional space. That's the gist of 3D Land, and I'm pleased to report that it works like a charm.
Classic Gameplay Reinvented
Like his earlier games in the series, Mario doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to the story's premise, which amounts to him running off to save Princess Peach yet again from the evil clutches of Bowser. He'll run and jump through 8 different worlds made up of levels that are quick enough to play through in short sessions. And for the first time in a 3D Mario game, each level has an endpoint marked by a flagpole (just like in the original Super Mario Bros.). There are no stars to collect this time around, though Star Medals from New Super Mario Bros. make a return, with three to collect in each level. While a 3D Mario game with no stars to collect might sound a bit dull, it really isn't. Some levels are a bit more linear in design than others (some being a straight passage), but others give you the more open-endedness of certain levels found in Super Mario 64. In fact, some are nearly as big in size or even bigger.
What's really amazing about it all is the fact that Nintendo managed to blend the gameplay of Super Mario 3 and Super Mario 64 so seamlessly. It feels like you're playing both simultaneously, but at the same time it also feels like you're playing something entirely new. And while there aren't too many other major twists or changes to the gameplay, it really does feel like an evolution of what began more than 25 years ago with the straightforward design in Super Mario Bros. on the NES. The new suits are also quite fun, and even though the Tanooki suit can't fly, it does serve quite a useful purpose in this game, serving as a proxy for Yoshi's flutter-jump from Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Mario glides softly with the suit's tail as he falls).
Mario also controls just a little bit differently here than he did in his last 3D adventure, Super Mario Galaxy 2. In this game, he feels a bit stiff and tight when walking, but as he starts to run, the controls become a bit looser (running has been implemented by pressing and holding the Y button this time around). Despite the fact that the game is a 3D platformer, you can't change the camera angle at all. For the most part, the camera is fixed, though you are given the option to pan the camera to the left and right of Mario. While this isn't troublesome at all, it would've been nice to have been able to use a free-view angle while playing.
Finally, A Clever Use of 3D
3D Land looks superb, and is easily one of the best-looking games on the 3DS so far. It borrows the look of Galaxy, and somehow looks almost as good. Some of the textures are incredibly detailed, especially the giant, long protruding spikes in some of the airship levels, and the colors are extremely vibrant as well, especially in many of the Bowser levels. And if you were worried about the stereoscopic 3D at all, then you'll be pleased to know that Nintendo has made the 3D effect subdued enough, so it won't hurt your eyes (even at the highest setting) and yet still manages to impress with some clever imagery. In many cases it really helps you gauge the depth and see where different platforms are located in comparison to another. There are also special rooms that are specifically built with the 3D in mind.
The new music isn't quite the best in the series, but there are some great songs along with a few favorites from Galaxy. In addition, some classic music from Super Mario Bros. 3 make an appearance as well, giving veteran players a wonderful nostalgic treat. The new theme song doesn't have quite the same appeal as the gorgeously orchestrated theme from Super Mario Galaxy 2, but it definitely grows on you throughout the game, with plenty of different remixed versions that are played in different levels.
A Great New Standard
When it comes down to it, Super Mario 3D Land is the very first original must-have game for the 3DS. Had it launched alongside the handheld, the 3DS probably could have been saved much of the turmoil it experienced this year. And really, that's the only real disappointment about all this; the fact that we had to wait 8 months to finally play it. But once you enter the whimsical world of 3D Land, you'll forget all about that, only to get sucked into the most engaging gameplay the 3DS has seen yet. Every 3DS owner owes it to themselves to play this game. Not only is it arguably the best Mario handheld game, but it rightly earns its place next to the greatest of the plumber's adventures to date.
Classic Mario gameplay mixed with 3D design well pulled off, lots of content, the graphics are some of the best yet on 3DS
Early levels may be a bit too simple for some peoples\' tastes