Super Mario 3D Land starts with a huge explosion. Bloodied and injured, Mario hides behind cover as bullets ricochet around him. He has one clip left, but at least 50 enemies to deal with. Locked and loaded he heads out for one final charge…
As you can tell, I’m being facetious, trying to spice up the fact that once again we see Princess Peach whisked away by that pesky Bowser. He seriously needs a new hobby and she really needs to take up some form of self-defence. Krav Maga, perhaps. Nintendo, if nothing else, know how to keep up continuity.[drop2]However, having a whinge about the story is almost irrelevant as it’s not what fans of the franchise will be buying Super Mario 3D Land for, instead forgoing any plot repetition for tight level design and a wealth of content. And, as you’d expect from a flagship title, it’s here where the game shines.
Rather pleasingly, Super Mario 3D Land is almost entirely fan-service. As well as the return of the much-hyped Tanooki Suit, players will spot the end of level flags from the NES games, Star Coins from New Super Mario Bros., Toad’s item houses, propeller boxes, retro flashbacks, musical note boxes, nods to Zelda and much more.
Luckily, rather than try and rely on nostalgia to win people over, Nintendo has taken all of these things and crafted one of the finest platform games ever made.
In reference to older Mario games, Super Mario 3D Land consists of eight worlds with between five and six levels in each. Every level contains three Star Coins, which will either be hidden or placed somewhere annoyingly inconvenient, and these are key to progression. Acting almost like currency, some levels are blocked off until you have the required number of Star Coins.
Luckily searching for these Star Coins is a wonderful experience, due to the nature of the level design – one simply cannot fault the flair on display for the majority of the game. There is literally no filler, and it seems that every ounce of a level has been used, with what appears to be dead spaces opening out into secret areas, teasing you to explore further all the time.
Mario also controls extremely well thanks to the Circle Pad, although he seems to have lost a bit of the athleticism he picked up during the Galaxy games as his Spin Jump has been removed. His default walk is now also more of a slow plod, which is very reminiscent of the original Super Mario Bros. Expect to be holding down the ‘run’ button for most of the adventure.
In terms of power-ups, Nintendo has had a bit of a cull, leaving but a few of the fan favourites. Of course, the Mushroom has made the cut, along with the Fire Flower, and we are also introduced to the Boomerang Suit which, as you may have guessed, allows you to toss boomerangs to either take out an enemy or collect an item. The star of the show though is the Tanooki Suit, which will definitely become a familiar sight during your play through.
Not only does the Tanooki Suit allow you to slow down and control a jump, but the tail can be used to knock out an enemy as well as uncover a few hidden areas that are simply unreachable with any other power-up.
There are also a couple of hidden items which only occur after a number of deaths. If you die several times in a row on the same level a special suit will appear, and if you equip it you won’t take any hit damage, although you can still fall to your death. If you die even more then the infamous ‘P’ will appear, which will take you to the end of the level.
It’s a nice touch for younger and less skilled players, meaning that the end of the game will never be off limits to anyone.[drop]My only real concern with Super Mario 3D Land is that the first few hours are relatively easy for franchise veterans. In fact, by the end of World 8 I had over 100 lives and had died only a couple of times. That’s not the end of the story though, as once you’re finished with the last level the Special Worlds unlock. These worlds take the shell of a normal level, and then stuff it full of new challenges and parameters.
They get much tougher, with Worlds 6-8 getting particularly tricky. Just one level alone saw me lose 23 lives as I tried to collect all three Star Coins. There is also the introduction of a certain green-suited plumber as a playable character.
If you do manage to finish off the Special Worlds then there is the added challenge of trying to ‘five star’ your save file. Let me explain: if you complete certain actions during the game a star will appear next to the picture of your Mii in the save file. I’ve yet to 100% pin down what all five challenges are (I have completed two), but from what I hear it will take some doing.
Graphically, and this is something that’s hard to convey using screenshots, the game looks fantastic and is probably the best looking 3DS game to date. As you would expect, levels are bright and varied, with each one markedly different from the last.
There’s some clever trickery going on with the 3D here that most third parties don’t seem to get, and the sense of depth flicks between surprisingly subtle and vertigo inducing during some of the bigger jumps. The option to switch from ‘pop-out’ 3D to ‘window box’ 3D via the d-pad is a nice gesture, too, and it’s a 3DS game that you can happily play on full strength.
In terms of audio, again it’s a treat for Nintendo fans. From original tracks, to remixed versions of familiar oldies, you’ll be happily humming along and tapping your fingers. Throwbacks to 8-bit era Nintendo are particularly welcome, the game swiftly changing pace and mechanics throughout each section.
Super Mario 3D Land is hugely important for the 3DS. Having had a relatively barren launch window with only a few stand out titles, it’s like this title alone has brought the system to life. The difference in quality with this game over pretty much everything else is staggering, and it’s an utterly brilliant experience from start to finish.
- Flawless level design
- Special Worlds offer a tough challenge
- Plenty of replay value
- Looks and sounds great
- First part of the game will be a breeze for Mario veterans
Super Mario 3D Land is in no huge way the most innovative thing you’ll play. It won’t grip you with its story, and it certainly won’t convert those who have little to no interest in Mario games. What it will do, however, is delight fans with its combination of fantastically designed levels, tight controls and great visuals.
One of the best portable gaming experiences to date.