Super Mario 3D Land review
- Super Mario 3D Land
Made 2 Game Super Mario 3D Land Review Score: 9/10
Format: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
The true spirit of Mario is a hard thing to pinpoint. Is it the character, bubbling over with joyous abandon as he uses his size 9's to squeeze the life out of another malicious, sentient vegetable? Is it the precision of control, Mario reacting to every tap and push just as you'd expect him to? Is it Bowser's sulphur-encrusted grin as he hoists Mario's ward over his shoulder once more, signalling the start of another adventure?
As you've likely already realised, it's all of these. But the most important part of a Mario game are the levels.
Super Mario Galaxy changed things. Oh sure, Nintendo's pair of space odysseys are brilliant but they weren't typically Mario. The chubby one was used more as a cypher for Nintendo EAD's unimaginable creativity, every level was great but every challenge was a unique, cordoned off nugget that you had to pass before moving on to the next.
The difference between this and traditional Mario gaming is freedom. Freedom to dodge. Freedom to ignore. The beauty of a traditional Super Mario level is that what the designer put between A and B is simply an obstacle. If you tackle it as the designer intended then that's fine, but if you've worked out how to wall jump and glide past the entire thing, go right on ahead. Who's to say the wall wasn't put there for that in the first place?
The abundence of cardboard cut outs is never explained. Presumably no room in the Bowser basement from unsold retail returns.
Traditional Mario platformers have always imbued this. From the first time you leapt over a Piranha Plant at full stretch to the time you soared over a level thanks to the power of a yellow cape, to that one time you triple-leapt up a cliff to avoid circumventing it, Super Mario games have always given the player a remarkable sense of freedom, almost to the point of undermining themselves. But in this same way they make themselves, and their levels, endlessly playable.
Super Mario 3D Land is a return to this, and the best Super Mario game since Super Mario World.
(Mario) suits you, sir
Plot? You want plot? Wrong series, amigo, but as you're askin,g Bowser has turned up again, shell freshly waxed and - seeing as Galactic conquest didn't go very well for him on two separate occasions - has taken Princess Peach away to his Mushroom Kingdom lair. As an extra layer of intense exposition the great Tanooki tree was caught in a fierce wind, meaning every sod in the kingdom is sporting a big bushy raccoon tail. Deep, I know, but anyone expecting plot in a Mario game is an idiot.
Enough about that, then. Super Mario is all about the simple act of playing, and Super Mario 3D Land delivers a magnificent game that frequently surpasses the expectations of its humble handheld platform.
Super Mario 3D Land is a very classic Mario design. It may have a three dimensional appearance but its levels are linear routes, health is denoted through the Italian's time honoured shrinking act, and Mazza controls in the classic 'hold button to run' fashion (this takes a little while to get used to but once under thumb Mario is as acrobatic and nimble as ever). Your goal in any stage is simply to get from the start of the level to its end flag, which you raise in the ultimate homage to the plumber's first adventure.
The cutscenes and visual asides are actually really rather good, the mushroom kingdom has never been this funny.
What happens in between these points is all up to the developer and through the game's 8 worlds Super Mario 3D Land manages to invoke everything from classic Super Mario Bros. to Mario 3 and even Mario 64, with none of the blank-faced sterility of New Super Mario Bros. in sight.
Straight enemy hopping fun runs, trap-filled pyramids, eel-infested aquatic spaces – Mario swims in his classic 'tap jump to ascend' 2D way, which is fantastic – and the return of maze like ghost houses are but a small selection of what's on offer. There's nothing in here that's going to haunt your nightmares in a Hazy Maze Cave sense, but Super Mario 3D Land may well have one of the best 'final' levels, ever. Not just in a Mario game, in all games, ever.
Then there are the suits. The selection here is more Super Mario World than Mario 3, but it's not without its surprises. The Tanooki is the star of the show. Although it doesn't let you fly, the powerful tail whip is unbelievably empowering fun and the post-jump glide turns tricky platforming into a doddle, but simultaneously prompts crazy leaps of faith in pursuit of faster times.
It's also great to have the Fire Flower promoted back to its brilliant enemy-frazzling status after Galaxy's timed variation.
The other two suits are less memorable. The Propeller Block lets you perform a huge upward jump and glide down afterwards, and it is unique in that it doesn't persist through level completion meaning levels involving it are designed around it. Fun but a little underwhelming.
Finally there's the boomerang suit, which is great for collecting far away coins, but feels like a simple alternative to the fire flower.
But what elevates Super Mario 3D Land even higher than its brilliant gameplay is that its perfectly pitched for the 3DS.
Firstly there are the actual 3D puzzles that evoke Escher-like visual trickery in a way only a 3D view can solve. And that's before I mention the whole thing looks absolutely gorgeous in 3D.
Then there's the fact that levels are beautiful snacks. With all but a couple of stages lasting no longer than three minutes these are delicious morsels that gel perfectly with the handheld nature of the 3DS, offering that essential snatch gameplay whilst waiting at the bus stop, taking a leak, or waiting for restaurant food. Conversation? Pah! I've got Mario genius in my pocket!
Sure, on account of these short levels you'll see the credits after about three or four hours of play but that is not the end. Once you're 'done' the game opens up. A complete remix of worlds 1 through 8 appear that, alongside the task to collect three golden coins tucked away in every level, will treble your playtime or more. You're looking at something close to 15-20 hours just to see everything the game has to offer.
Tracking down a yelping toad while looking through the telescope actually shows off the 3DS' sound capabilities rather well.
Then there is that other delicious challenge - Time Trialling. After 'finishing' the game each level then shows a best time, with a rival time added through the other two save files on your cart or through that magical 3DS feature, Street Pass.
Suddenly you've got a reason to play endlessly. You've got a reason to hunt out those tricky routes. A reason to take Tanooki suits into levels that don't give you them. A reason to exploit the freedom the game offers in pursuit of incredible times. And because the levels are so short and elegantly designed, and Mario such a joy to control, you will, just in case you Street Pass anyone who might be doing the same. Then you'll keep checking to see if anyone has beaten your amazing time in World 3-1 (my High Score is 59, in case you were wondering).
So it plays really well, the levels are great fun, it manages to riff on the franchise to date while feeling entirely its own, it's perfectly suited not just to a handheld but to the 3DS, and can theoretically be played endlessly. What's not to like? Well if we're getting picky then I miss the concept of overarching world themes. Every level in Super Mario 3D Land is its own concept and while this throws up some delicious ideas, a little cohesion could have made this even better.
That's really it when it comes to issues. The only thing I have to complain about is a personal opinion that I like a bit of thematic glue to my 'worlds'. This coming from the same person who also said anyone expecting plot from a Mario game is an idiot... Does that make me an idiot? Possibly. Let's not dwell on that though.
Super Mario 3D Land is brilliant and not only an essential 3DS game, but an essential game full stop. It's the gaming equivalent of a bag of Revels, all your favourite ideas thrown into one container, jumbled up, mixed around, and you'll have chomped your way through the whole thing in no time simply because they're so tasty and perfectly formed. But then you'll be back clamouring for more of your new 'thing' and the shopkeep will happily oblige with a similar looking bag, only with experience they taste even better and look, someone's hidden some Jelly Babies in there, it's like a whole new type of confectionary! Oh and that nice shop keeper has tasked you with eating the bag faster than him, how thrilling! Challenge accepted mate, I've got some ideas I've been meaning to try in world 4-2...
Words by James Bowden (Twitter: @Dalagonash)
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