Super Mario 3D Land is the perfect handheld title. I realize that is a bold claim to make, and using the word perfect in any sense during a review is only offering a chance for those to criticize your reviews, but I really do think it is a game that was perfectly crafted and executed for a handheld device.
Now just to clarify before we move further into this review, by no stretch of the imagination do I think this is a PERFECT game. That is a different claim altogether. And while the game isn’t heavy on its flaws, it does have some shortcomings. The first, and probably the one most would agree with is the music. The theme song is fun and catchy, but aside from it, other than classic themes, nothing in this game really stood out as a memorable piece of music. Granted, it is also unfair to the game since the franchise features some of the most memorable and recognized tunes in all of gaming.
Secondly, the recycled boss battles. For the most part, the game has 2 types of bosses and 3 encounters really. You get Bo0m-Boom and Pom-Pom, which are essentially male and female versions of the same creature. Boom-Boom encounters have him spinning around the room trying to hit Mario with his arms and when you jump on him, he retreats to his shells and bounces off the walls. Pom-Pom on the other hand, hurls boomerangs at Mario, who has to either jump over them or attack them with his own boomerangs, when she is attacked she retreats back into her shell but instead of bouncing around the room, she attempts to squash our potly-plumber. The other type of encounter is of course Bowser, who much like in the original Super Mario Bros is bested by running past him and destroying the bridge he is standing on. These are the main 3 types of bosses you’ll find throughout the game’s 8 worlds. They do mix it up a bit with the final boss, but won’t spoil it too much.
Finally, the StreetPass/SpotPass functionality in this game, while fun really doesn’t add much to the experience. From my limited experience with the feature, it simply adds time trials to levels, re-opens some Toad Houses so you can get more items and opens up puzzle boxes to acquire more Star Medals. Nothing overly complex really.
Those are my main 3 complaints with the game, and I’ll be the first to admit that they can all pretty much be added up to simply nitpicking, but it is what it is. Now the rest of the game is rock solid.
The story of the game is fairly basic, I mean it is a Mario game, once again Princess Peach has found herself captured by the evil Bowser, and its up to Mario to run and jump his way through 8 worlds to rescue her. In between each world, Mario receives a post card which advances the “plot” of the game with funny depictions of what’s going on with Peach. While others may find this method cheap and possibly cheesy, I felt it had a lot of charm. I mean no one plays Mario games for the story so it really doesn’t make sense to play it off as anything more than a simple and fun way to have the guy moving forward. The sound effects that accompany them are also so well done.
The presentation in Mario games have always been top-notch. The Galaxy games are among the best looking games on the market, HD or not. And Super Mario 3D Land is really no different. The Mario games offer such a clean and colorful presentation it is really difficult to screw it up honestly. We get classic enemies like Goombas and Troopas, but we get some new ones as well which are just as quirky and bizarre, but fit the universe so well.
There aren’t many new suits introduced in this game. Honestly, the only “new” one is the Boomerang outfit Mario may wear. The Tanooki suit (which is all over the game, Goombas, Koopas, even Bullet Bills have tails!) is a returning classic from Super Mario Bros 3. And the propeller block made its name in New Super Mario Bros Wii. The looks haven’t really changed much since their introduction, but the Boomerang suit adds another to Mario’s ever growing wardrobe and looks good.
In addition to the graphical presentation, there is of course the 3D element. Now 3D is a tricky thing especially on the 3DS, as Nintendo needs to craft a game that is playable in 2D, but really need a reason for people to invest into the system. I’ve seen a lot of reviews and comments, which hailed the 3D in this game as proof of concept, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it is a remarkable use of the 3D. While you are more than capable of besting the game without ever turning it on, it adds a whole new element to your platforming especially in the latter half of the main campaign, and almost all of the second campaign.
Yes, the second campaign. I don’t know if this is still considered a spoiler at this point, but once you complete the initial 8 worlds and rescue your princess, an entirely new campaign opens up. This features another 8 worlds, some boss battles and even a new power-up! And in many ways, this feels like the game Nintendo intended to make. Not to dismiss the first campaign, it is a fantastic experience, but the second campaign is a lot more challenging, creative and uses the 3D in a much more vital sense!
First or second campaign, it wouldn’t matter how well crafted they were if it wasn’t for Mario’s trademark solid game play. The plumber keeps his trademark ability to run and jump through all manner of environments. He brings along some of his 3D moves like the wall jump, the back flip and more. He controls with his near flawless accuracy, you never feel like its the game’s fault if you die, which is always the sign of quality game design.
Now at the start of this review, I mentioned that I feel Super Mario 3D Land is the perfect handheld title, and this comes into play with the level design. Each stage is designed to be completed in about 2-3 minutes (the timer helps push you along), when I first got the game I felt it made the stages too short. Coming from the Super Mario Galaxy series, these were basic. They weren’t introducing 3-4 concepts per stage. I beat the first stage and boss on my way home from picking up the game. A ride that lasted roughly 40 minutes or so. My initial impressions were, this was fun but going to be a really short experience. Then I had to pick up The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword a week later. As I stood in line for the title, I would pull out my 3DS and play a stage or two or go on a search for a Star Medal or improve my time for all the SpotPass time trials I received!
This is when it dawned on me, Super Mario 3D Land wasn’t designed to be Super Mario Galaxy on the go, it was designed to be a pocket-sized Super Mario title. A game that you can play for 2 minutes or an hour and feel like you are making progress either way. A game that allows you to save after every stage/puzzle box/Toad House, so that you are never racing to find a save point before lunch is over or your stop arrives on the train or bus.
But unlike things like Angry Birds or Cut the Rope, the game is wrapped in an entire package that feels like a meaty experience. Sure, you can beat a stage a day for a month, and feel fine, or you can play all 8 worlds in one sitting, and feel good about it. Because not only are the levels getting more difficult, more creative but it is encased in a fantastic package. It is the essence of a Mario game boiled down to bare essentials to make for a compelling and fun experience in short burts.
It is as I said before, the perfect handheld title. Its a title that walks the line between “Casual” and “hardcore.” Between long-form and short-form gaming, it caters to everyone without losing anything.
Recommendation: Buy It- This is the first game on the 3DS that I think anyone can recommend without any “buts” added to their statement. Its fun, its fresh, its original, it makes great uses of most of the system’s functions. It is a solid entry in the Mario series, and there’s more than enough content in this game to justify its price. Well worth it if you own a 3DS, and if you are on the fence it should firmly put you in the purchase camp.