Super Mario 3D Land
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Release Date: 11/13/2011
A few years ago, I received a 3DS for my birthday. My entire family got together and decided that they liked me enough to spend whatever amount of money they spent on the system. Because they are a generous bunch, they even bought a game to go with the 3DS, that game being Super Mario 3D Land. I played it very diligently until Christmas, beating Bowser and even unlocking the special worlds. Then, I received The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and promptly forgot about Mario for a few years.
Lately, I started going through my backlog of games accumulated over the years to finish everything that I had started. Super Mario 3D Land (or SM3DL for short) was my latest pick, and I can finally say that I have unlocked everything within the game. At least I thought I did, but then I Googled the list of unlockables for the game right after writing the last sentence, and turns out there’s a final level I can find if I finish every other level in the game as both Mario AND Luigi, but that seems highly unnecessary at the moment. I mean, I liked SM3DL, but I’ll wait a few years before going through it all again.
Compared to other 3D Mario titles, SM3DL stands out for its linear level design, contrary to the open playgrounds found in Super Mario 64 and games of its ilk. While the first few level were awkward mostly due to the brand new 3D perspective, in typical Nintendo fashion, these only served to introduce the different mechanics to be used for the rest of the game. Of note for this title, I have found that it is actually useful to have the 3D slider all the way up, as the added perspective makes some of the jumps easier to accomplish. I did play some of the less tricky levels without the visual gimmick in order to relax my eyes, but overall I found SM3DL to be one of the better uses of 3D visuals on the system. Even without the use of the 3D effects, the game remains very good in the visual department. While it is unspectacular with its backgrounds, everything that makes it on screen is crisp and clean as well as colourful.
Most 3D Mario games ask you to accomplish different objectives in order to acquire stars, or shines, or whatever else the plumber happens to be collecting at the time. SM3DL instead takes the gameplay of classic Mario side-scrollers and applies it to the 3D world. This means that every level has a flag pole that Mario needs to reach in order to complete it, and that finishing a stage can be accomplished without exploring every nook and cranny. However, because Nintendo put a lot of thought in the level design and they really want you to take your time and see everything that their world has to offer, they packed three star coins in hard to reach areas of every level. These coins will allow you to unlock a bunch of other, more difficult levels later in the game. If you really want to see everything the game has to offer, you will need to collect each and every one of them, but these bonus levels unlocked by special coins have been a staple of the series since at least New Super Mario Bros., so it should not come as a surprise.
What does come as a surprise is the sheer difficulty of some of these special levels. Most stages in the first 8 world will throw one obstacle at you at a time, be it a bunch of tricky platforms, an annoying shadow Mario running after you like a murdering maniac, or a shortened time limit to really get your blood going. The special levels however don’t hold back. The craziest of them can even throw a 30-second time limit with your evil doppelganger running after you at the same time, while you are busy navigating collapsing bridges and platforms that can barely fit Mario’s rotund shape over a pool of lava. Some of these stages are actually, truly maddening. Expect to lose up to 20 lives for some. The good news is that the game gives you many opportunities to acquires 1-ups. On top of the usual 100 coins requirement, you can get more live from jumping at the top of the flagpoles, from Toad houses, and even from street-passing people who have played the game. It helps to keep the game tough without making it frustrating, although some of the time-sensitive levels were getting very close that when it came to collecting the star coins while respecting the limit.
The powerups helped to keep me sane while I was finishing this game. The usual suspects, such as the fire flower and the starman are back. Tanooki Mario also makes a comeback along with its floating powers, and while I never understood how a raccoon can slow its fall by wagging its tail, I am still thankful for the many times that it saved my life during difficult jumps. The boomerang suit makes an appearance here, and while it looks pretty cool, I can only think of it as a crappier version of the fire flower. The fire suit lets you shoot many fireballs at a time, while you have to wait for the boomerang to come back to you before you can throw it again. An interesting addition, but not as inspired as some of the newer power-ups introduced to the Mario universe, such as the bee suit or the helicopter hat.
Yes, I have a ranking for the different costumes Mario has worn over the years, and I take it very seriously.
After playing for a while, Luigi appears in the game, and it is one of the few times where his character handles differently from his brother’s. Instead of being a simple palette swap, Luigi jumps a bit higher than Mario, but is slightly more difficult to handle on the landings. He does appear to run a bit slower than Mario, although that could just be my imagination due to the constant skidding animation when he takes off. It’s not a huge difference, but some levels do change in difficulty depending on which character you select. Thankfully, whatever power-ups you have acquired will transfer to the other character should you decide to switch after a level.
The boss levels offer a much better challenge than what I have come to expect from Mario games. This time around, the confrontations with the King of Koopas take the form of obstacle courses that combine tough platforming with a barrage of fireballs by Bowser. Compare that with the usual “hit 3 times with an object” or “run past the monster and hit the axe” boss levels of previous games, and it is a welcome change of pace.
On the audio side, the soundtrack is as catchy as ever. While it will not become an instant classic in the same way that Super Mario Galaxy did, there are certainly a few tunes that I kept humming for a solid 24 hours after I was done. That’s pretty good, in my book. My selection of ear worms usually changes at a very brisk pace, though it seems to default to “Tubthumping” quite too often if you ask me.
Finally, I would talk about the story, but it’s a Mario game. Bowser kidnaps Peach. I’m not even sure they give a reason why. Is it to marry her? Is it to take over Mushroom Kingdom? Is it simply that time is a flat circle and Bowser is condemned to eternally do the same thing over and over and never learn from his mistakes? I don’t really care, and if you have been interested in any Mario games in the last 30 years (not including the RPG spinoffs), then you probably don’t care either. Even the games that did try to give a better storyline, Super Mario Galaxy for example, were still about Bowser kidnapping Peach, only with a bit of window dressing. Sure, it was spectacular window dressing with the story book and the beautiful illustrations, but the basis was still the same. SM3DL does not even bother with this kind of flashy explanation, and we are thus left with the usual story, which thankfully has absolutely no effect on the gameplay.
Short Attention Span Summary
Honestly, if you are willing to unlock everything, you’ll get close to 20 hours of gameplay out of this one. That’s a pretty solid bang for your buck when it comes to platform games. The level design is interesting enough to keep you involved, and the challenge is good enough to make the whole experience rewarding. While I wouldn’t place this game anywhere near the top 5 of the Mario series, it is still a high-quality outing that is worth every minute you will invest in it.