A 3D Game With More and Less Depth
The Nintendo 3DS has lacked a true blockbuster title since its launch earlier this year. Sure, Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Starfox 64 play great, but ultimately they are just fancy re-releases of games we’ve already played to death.
Along comes a potential savior in little red cap. That’s right, its-a him, Mario!
In the first of two high-profile releases featuring everyone’s favorite plumber, Super Mario 3D Land features a combination of classic Mario action and stunning 3D effects, providing one of the most compelling reasons to grab Nintendo’s struggling handheld.
However, longtime Mario fans may find themselves wanting more as the adventure feels a little easier and shorter than other recent entries.
The game starts as expected: Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach and Mario must search across the land to save her. So he sets off and discovers a slew of new enemies, one new ability and some of the most cleverly designed levels ever seen in a platform game.
To take full advantage of the system’s 3D capabilities, levels offer a massive variety of perspectives and camera angles. The game uses vertical space better than any platformer before it, with some levels dipping and swooping across a vast panorama before finally leading Mario to that familiar flagpole.
The overall structure will feel familiar to anyone who has played a Mario game before. Each of the eight worlds contain four or more levels, as well as a few familiar resting places like Toad’s house. All of the familiar level types have returned, such as the underwater depths, ghost houses, caverns, pirate ships and castles, and the added dimension gives each of these … well … added dimension.
What’s funny is that the game plays well with the 3D screen turned off. It seems like the designers needed it as much to stoke their creativity as for its technical capabilities. Still, things are brighter and more exciting with the 3D on, and some areas are easier to navigate with the screens additional depth.
It was easy for me to find a sweet spot, setting the screen at about 60 percent on the 3D slider, making for comfortable long play sessions.
One of the game’s biggest draws comes with a raccoon tail. The fan favorite Tanooki suit from Super Mario Bros. 3, makes a triumphant return. It’s the perfect power-up for floating between platforms that would otherwise require maddeningly precise jumps.
In a stroke of hilarious genius, many of the enemies now sport a tail also — including Goombas, Bullet Bills and Thwomp Blocks — showing Mario he isn’t the only one who can get his costume on.
The other new power-up – the boomerang suit – allows Mario to take out enemies with a large boomerang, which comes in handy when dealing with spiked baddies he can’t just jump on. Unfortunately, like several things in the game, this power-up doesn’t appear nearly enough.
The only other power-ups are the familiar Super Mushroom and Fire Flower, the later which really comes in handy with some of the new baddies.
In addition to the aforementioned raccoon-tailed versions of familiar enemies, players can look forward to Goombas who stand stacked on one another, sometimes sky-high; big frog-like things that lurk beneath the ground; odd snakes that have jump boxes as part of their bodies; and strange, multi-colored ladybug looking things that travel in packs.
So it would seem that with amazing level design (look for the Zelda level), great enemies, nice use of the 3D and polished Mario action, this game would double jump right into a perfect score. But for me it faltered in a few key areas.
Super Mario 3D Land feels short. Some worlds have as few as four levels plus the boss battle. While 50 levels seem like a lot, the last handheld Mario game, New Super Mario Bros.,
It’s possible that the complexity of the level design limited the number of levels possible, but the result feels incomplete. The route for each world is linear, progressing from one level to the next until you reach the world’s boss, with no branching paths or shortcuts. Even the graphic on the bottom-screen is a straight line, emphasizing how the game plays: straight forward.
Like New Super Mario Bros. each level contains three star coins. You must collect enough of these to access certain levels, including the final boss battle, so warping ahead (if possible – I did not uncover any world warps) won’t do much good. You’ll still have to go back and beat most of the levels to finish the game.
Collecting the star coins also provides the game’s only real incentive to replay. Some are well hidden and will require thorough exploration to uncover. But once you have all three, and manage to grab the very top of the flagpole at the end (which gives you a gold flag) there’s no real reason to revisit that level, unless you really get into the medal challenges that unlock after you beat the game.
Power-ups also feel shorted. Including the Fire Flower there are only three. It would have been nice to see a couple more choices to add to the variety and
Finally, the game feels a little easy overall. Sure, there are challenging levels, but should you get stuck the game quickly comes in and bails you out. Fail a level several times and a box will appear at the beginning with a Rainbow Tanooki suit, combining the power of the Invincibility Star and the Tanooki suit and effectively making you invulnerable to enemies.
Fail a few more times and a P-Wing appears to whisk you straight to the flagpole and move on past the level.
While using the P-Wing too often will leave you with too few Star Coins to finish the game, there’s no real penalty for using the Tanooki Suit of Invulnerability, making it far too easy to conquer even the most difficult levels.
As a Mario fan I’ve come to expect a lot from Nintendo’s most prominent spokes-plumber, and although I quite enjoyed the game I can’t shake the feeling that it was rushed out to hit for the holidays. Ultimately, the fault of the game lies in what’s not there, rather than what the designers have given us, so any complaints inevitably come off as sounding greedy.
Super Mario 3D Land stands as an excellent addition to the series and the 3DS library, and shouldn’t be missed.
SUMMARY: Mario gets a 3D facelift in this title designed specifically to take advantage of the 3DS’ primary selling point. As a result, the game offers a previously unseen level of depth and detail, making the stunning level design stand out as some of the series’ best. It might be shorter than other recent Mario games, but it’s still better than any other 3DS offering.
- THE GOOD: Classic Mario action with new depth
- THE BAD: The game feels a little short and easy
- THE UGLY: Bowser’s kids. No wonder he wants to hook up with Peach