Flash back to 2006 with me for a second: New Super Mario Bros. was just released for the Nintendo DS in May of this year, the first 2D-Platforming Mario game in the series since the release of Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 for the Game Boy, and if we want a MARIO 2D-Platforming game, it was Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins for the same system, released in 1992… yikes.
Fortunately, this game delivered on practically every front: the sound was fantastic which fitted in with the more than bouncy, cute and all-around softness of the graphical style, the platforming was as tight as Mario has ever been and the worlds and levels felt inventive, creative and heartwarmingly nostalgic. New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS was a worldwide hit, commercially and critically topping the charts.
Fast forward to 2011: We’ve seen the release of three main-series Mario games since then, Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Mario Galaxy 2. Super Mario Galaxy exceeded all expectations with its glorious graphics, deliciously-textured tracks and incredibly inventive platforming style and levels, this game set the benchmark for platforming, just like Super Mario 64 had done before it. New Super Mario Bros. Wii? Well, not so much. Whilst it was a stretch to call it great, the new multiplayer aspect did lend the series the time it needed whilst Nintendo figured out Mario’s next true role, but there was just something off about this idea. Porting over the New Super Mario Bros. series to the console not only felt a little cheap in concept, the game didn’t look that great on the Wii either… in fact, it all just felt a little lazy. The levels just didn’t feel exciting to play, the graphical style was wearing thin and the sound was practically a clone of the DS game. Super Mario Galaxy 2 didn’t have this problem, mainly because the original engine and style held up so well, almost Disney-like in how well it held, just making new levels was enough, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was as classic as the original, some would argue better.
I explained this brief piece of the Mario series history because it’s integral to this review to understand where Mario was at this point in time. It was the start of the uncertainty. Mario had never had the problem of repetition before because Nintendo as a company and developer are EXTREMELY smart in the way they created and maintained the series. Super Mario Bros. is a repetitive series by nature, practically every game has the same structure. Nintendo are the masters of re-packaging the same formula, but with fantastic new twists and every-time, we buy it… and why wouldn’t we? These are fantastic games and because of the mechanical and graphical twerks, they are worth buying and playing again and again. It was at this point, though, that we starting doubting Nintendo’s authenticity and commitment to their fans. New Super Mario Bros. Wii to a lot of their core fans was a very lazy way to use a previous engine and create a game quickly with multiplayer being a tacked-on gimmick. Not only this but at this time, we were aware that they were also making a 2D-Mario game for the 3DS, along with 3D Land.
So 3D Land releases at the end of 2011 and clarifies for the time being that “Hey… I said Hey! Come closer… lil’ closer… Nintendo’s still here for you, buddy”. There is a lot to like about this new offering. The way Mario feels is as incredibly responsive as previous adventures, the way the camera is fixated, the fact that the 3D is used to great effect, enhancing the game play and forming a whole new element to the game, showing us that this idea Nintendo had wasn’t just a gimmick and can be used as an actual mechanic. Mario 3D Land feels as fresh as Mario World, Mario Land or New Super Mario Bros. which at this point in the series life-cycle, is a feat in itself.
Graphically the game diverts influence away from the New Super Mario Bros. games and onto… Lego? It’s really the only way it can be explained. A lot of the platforms look Lego’y in influence and have this smooth, colorful quality to them. When compared to the most recent of Mario games console and handheld-wide, Mario Galaxy is closest in similarity. Not only is the aesthetic Galaxy like, the graphics are also alike in just how much they prove for the platform they are on. Mario 3D Land looks slick, polished and high-caliber. It may be the best looking game on the system. The 3D only serves to define just how much effort has been put into this game across the board.
Sonically, Mario 3D Land doesn’t surprise very much. Some new songs, mixed in with the (at this point) mandatory remixes of classic Mario tunes. To be disappointed by unoriginality in songs seems void of reasoning at this point in Mario’s life-cycle. Sure, Galaxy brought new songs with lush-orchestral textures, but it’s basically the same thing in 3D Land, make the old sound-effects and songs sound new or at least original again. Although it should be noted that Super Mario 3D Land’s main-theme is just as addicting as any of the other Mario games themes and will surely go down as one of Mario’s catchiest tunes. As expected, technically the music and sound-effects are high quality.
The game play and world are just about as wonderful as any Mario game you’ve played previously. Mario 3D Land, much like previous 2D Mario platformers, uses a stage-select option as its hub, unlike for example, Galaxy, which used a world-hub. The stage select music changes world to world, with fantastic beeps and boops fashioning the catchy overworld themes. Also much like influential Mario games over the years, the worlds are divided into different terrains for the most part, although it doesn’t hold as closely to those terrains in level design as say, Super Mario Bros. 3. Power-ups this time round include the classics (Mushroom, Fire Flower, Star Man) and a slew of others, including the returning Super Leaf, the Boomerang Flower, Propeller Box, etc. Mario 3D Land also brings the Mushroom House’s back, plus a new type of bonus level in which you have to defeat enemies in the cube which you and said enemies are encased in. Both are satisfying entries to inject into the game.
One of my favorite mechanical choices of the game is the camera. The way the camera is situated around the levels is fantastic, mainly because it blends the two styles of Mario so well. The 2D Mario platforming style is still here, with the levels being pretty linear and straightforward (a flagpole at the end of levels being the exit) but the 3D Mario experience is injected into the fun too, using the camera in the same way they developed a lot of Mario Galaxy levels. Also just the way the camera is used makes it feel a lot more open than it actually is, reminiscent of say, Super Mario 64′s worlds.
Replayability is pretty high for two reasons, firstly you will want to play these levels a lot. I mean like, a lot. The levels are so incredibly addicting you will find it hard not to come back to the game when you have some free time and want to de-stress. Super Mario 3D Land’s levels are so masterfully designed that you will find out which ones are your favorites and after completing the game once, you will come back to these and play multiple times through. Two, after completing the main game, you will have the choice to tackle the special stages, which ramp up the difficulty and the replayability. This was a great move by Nintendo, because of the special stages there is an incentive to play through the whole game again, but with different versions of the levels previously played. Also just a note, Luigi becomes available to play after saving him in the first special castle so Luigi fans will probably want to note that.
Super Mario 3D Land is the best handheld Mario game ever made. Simply put, it’s a fantastic, addicting, fun-focused game. Super Mario 3D Land, like the handheld games and console games before it, focuses solely on making the gameplay as engaging and entertaining as possible, whilst polishing the graphical, sonical and mechanical presentations to an insane level. This is the game you been have waiting for on the 3DS and it just so happens, we have gotten one of the best Mario games ever made. You should go buy this right now.