Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D Land
Super Mario 3D Land Cover
Platforms Nintendo 3DS
Genre Tanooki tails for everybody
MtAMinutes to Action 1
Keep Playing? Sure
Buy from Amazon

Nintendo likes to think that the Mario series is a good gateway into this hobby. To its credit, the original Super Mario Bros alone is responsible for millions of current video game enthusiasts (myself included). Even today, I've witnessed the welcoming effect that games like New Super Mario Bros and casual-friendly spinoffs like Mario Party have on those who rarely touch games.

There's one segment of Mario's work that is an exception, far out of beginners' reach: Super Mario 64 and its successors in the same 3D platforming vein are not for newbies. I thought otherwise before I observed a friend floundering through the opening stage of Super Mario Galaxy for nearly an hour, steaming with frustration all the way. He can wind his way around a Mario Kart course. He outwitted GLaDOS at his own slow, careful pace. He even made admirable progress in Ninja Gaiden Sigma (on easy mode, yes, but Ninja Gaiden all the same). And yet, Mario's least-demanding 3D outing was far too much for him.

Nintendo sees this and offers Super Mario 3D Land. Borrowing aesthetics and rules from the NES games that birthed millions of today's gamers, the first Mario game for Nintendo's 3DS aims to nosedive the barrier of entry. That's a tall task in and of itself, but I'm more concerned that all this catering to beginners will diminish the things I love about 3D Mario: 64's complex and joyful movements, Sunshine's sprawling, layered environments, and Galaxy's inventive scenarios. Novices can work their way up to 3D Mario like I did, so don't deprive me of the next Super Mario 64 for their sake! What can I say? I'm selfish.

But Nintendo has earned my faith when it comes to Mario, so I start the game wary but eager.


Minute by Minute

00 - A strong storm blows...the tanooki tree leaves are all blown away! Oh, also there's an envelope. Inside, a picture of Peach being kidnapped. Yep.

01 - World 1-1. Pretty standard grass land starting stage. There's a river here with coins hopping up into the foreground, works well with the 3D effect.

02 -  Got a tanooki leaf! I can tail whip and slow fall and everything! (Oh, except fly, can't do that). There's a Star Medal in the foreground, looks like there's three in each stage a la New Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario 3d Land one

03 - Found a checkpoint flag, also from New Super Mario Bros. I collect an extra tanooki leaf, which can be activated by hitting the touch screen.

04 - I tail-whipped a tanooki goomba and got another tanooki leaf. I wish tanooki suits were this plentiful in Mario 3...

05 - And there's a bouncy music block! 3D Land is really working the SMB3 references hard here. There's a giant tanooki goomba here, but it's hardly any tougher than its tiny pals.

06 - I've noticed that several of the special jumps from 3D Mario games are back, but they don't appear to have any advantage over the regular jump. The backflip, sideflip, and long jump all seem inferior to the standard jump.

07 - Oh, there's a run button! Why is there a run button when the point of an analog stick is analog movement? Oh well, I take a running jump and hit the top of the end flagpole for a 1-up.

08 - World 1-2. Appropriately, it's an indoors underground level. In 3D, it almost looks like a diorama. There are actually two 3D modes, one of which is hyper-exaggerated. I can't quite handle it, really...

09 - Black piranha plants spit oil at the camera, smearing black smudges on the screen that cover some of the action. Ooh, found a Fire Flower! The fireballs bounce off the floor and walls, they're just as powerful as they used to be.

Super Mario 3d Land two

10 - A totem pole of goombas stands in my way. I can easily bounce off of them all before landing. Mario floats a bit more in 3D Land than usual, making it easier to time those bounces.

11 - Found some invisible blocks, one of them has a Star in it. Ten seconds of hyperactive mass murder makes for a lot of progress.

12 - I take a pipe outside to the flagpole. Moving platforms help get me to the top for another 1-up.

13 - World 1-? "Welcome to the Mystery Box." Apparently, if I clear out this room of enemies before the timer runs out, I get a Star Medal. The only enemies here are cardboard standups of goombas. Well, that was effortless...Apparently you can anonymously send and receive these Mystery Boxes through the 3DS StreetPass feature.

14 - World 1-3. This is a rocky waterfall level. I actually start at a high altitude here and have to make my way down the mountain to the goal.

15 - I stomp a koopa and kick its shell off the cliff. I guess I can't pick it up and carry it around.

16 - There's actually two ways to go here. One is a more sudden drop through clouds, the other is a more gradual descent. I'll go with the former.

Super Mario 3d Land Three

17 - There's a Star Medal below, between some moving cloud platforms...Even with the 3D effect, it's a bit hard to tell exactly how far down it is.

18 - I make my way down the more treacherous path through the clouds and land atop the flagpole.

19 - World 1-4. This one requires three Star Medals to unlock. I have seven.

20 - This gimmick level has me moving a tram platform along rails. Standing on the front half moves the tram forward, standing near the back moves it backwards. Coins to collect and enemies to avoid float to and fro in front of the rails.

21 - This stage moves pretty fast, I'm already at the checkpoint.

22 - I have to move the next tram back and forth down successive rails to find a Star Medal. After a close call where the rails end, it's time for the next tram.

23 - I'm at the flagpole, with a small tram beforehand. I didn't hit the top this time! I'll never live down such shame...

Super Mario 3d Land House

24 - World 1-House. Another Mario 3 standby, it's a Toad House! There's only one present to pick from inside, and it's a Fire Flower. That's a little disappointing.

25 - World 1-Castle. Time for a Bowser stage already! Rotating fire, hopping flames, lava everywhere, a Dry Bones walking's a Bowser castle alright.

26 - There's a Hammer Bro blocking my path! He's not nearly as tough as the ones from the 2D games. Their 8-bit smiles still give me nightmares, but this one's a pushover.

27 - Checkpoint. A whomp blocks my way, but I jump atop it and find a secret path! There's three extra lives up wait, two of them were just cardboard. You raised and dashed my hopes in mere seconds, 3D Land.

28 - I can see the path to the end of the stage, but Bowser can see me as well. He shoots fireballs at me from the background as I make my way forward.

29 - And I'm face to face with tanooki Bowser! He spits fire and tries to tail-whip me. I run past him as he jumps and hit the switch, dropping the drawbridge from underneath him. Turns out he was just a Goomba with a Tanooki leaf, not the real Bowser.

30 - A Toad is inside the dungeon. I expect a line about a princess in another castle, but he says nothing. I take down the big Bowser flag and end the stage!

Super Mario 3d Land Bowser

My Thoughts

-Nintendo wasn't kidding about Super Mario 3D Land being 2D Mario in three dimensions. Copious references to Super Mario Bros. 3 are just the tip of the iceberg here. Mario's movement is quite similar to the NES classics, including a dedicated run button that I had to hold down through the entire half hour. The mushroom, fire flower, and leaf powerups work much as you'd imagine translated to 3D. Even the stage design is very linear compared to the other four 3D Mario games, and it even has a basic, blocky look.

- That said, there are some 3D elements that survive. Mario still has many of his signature abilities from Super Mario Galaxy, including a backflip, sideflip, and the long jump. Unfortunately, all of these tactics actually seem less useful than the standard jump in any situation. There's also a new rolling attack that I'm having some trouble pulling off. The occasional side-distractions inside each stage have a Super Mario Galaxy feel as well.

- There has been a surprising bit of stage variety so far. 1-1 was a standard athletic jaunt to the finish, 1-2 was a more restrained indoor romp, 1-3 had surprising verticality to it, 1-4 was a fully gimmick stage, and 1-Castle was of course full of fiery danger. For as formulaic and basic as the challenges seem, there's at least been a distinct theme to each stage.

- 3D Land is the game to show off the system's visuals. The 3D effect is pronounced, but not overwhelming (and it's very adjustable with both the 3D slider and two different 3D settings to switch between). In raw graphics, I would have a tough time discerning between screenshots of 3D Land and the Wii's Super Mario Galaxy. I think 3D Land's smaller scope requires less system resources, but it could definitely pass as a Wii game.

Would I keep playing? Sure. Super Mario 3D Land seems caught between 2D and 3D Mario so far, not quite leveraging the advantages of either to cater to seasoned Mario players, but I'm still only five levels into the game. I'm sure there will be some expert-level content soon enough.

In 3D? Yes. I'm not sure the effect is as helpful as Nintendo boasts, but it does add some visual punch to the rather sterile, angular style.

Super Mario 3d Land Art_0