Review: Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo 3DS)

It is arguable that no one franchise defines video games, both in terms of an unofficial mascot and overall quality than a little Italian plumber by the name of Mario.  From the days of the original NES up till today, Mario has been the focus of more games than lines done by Charlie Sheen at a strip club.  Unlike Mr. Sheen though, Mario has in fact actually continued to be a winning franchise year after year, game after game.  Amazingly, but not surprisingly, Super Mario 3D Land continues this legacy on a new generation of handheld gaming.

The phrase “must have game” and “Nintendo 3DS” aren’t put together very often in a sentence, and technically they aren’t in this sentence either but you get the idea.  Super Mario 3D land is a true sequel to both the original 2D platformers that defined Mario’s golden years and the best parts of the 3D games of the more recent generations.  Occasionally the game offers up the ability to explore a level, bringing back memories of Mario 64 to this reviewer, and other times the game is a full on homage to the simple but sometimes difficult fast paced platformers many of us grew up on.  In a word, it’s great.

People in the “grew up on Mario” category will likely find themselves loving the many references to the series origins.  From the small, NES era Mario sprite that appears on the touch screen to the flying ships, brick castles and even the soundtrack, which continues to perfectly capture the spirit of the game twenty years later, Super Mario 3D land is very aware of its’ legacy.  Even the way the game is divided into eight worlds is a throwback to the games of old.  It is hard to form a sentence of adequate depth and description in order to make it clear just how amazingly well done the little touches are. They can, and will constantly bring a smile to the face of many older gamers as they make their way through the game’s plethora of levels.

Not only does the game sport plenty of levels to keep you busy, it manages to offer an impressive amount of variety as well.  As mentioned before, you have everything from more free-roaming types of levels to strictly linear but fast paced, timed levels where the screen is constantly chasing you.  There are water levels, there are levels where you are running through the clouds, and yes, there are plenty of tubes and secret areas to discover. Additionally, each level contains three stars that you will need to collect in order to unlock the boss level of each world. While the individual levels are short, the overall quality and variety more than makes up for it.  What’s more, once you conquer the eight worlds you can unlock another eight secret worlds (where a certain someone makes an appearance).  There is far more content packed into Super Mario 3D Land than anyone has any right to expect from a handheld game.
Controlling Mario through these levels is relatively simple.  Using the joystick to maneuver and holding X to run/use a power up attack and either A or B to jump as your primary controls is simple and intuitive.  Those who played Super Mario 64 will recognize many of the other controls instantly, as they seem to be directly borrowed from it.  The bumper buttons serve as a crouch as well but due to the 3DS’ awkward grip when trying to use them, you most likely won’t very often.  At times the angle of the camera (which is very limited in terms of controls) combined with the 3D effect will make jumps hard to perform correctly and Mario often seems to jump no distance at all when not running; at least it feels that way when desperately trying to jump from one platform to another.  Overall though, the little man with the little red hat goes where you want him to.

Super Mario 3D Land also looks great.  As usual, it is up to Nintendo to really highlight how a game can look on their system, and what’s more, highlight how to properly use whatever function or gimmick is unique to it.  Much like how the Wii, Kinect and Move have been bombarded with a mountain of games that seek to simply use the controls rather than use them well, the 3DS has been dealt a fair share of games that add 3D just to add it.  Fortunately, not only does the full 3D mode look incredible in Super Mario 3D land, the occasional level or hidden area that makes use of it really helps to make you want to keep the 3D dialed up.  Could the game exist without it? Absolutely, but in all the right ways it does add just a little something extra to the experience.

Super Mario 3D Land’s biggest fault would have to come in the form of its’ difficulty.  Unlike the games from early on in the Mario legacy, there are only a few levels that will pose any real challenge in the game’s core eight worlds.  If for some reason you are simply having too much trouble getting through a level a special super tanooki suit (yes, the tanooki suit steals the show through most of the game) will appear that makes you an adorable raccoon of death to all who oppose you.  On the flip side, the secret levels that unlock after the main game can be incredibly challenging (and this time there is no super tanooki suit).  By the end of the core game it is possible to rack up well over 150 extra lives, and be down to less than twenty by the end of the secret levels.  The challenge of the latter half was almost preferred to the breeze of the earlier half, but there was less middle ground than there should have been.

That aside, Super Mario 3D Land manages to once again make a Mario game the type of game that people actually will buy a system for.  Despite being far more high end with many more bells and whistles, my Xbox sat lonely and unused while I once again conquered the Mushroom Kingdom in the palm of my hand… (uhhh, let’s rephrase that). That is to say that a handheld system took up most of my gaming time, both when out and about as well as sitting on my couch despite having bigger, fancier options available to me, because this game is just that damn good.  Super Mario 3D Land is fun, addictive, full of references bound to bring back fond memories and is ultimately a must have game for Nintendo 3DS owners.

Final Rating: 9/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Nintendo 3DS
Time to completion: With nearly all stars in every level, ~10 hours
Price Bought at: $39.99
Current Price: $39.99
Recommend Purchase Price: First party Nintendo games take forever to drop, so if you find it for notably less, grab it.

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About Tristan Rendo

I've made movies, written and performed music, and in January of 2011 got bored and started the awesome gaming site you see before you. My gaming roots began with the original NES, and endless hours spent spilling quarters into machines at the local arcade. I have a personal collection of over 200 Nintendo 64 games, and for many years it was the only system I owned. I re-entered the modern generation of gaming consoles when I decided to purchase a 360. I typically prefer the single player experience of games, so I’m usually playing through some single-player campaign, but can occasionally be found doing some damage in Halo Reach.