Quick Take: Mario's new nostalgic handheld adventure is, not ironically, best suited for 3D and portable play.
Super Mario 3D Land has approached its Nintendo 3DS debut as if running a marathon since the handheld’s launch earlier this year. The slow pace and multi-month wait for it to reach the finish line has been agonizing to endure. Each passing day without a new Mario adventure on 3DS has proven to be detrimental to the device’s success. Nintendo and 3DS owners alike need this game in stores.
Good runners can magically produce a second wind and Super Mario 3D Land will burst onto the scene with a doozy. It plays fast like Mario Kart or lightning released from a bottle, almost as if Nintendo is conceding to the idea that bursts of highly enjoyable entertainment are more conducive to today’s average hustle and bustle lifestyle than deeper, more time consuming experiences. They even put a timer on every level in the game as if to nudge you to get a move on with not only the game, but your life.
Super Mario 3D Land would be a disappointment on Wii or any other console, but on 3DS, it is the ultimate polished and pleasurable portable Mario adventure that legitimately takes advantage of the 3D capabilities of its platform.
Taking a cue from New Super Mario Bros. for DS, Super Mario 3D Land spans eight worlds, each with four levels and a final airship or castle boss battle. Each of those levels set in familiar Mario-esque environments can be blown through during a commercial break if you don’t try to take out every enemy, collect every coin or each of three star coins that are usually tucked away or in tricky to reach spots. It takes several levels to get accustomed to how quickly the flagpole that ends each comes into view.
Ending levels by jumping or floating onto flagpoles rather than seeking out stars is only one of many nods to past Mario adventures. Super Mario 3D Land borrows most heavily from Super Mario Bros. 3, especially with the return of the Tanooki suit that mirrors riding Yoshi without the tongue action, but also taps into everything ranging from the original Super Mario Bros. to Paper Mario, and all the way to Super Mario Galaxy 2. The Tanooki tails show up on the other side, too, ranging from the big man Bowser himself to the Goombas and even the bullets.
From the opening level, this new world for Mario to explore feels like his greatest gaming moments, moves, power-ups and ideas collected into an unofficial greatest hits package. As a Mario fan I’m pleased with the consistent nostalgic winks, and am sure other fans will feel the same way.
Along with the old comes the new and there’s plenty of that to go around as well. The first level in World 5 introduces the Boomerang suit, Mario’s version of what the Boomerang Bros. have used to pester the plumber and his pals for many, many years. Not long after donning the suit does Mario encounter a lone Boomerang Bros., and the act of sweet revenge lasts all of about two-thirds of a second.
Super Mario 3D Land features a Street Pass system that I predict most players will pay no attention to. In the World menus are Mystery Boxes with coins, a star coin, and sometimes enemies. You have 15 seconds to collect and clear as much of the room as possible. After you try, the Mystery Box can no longer be accessed.
Street Pass comes into play by letting another player’s completed room show up as a new room in your game, so you can play their room and get another star coin. If Nintendo made hundreds of these rooms then, theoretically, you could be trading them with other players like Pokemon.
I do suspect Nintendo has built in some hidden surprises for amassing star coins beyond the three available in each level of the game. Maybe Street Pass Mystery Boxes are the only way to gain access to those levels. If that’s the case then more players will pay attention to them.
Another new addition in Super Mario 3D Land is an amped up version of the Tanooki suit that hilariously looks blinged out. This power-up suit only appears after dying five consecutive times on a level (a standard power-up box appears after two deaths), and only the first time visiting the level. Though it’s rare, the suit renders Mario invincible to everything, and I mean everything, except if he takes an unintended plunge down a chasm.
Inclusion of the super suit raises the first of several questions about the game’s difficulty. I had racked up over 20 lives by the second world and saw that total get up near 40 before it started to drop as I began to go after more star coins. This is on the first play through, mind you, so I didn’t have the advantage of knowing what to expect. And I wasn’t completely ignoring star coins as it became evident that doing so would make it impossible to get past the second Bowser castle boss level and other areas later on.
There’s no question that Super Mario 3D Land is clearly easier than the past several Mario games before it, especially if the Tanooki suit is worn so danger can be fluttered over. I didn’t get a “Game Over” screen until two-thirds through World 7, and only because I was after some tricky star coins. The accessibility and easy of play is a win for younger kids and less experienced players, but a loss for anyone who wants to face a sustained challenge outside of reaching all the hard-to-get-to spots and collecting every star coin in the game.
Exploring each level in Super Mario 3D Land is a big part of the fun, and much of that fun comes from turning on the 3D to between half and three-quarter’s intensity. The first test I performed was playing through the first level twice; the first time in 2D, and the second time in 3D. The 2D mode feels flat and inferior compared to the 3D effect. There’s a reason 3D is in the game’s title and not merely tacked onto the end as an afterthought. Every level has been designed with 3D in mind, and the effort and attention to that spatial detail is much appreciated and reflected in the game’s fun factor.
All the 3D effects are outstanding and polished like you’d expect a Mario game to deliver. One of the most impressive is in World 7 where Mario is swimming through underwater tunnels. At one point a ring appears deep down a tunnel that fades into the background. Moving Mario down the tunnel makes him almost disappear. When he hits the rings, red coins appear in the foreground and Mario swims toward them, growing bigger by the millisecond.
Another level earlier in the game makes use of the Propeller Block that allows Mario to speed high and fast into the sky, then slowly float down. The depth in this level with 3D turned on makes it seem as if Mario is hundreds of feet up in the air. In 2D mode, the dazzling effect is nonexistent and Mario might as well be playing on a nearly flat surface.
Super Mario 3D Land plays with a fixed camera that changes perspective from level-to-level or even within levels depending on the design. As Mario makes his way around, there’s always this gut feeling that there might be a little area or extra goodies tucked away in the background, just below the bottom of the frame, or just above a tree’s top. There are torches and bushes begging for Fire Mario to torch them, and tunnels behind walls and alcoves to explore. Though each level can be completed in mere minutes, there’s often much more to discover if one takes some extra precious seconds to poke around.
So far I’ve mentioned Super Mario 3D Land falls on the easier side of Mario games and will be readily accessible to young kids. Yet, to get the most out of the game, the 3D mode should be turned on. By now we all know Nintendo warns against the use of 3D on 3DS for gamers under the age of 7. It’s quite the Catch 22.
The best I can offer regarding this conundrum is yes, Super Mario 3D Land is fully playable in 2D for kids. Even small pipe rooms that offer a Q-Bert-like board with some raised blocks appearing in front of others is accessible in 2D as well as 3D. The difference is judging Mario’s position within the space, finding hidden areas and simply feeling more immersed is more achievable in 3D, but the mode is not a necessity to play the game from start to finish.
Brisk to shoehorn into lifestyles on the go, visually polished, and multi-dimensional by design instead of by gimmick, Super Mario 3D Land is a worthy inclusion in the growing Mario family of games and a great way to kick off the plumber’s Mushroom Kingdom adventures on 3DS.
– Dan Bradley
Shop for Super Mario 3D Land on Nintendo 3DS at Amazon.com (November 13, 2011 release date)
Nintendo is celebrating the launch of Super Mario 3D Land in Times Square, New York City on Saturday, November 12 beginning at 10am. Included in the festivities are real-life 3D pipes to climb through, trampolines to jump on for 3D coins, and a chance to play the game a day early. Also expect the event to kick off with a mass performance by Nintendo characters, a set of exclusive Tanooki ears and tails to be rewarded to fans while supplies last, free mushroom pizza slices to the first 1,000 consumers onsite that tweet using the #SuperMario3D Twitter hashtag, and the best Mario fans being given the opportunity to buy Super Mario 3D Land for 3DS a day early at Toys “R” Us.