Hello, dudes and dudettes of the blogosphere! I know my blog is typically “arcade exclusive”, so to speak, but it’s always fun for me to get a bit out of the ol’ comfort zone. I figure that, going forward in 2018, I might as well address all sectors of gaming. (At least in my reviews, that is.) After all, if we want arcade gaming to be held to the same standard as console gaming, we might as well address them equally on our, you know, gaming blogs. With all of that being said, let’s kick this year off with a review of Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS!
(Also, I sort of lied. I’m totally just repurposing an unused review from the school newspaper that I started in November. Once again, I’m devious.)
Super Mario 3D Land
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: 2011
One thing you’ll instantly notice when playing 3D Land is that it is very much a hybrid of 2D Mario and 3D Mario. Most gameplay elements are borrowed from the 2D games, including classic items, time limits, three star coins per level, and even the ability to hold a button to run (more on that later). These classic 2D elements are given somewhat new life, though, as they are presented on a 3D plane. Because it operates on a 3D plane, your moveset is fleshed out with abilities that have become staples of 3D Mario entries: crouching, rolling, ground pounding, long jumps, side somersaults, wall jumps, and crouch jumps. While a select few of these moves have also become associated with 2D Mario games, it cannot be disputed that their addition in this game, specifically, creates more dynamic movement, a la traditional 3D Mario entries.
However, with all of these movements being constricted to more traditional 2D Mario-esque gameplay, you may find yourself disappointed if you’re looking for something like Super Mario 64 to play on the go. The levels in Super Mario 3D Land are extremely linear and extremely heavy on platforming; exploration is nonexistent. Despite this, the game is very, very fun. If you enjoy playing older Mario games on the NES or SNES, and especially if you enjoy playing the New Super Mario Bros. series, you’ll enjoy every second of this game. It’s 2D Mario expanded to the realms of 3D Mario, allowing for clever secrets and freedom of movement that otherwise wouldn’t be present in traditional 2D Mario.
Where you won’t have fun with Super Mario 3D Land, however, is if you are looking for a grueling challenge. Right from the get-go, you’ll notice that 3D Land is anything but difficult. (I’ve heard it aptly described as “Baby’s First Mario,” a notion that I have to second.) Star Coins are near universally hidden in plain sight, enemies are normally a breeze to subdue, and platforming usually doesn’t provide too many hardcore challenges. And even if the levels do become somewhat difficult (which they do to an extent around the World 6 range), you’ll never encounter a Game Over screen—I promise you that. You’ll have at least 60 lives in your reservoir at all times, because the game is extremely liberal with lives, coins, and powerups. Even hidden 1-Ups are fairly easy to find with a keen eye. (As a further testament to the easiness of this game, I actually managed to find all three star coins on my first try in an overwhelming majority of the levels.) While the ease of difficulty may help 3D Land succeed on a handheld, I don’t know if I can recommend it to hardcore traditional Mario players.
However, this simplicity of this game is in fact a double-edged sword, because there’s a lot to be said for how this simplicity creates a fulfilling handheld experience. Super Mario 3D Land offers a fairly quick, satisfying alternative to home console Mario games and provides a true pick-up-and-play experience. Levels are bite-sized breezes, and the game is almost beautifully simple. Keep in mind, though, that you are not in for a challenge—at all.
But of course, Super Mario 3D Land is still loads of fun. And believe it or not, the Nintendo 3DS’s glasses-free 3D functionality actually contributes considerably to this quality gameplay experience. In general, the 3D allows for better depth perception, and in many cases, I found myself relying on the 3D to better plan my jumps from one platform to the next. Furthermore, there are some secret rooms in the game that are nigh impossible to jump around in without the 3D slider cranked up, because they were designed to fully make use of the 3D functionality.
In short, Super Mario 3D Land is a fun handheld alternative that forms a seamless hybrid between 2D and 3D Mario but is also far too easy. It’s good for speed runners and completionists, but it leaves quite a bit to be desired in terms of exploration and challenge.
You know, I’m sure that by most people’s standards, Super Mario 3D Land is a breezy game. By my standards, though, it WAY overstays it’s welcome. Like, way too long.
There are a whopping 16 worlds and four to five levels in each world in Super Mario 3D Land. Each is bite-sized and great for the handheld experience. However, because there are so many levels, many are forgettable and, quite frankly, terribly uninspired. (Spoiler alert: Forcing yourself to get through the post-main game levels can be a real slog.) You can avoid any fatigue, though, by deciding how much of a completionist you want to be before beginning the game. The first eight worlds are the entirety of the main game; you watch the opening cutscene before World 1 and watch the ending cutscene after World 8. If that’s all you want, that’s all you need. But if you’re more of a completionist, Super Mario 3D Land features eight more “Special” worlds. Many of the levels in Special worlds are retools of level structures and themes from the eight normal worlds. The Special levels tend to be more difficult speed runs of earlier levels, albeit heavily altered versions of these levels.
If all of that wasn’t enough for you, you can also run through levels multiple times to achieve, you know, fast times. Super Mario 3D Land starts displaying your fastest completion times for levels after completing the main game. It also displays the fastest times of people you've met through Street Pass, making the whole endeavor a little more purposeful and competitive.
There is one very delightful unlockable after completing the eight main worlds, but I won’t spoil it. I thought it was worth it, personally. But yeah, that’s pretty much it. There’s a LOT of content—but how much of it is really worth it? The game is SO long that it becomes such a slog to get through.
After 30 years of Mario games, it makes sense that Nintendo has Mario’s controls down to a science. Like I said earlier, you can perform all of the movements from “true” 3D Mario games, including sideways somersaults. You’re not missing anything here.
There’s not too much here that’s noteworthy, except for maybe a few semantics. There is one new addition to the 3D Mario controls in this game: a run button. It may seem a bit odd for an analogue-based control system to have a run button, but it works just fine in practice. In fact, it’s quite necessary! It gives you an extra “kick” that really helps out, especially with the overabundance of speedrun levels in this game.
The only other thing that I would note is a fault of the hardware, not the game: circle pad controls. Just like in any 3DS game, the jump from an analogue stick to a circle pad may take some getting used to. It’s just a bit pervasively noticeable in a game like this, where plenty of precision is needed.
Super Mario 3D Land truly is a beautiful game. Environments are rich and colorful, and in-game models are packed with just about as many polygons as the Nintendo 3DS can handle. Nintendo’s masterful art style and application of color further contribute to this beautiful, fun graphical atmosphere. Character animations and effects, too, are excellently rendered, with plenty of cartoony squash-and-stretch and small, intricate details to keep your eyes captivated at all times. Furthermore, the Nintendo 3DS’s 3D capabilities enhance this visceral presentation immensely. With 3D turned on, each of these little detail will “pop” just a bit more. In terms of graphics, Super Mario 3D Land is no sloucher, and it goes to show just how much the Nintendo 3DS can really do, hardware-wise.
As with any Mario game (or almost any Nintendo game in general), the music is top-notch. It’s not anything groundbreaking like Super Mario Galaxy’s soundtrack, but it’s still good. However, despite the music being good, the limited number of compositions start to lose their luster after you’ve slogged through the overwhelmingly large selection of levels. (Spoiler alert: You stop caring about the music once you’ve gotten into the Special levels.)
One odd complaint I have about the sound is that something about the voice acting seems…odd. Mario and Luigi both seem to have been severely up-pitched in this game. Does that complaint sound a little weird? Sure, but so do Mario and Luigi’s super high-pitched voices.
Beyond that, the sound is pretty standard for a Mario game. Super Mario 3D Land falls on all the familiar beats. (Not sure if that was a pun or not.) Though even if you love Mario games, the all too familiar sound effects are just a little too familiar this time around.
I’m fully aware that Super Mario 3D Land is 6 years old, but I think it’s going to be nigh impossible to not compare other Mario installments to Super Mario Odyssey going forward—even ones released in the past. And given the insane precedent that Nintendo has set, Mario games from 2006 to 2016 just feel…dull. (With the exceptions of Galaxy and Galaxy 2, for obvious reasons). Games form this decade were all just the New Super Mario Bros. formula. Heck, even 3D Land and 3D World were just New Super Mario Bros. on a flipping 3D plane. As much as I enjoyed this game for the first few hours, it became a dull, uninspired slog as time wore on.
I love Mario games and I love Super Mario 3D Land, but it really isn’t that impressive in retrospect. It’s a totally jiving experience for those who want some bite-sized Mario on the go, but it’s nothing special for fans of more in-depth Mario titles.
But still, I recommend it. But don’t bother with the Special worlds. They’re a total waste of time, unless Super Mario 3D Land is the only 3DS game you have. If that’s the case, you might as well 100 percent complete the game. Smash Bros. was my only 3DS game for a whole year, and I put almost 50 hours into that game.
By the way, I plan to review a few more console games in the future. I’m planning on reviewing Jimmy Neutron: Jet Fusion (PlayStation 2) and Ratchet and Clank (also PlayStation 2). Console games are a bit more intensive to review, so we’ll have to see if I even get to it.
Keep it real, kiddos. I’m out.