Let’s get the bad of this game out of the way.
The problem with Super Mario 3D Land is that it tries to hybridize the 3D platformer (which Nintendo pretty much invented) with the 2D platformer (which Nintendo also pretty much invented). In doing so, it does create something new, but excels at neither. When you’re moving Mario around in 3D space, you’re stuck with a static camera that you can’t adjust, much like when you’re playing a 2D Mario platformer. This leads to awkward camera angles that are normally easily fixable when playing a fully 3D Mario platformer, since those games mostly allow you to move the camera to a more desired angle. And awkward camera angles in a platformer leads to deaths. When you’re moving Mario around in 2D space, it’s easy to forget that you can still move Mario in 3D as well. The result is, again, deaths. In essence, with Super Mario 3D Land, Nintendo created a platformer in which the main hook of the game seems to be making it harder to do things that, in other Mario platformers, experienced players can do without a second thought. In essence, they made the simple act of platforming (jumping from one platform to another) more difficult. Nintendo seemed to be aware of this as they compensate for it with only moderate platforming difficulty in much of the game, the raccoon suit which allows Mario to hover to aid in the platforming, and lots and lots of extra lives.
That’s the bad of it.
And that being all said, the game is still fun. Very fun.
If you’ve been playing Mario platformers as long as I have, you’ll recognize pretty quickly that Super Mario 3D Land is drawing on Mario’s history, going all the way back to the original Super Mario Bros. on NES. Yes, the the aformentioned raccoon suit from Super Mario Bros. 3 is in this game, and its fantastic. SMB3 is maybe the best 2D platformer that Nintendo has ever made (and arguably of all time) and SM3D Land does not try to hide SMB3’s influence. Nintendo has also added the flagpoles from the original Super Mario Bros. at the end of every level which, again, pulls on the nostalgia strings of long-time players. And then it’s all coated with the type of superb level design that we saw in the Super Mario Galaxy games which are much more recent. The result is a unique combination of new and old that hasn’t been seen in the Mario series before, which is exactly what Nintendo was going for.
But what about the gameplay?
SM3D Land is one of those games that is so fun and simple to pick up and play that, in spite of my issues with the lack of camera controls and trouble judging depth at times, I wanted to keep playing anyway. Not out of frustration, but because I was having a lot of fun and the game really does do a good job of minimizing the aformentioned flaws with balanced, appropriate difficulty, lots of extra lives, and a raccoon suit that is as fun to use as it was when it first premiered in Mario 3 back in 1990. There are other power-up suits Mario can use that aid him in his quest to save Princess Peach as well, but the raccoon suit is the most significant because
A. We haven’t seen the raccoon suit in a Mario game for so long and
B. You will have to be a very skilled player to 100% this game without it.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward, each bite-size level allowing a certain amount of exploration, but still remaining pretty linear in its overall design. Each level has a beginning, mid-point, and ending, exclamated by a flagpole which you are strongly encouraged to jump as high on as you can. The levels overall feel like smaller versions of what you get in the Super Mario Galaxy games, with the exception that the game takes place in the Mushroom Kingdom instead of outer space, and 2D movement and camera angles play a more prominent role. The levels are not especially long and seem designed with short play sessions in mind that are more common on handheld gaming systems. Mario can run, jump, butt-stomp, flip, long-jump, and wall-jump like he always can, although he feels a little more weighted in this game when pulling them off. Each level has three star coins for you to get. Eventually, you will need almost all of them to advance to the end of the game, but the game does have a little surprise halfway through to help you get those coins, so you don’t feel pressured to get all of them on your first run through. As you advance farther into the game, you will start to run into levels you’ve already played, but with a twist to make them more difficult. I was pretty tolerant with that in the Galaxy games, but this game tested my patience with its reuse of levels. A small complaint, but in the end I really didn’t mind much, as replaying them was still a lot of fun.
The overworld map is straightforward as well. Levels unlock as you complete each level and pick up more and more star coins. Mushroom houses and bonus levels help you along in each world with coins, power-ups, star coins, and lots of extra lives. Yes, every 100 coins you collect still does earn you an extra life in SM3D Land. You’ll collect lots of them as the game is very generous with the green mushrooms. I still had over 200 lives after 100% completing the game. You will die in this game but it’s not likely you’ll run out of lives.
SM3D Land is Nintendo’s first attempt to merge the 2D platformer with the 3D platformer. And for the most part, they succeed. With that design, however, come some inherent flaws that I’m hoping Nintendo will address in future releases. While SM3D Land doesn’t reach the levels of gaming nirvana that some of Mario’s past titles have, it is still a fantastic game that oozes charm, joy, and pure fun out of every pore and should be played by every 3DS owner. It attempts something new and mostly succeeds and you will have a lot of fun experiencing what Nintendo has put together with this one, especially if you’ve been playing Mario games since the beginning. If you have a 3DS, buy this game.