3DS owners, your days of buyer remorse are now over! Months of owning Nintendo's newest handheld with little to show for it have now come to an end. Nintendo has finally graced the 3DS with a killer app in Super Mario 3D Land. Mario has traditionally been the flagship series for Nintendo, and Super Mario 3D Land is, thankfully, no exception to that tradition.
Princess Peach has gotten herself kidnapped once again. You would think that the Mushroom Kingdom would hire top of the line bodyguards for her, but apparently, that is not in the budget. So it's once again time for Mario to save her from Bowser's evil clutches. As you go through the game, Bowser will send you pictures of his nefarious deeds and of the princess in danger, all in pop out 3D style. What a guy!
Super Mario 3D Land is played from both 2D and 3D perspectives. It bridges the gap between the 2D and 3D Mario series and does it well. Transitions between the two are seamless and will never leave you wrought with confusion when they occur. In addition to Mario's basic jump, he also carries over moves from his 3D adventures such as the ground pound, crouch jump, and backwards flip. The game plays like a 2D Mario re-imagined to fit a 3D world and like many Mario titles before it, handles the change with aplomb.
That three-dimensional screen on top of the 3DS has been underutilized by developers ever since the 3DS released. It has lead many players to declare it a gimmick, unnecessary for playing games on the handheld. Super Mario 3D Land shows the world how to use that 3D screen to dramatically improve the experience. Throughout the game are nooks and crannies hiding secrets. These are often easier to see in 3D, as the 3D effect adds more depth to what you are viewing. Jumping across ledges and platforms becomes more intuitive. It's easier to fall down to lower platforms as objects in the sky whizz on by. There are even puzzles that are optical illusions in 2D that become easy to see in 3D (such as blocks that are suspended in the air but appear to be part of a staircase). Super Mario 3D Land is the first 3DS game where turning off the 3D effect does a disservice to the game itself. It can still be played without it, and it will still be great, but the 3D really makes the experience stand out among the rest of the 3DS library.
Levels in Super Mario 3D Land borrow from the concepts of Mario games past. There are ghost houses, airships, underwater exploration, rotating blocks, and even platforms that appear according to musical cues. Although many atmospheres are lifted from past titles, the levels are all new and designed impeccably. They are all fun to traverse, and never does a level feel unfair or impossible to beat. Each level contains three star coins, many of which are placed in difficult to reach locations that will challenge the Mario expert. There are eight worlds in the game, with about six levels in each plus boss battles. But that's not all! After the final credits roll, several new worlds will be unlocked. These special levels up the difficulty further and will give the experienced Mario gamer the challenge they desire if the main game proves too easy for them.
Anyone who has seen any promotional material for Super Mario 3D Land knows that the Tanooki Suit from Super Mario Bros. 3 fame makes its long-awaited return to the series. It does not have full flight or the ability to turn into a stone statue, but does slow Mario's fall and allows you to make longer jumps. The enemies even get into the act; many of them sport tanooki tails and can float in the air briefly. (You have never seen crazy until you see a floating, tanooki-tailed Thwomp.) Boomerang Mario is another new power-up to the series, granting the power to throw boomerangs at enemies, as well as at items, making them return to you. Propeller Blocks will let Mario fly straight into the air like a rocket, and the traditional fire flower also appears, because a Mario game without Fire Mario just feels disappointing.
Nintendo has been known to add a "Super Guide" system in recent years to help struggling gamers. Super Mario 3D Land offers an Invincible Tanooki Suit to players who die repeatedly. If they still have trouble, a P-Wing becomes available, which lets the player fly up as high as they'd like. Using the items is entirely optional, but allows the player to skip through a level they can't win on their own.
Super Mario 3D Land boasts a soundtrack of old remixes and new themes. There is a main theme for the title that will play in multiple levels, similarly to the main theme of previous titles such as New Super Mario Bros.. That theme is happy, peppy, and matches the levels perfectly. Older songs remixed in the game include Bowser's Castle, Airship theme, the Ghost House, and even the original Super Mario Bros. theme. Each tune is used with the proper level context and breathes more atmosphere into the experience. You get addicted to Super Mario 3D Land, not just because of how it plays and looks, but how it sounds as well.
StreetPass functionality is included in the form of Mystery Boxes. These boxes will have coins, power ups, enemies, and more. Passing by other players will add new Mystery Boxes or power-ups. The feature is entirely optional, but does just enough to make the StreetPass interesting, as opposed to a tacked-on novelty.
If you're just going to beat every level in the main story once, Super Mario 3D Land can be beaten in just a few quick hours. But tack on the Star Coin challenges and the multiple new Special Worlds following the final boss, and you add another 10-15 hours of gameplay; par for the course in recent Mario titles. The boss battles are a bit easy, but that's what we've come to expect from the Mario series. They hearken back on boss battles of the past, but because of that, I felt like I had been there, done that. More brand new bosses would have been nice.
They say good things come to those who wait. For those who anxiously awaited Mario to set foot on the 3DS, the reward is another fantastic entry to the proud Mario series. Super Mario 3D Land shows that after all these years, Mario still has the magic touch, and this enjoyable little romp is a great showcase for what the 3DS can really do. It is a must-own for any 3DS owner, any platforming fan, and anyone who enjoys fun.