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Review: Super Mario 3D Land

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Nintendo’s Super Mario series has helped shape the video game industry since the little Italian plumber debuted back in the 1980s. Over the last twenty-six years, the world has changed and as the world grows, so has the Mario brand. Evolving from the humble beginnings of a 2D platformer, the franchise dominated the genre with each new installment during the NES and SNES era. As gaming grew and 3D loomed on the horizon, who better to start the 3D gaming revolution than Nintendo’s Mario?

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Therefore, he did just that with Mario 64 in the 1990s & the franchise set the foundation for every 3D platformer from that point on. However, there was a victim to the newfound success of 3D platforming and the victim was 2D. Due to the near instant success of the 3D platformer, it appeared 2D entries would soon become obsolete and inferior. For a time, this was true until Nintendo resurrected the lost art of 2D platforming to unprecedented success.

New Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo DS and Wii each offered a nostalgic trip back in time to an era of pure video game pleasure that didn’t rely on movie-like graphics, compelling storylines, or orchestrated music. For you see, these games gave a simple enjoyment that has become lost over the years for these games delivered magical adventures in whimsical lands, but above all else, the games were simply fun for everyone involved.

Some gamers find 3D Mario games intimidating and daunting due to their vast scope and open-world design. Being as such, gamers in this mindset were able to find solace in the 2D Mario games, however, veterans of the 3D games found the linear design lacking when compared to Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 – the new plateau for 3D Mario games. For this reason Nintendo came up with a formula that combines the old with the new & the end product is Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS.

One of Nintendo’s strongest attributes is that as a company they know how to make the most of their new hardware. They designed the hardware, they know what it can do, and for that reason everyone knew Nintendo’s first Mario game on the 3DS was going to be the piece of software that demonstrated why 3D can be, or is, the future for video games. With much to live up to, Mario’s first 3D adventure more than solidifies 3D as a valuable asset for gaming as the game utilizes 3D effects like no title before it.

What sets Mario 3D Land apart from previous 3D efforts is that Nintendo developed every subtle detail of the game’s levels around the use of 3D, thus creating an entire game that relies on 3D visual effects as a key component to the game’s overall premise. Mario 3D Land offers two types of 3D that you can select with one being a close to the screen point-of-view or the secondary which has Mario more distant from the screen allowing for a grander view of the level. You can adjust to these different views freely & doing so may reveal hidden paths that you’d otherwise miss. As with every 3DS release, playing the game in 3D is optional, but this is the one game that 3D is essential to one’s enjoyment. Playing without it can lead to some minor instances of frustration and will actually lead to failure in obtaining certain collectible items.

Unlike previous Nintendo titles on 3DS like Pilot Wings Resort or even The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D – both great titles in their own right --, the 3D in Mario 3D Land doesn’t just add immersion to the experience as it also comes heavily into play when exploring each level, solving puzzles, and scouring for collectibles. There are a number of areas that you’ll encounter that are designed especially for use of 3D and if you don’t use it, you won’t be successful. Jumping platform to platform, slowly floating down to a small block, or whatever it may be, the level of accuracy 3D gives to Mario 3D Land is brilliant. The extra sense of depth given to the entire world is remarkable and shows how 3D can be proficiently utilized to create a new gameplay experience.

Despite being a 3D Mario game, Mario 3D Land is linear in progression as you’ll advance to new levels akin to classic Mario games. Traveling through the game’s 8 worlds, there is plenty to see and explore, though Mario purists will be disappointed to hear that there are no themed world/level combinations as each level is independently themed. Being as such, you’ll still find each level delightfully designed and rich with personality and charm. Regrettably, many of the earlier stages are easy to clear with little challenge; however, this minor flaw is quickly remedied as the difficulty climbs towards the later worlds, thus leading to a nice balance.

To further extend the idea of mixing the old with the new, Mario 3D Land’s levels makes great use of classic Mario platform elements like bouncy musical blocks, end level flagpoles, and ventures in the clouds for bonuses, but you’ll also encounter recently introduced obstacles like vanishing platforms, switches, and other platform trickery found in the Mario Galaxy games. This blend makes for some ingenious level designs & also leads to shorter level completion time. You may think shorter levels would be a negative; conversely it is the opposite as the shorter levels allow the game to be more handheld friendly and great for pickup and play sessions for 10-15 minutes.

Although the core game is an absolute pleasure, the new challenges and game mechanics introduced after World 8 further push the game’s enjoyment to new levels. With more complex designs and diverse challenges, these levels are what Mario veterans will crave. Collecting all the hidden medals in each level shall take time but the payoff are some superb bonus levels. The later levels offer that old school challenge experts want, but the main game is welcoming enough to allow any individual to enjoy this magical handheld Mario.

No Mario game is complete without the series’ trademark power-ups and Mario 3D Land puts them all to remarkable use. The two highlight power-up additions are the Boomerang and Tanookie suit. Just as the game was designed with 3D in mind, it was also designed around these two power-ups. Throwing a boomerang at enemies and then jumping over it will allow for multiple hits, meanwhile it can also be used to obtain coins and other items.

Meanwhile, the Tookie Suit is the most fun and useful of the two as it provides a sense of security in your travels. Allowing you to glide for a short period, you can reach greater distances and more easily land on platforms. Though these two shall be used aplenty, classic power-ups like the Fire Flower remain vital to solving puzzles and discovering hidden content. By lighting torches with a fireball, you may open hidden doors, reveal additional coins, or more.

One minor complaint, which is more apparent when using the game’s power-ups, is the game’s running mechanic. Located on the 3DS’ Y/X buttons, they feel out of place and share the same button used by the power-ups, so you may want to run but will first need to throw a boomerang before being allowed so. Mario’s walking pace is too slow to use for the entire venture.

Similar in style to the Mario Galaxy games, Mario 3D Land is the Nintendo 3DS’ most visually appealing title, thus far. Every subtle detail adds to the immersion of being in the game. Whether it is the soft appearance of the clouds or vivid color of each level, the game is a 3DS visual marvel. The soundtrack is splendid as it offers new takes on classic Mario themes but also has a nice array of new tracks that shall stay stuck in your head for weeks to come.

Super Mario 3D Land is the reason you bought a 3DS & the reason to buy a 3DS. Anyone who considers themselves a Mario fan simply has to buy this game – even if it requires a 3DS purchase. With the perfect balance of difficulty, tons of content to explore, and lush visuals, this is a game you can play countless times. This is the first title that uses all the system’s capabilities and uses them competently.

This is the best handheld Mario game & one of the best Mario games. Period.

Overall: 9.5/10

(Editor’s Note: A review copy of Super Mario 3D Land was provided by Nintendo for review purposes. The game was completed for review.)

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