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Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) artwork

Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) review

"Where I revisit the past through the present...or some such pretentious-sounding statement."

Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) image

After not having played a Mario game since the days of the SNES due to not having owned a Nintendo product since that era, I figured that after buying a 3DS late last year, it was high time I jumped back on that horse with Super Mario 3D Land. In a lot of ways, this was the perfect title to get back into the swing of things, as despite new-fangled things such as its use of the handheld system's 3D technology, it definitely was designed as a throwback to the classic games I played in my youth.

You have the standby "excuse plot" of Mario leaping into action because Bowser kidnapped his favorite princess yet again; each of the many levels, which tend to be fairly linear, are timed; you complete each one by leaping onto a flagpole placed at the end and each of the game's many worlds culminates with you either trekking through one of Bowser's castles or an underling's airship. Also, a lot of the power-ups were very familiar to me, such as the fire flower and magic leaf that magically turns you into a raccoon with limited flying ability. It was quite the nostalgia trip.

Well, except for the whole "3D" part. Yeah, I don't remember the NES pulling that off in Super Mario Bros. 3. This was one of those things that had me a bit skeptical coming into this game -- primarily due to my general distrust of any gaming-related concept that I regard as some sort of gimmick. However, while I don't know that I'd call the implementation of the 3D as perfect, it was handled well enough that it added to my overall enjoyment of 3D Land. The only real issue I had was simply that I'd have to maintain a steady gaze at the screen, or risk having my view of the game distorted a bit until I regained my "comfort zone", but that was a relatively minor problem that didn't diminish my enjoyment.

The controls occasionally made more of a threat to that. As someone who grew to love the old NES and SNES control pads, I found the analog control of the circle pad to be a bit more loose, which made some of the more intense platforming sections a little trickier -- especially when the layout of the level necessitated a switch in camera angle or two. Still, considering the amount of Luddite mistrust I had building up in me coming into this game, I have to say that things were executed well. It might not have been the "rose-colored glasses" perfection I remember from my youth, but 3D Land still satisfied…in more ways than I was expecting.

You see, when I bought this game (and the 3DS, for that matter), my goal was simply to revisit some of my old favorites in their newer, modern incarnations. I wasn't expecting to be inspired to enter Rob the Inebriated Philosopher mode and come up with whatever passes for deep thinking in my decimated brain. But then it came to me: This is the spiritual successor to the NES' Kirby's Adventure that I've been trying to find for a long, long time.

Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) image

Yeah, I know, Mario and Kirby are two very different characters and there are many differences between this game and Kirby's Adventure, but they both gave me similar vibes. One of the neatest things about that NES offering was how it really ran with its setting in a land of dreams. There were plenty of varied locations and you'd switch from one to another with regularity -- especially as the game progressed and levels got more complex. 3D Land lives by that same rule. Each world has its own theme, as represented by the background graphics on the map screen. That theme, though, doesn't necessarily have much to do with the levels in each world. Just look at, for just one example, the third world of the game.

To all appearances, you'd think you'd be doing a cluster of water-themed stages, as the map screen is blue in texture with what appears to be a body of water in the background. Well, one of six stages here does involve water. The rest are, in order, a desert fortress, a high-altitude platforming level, a snow course, an auto-scrolling stage with a lot of platforms that look like graham crackers and, finally, an airship. There rarely is any consistency from level to level and I love it! Each stage is a new experience with new visuals and new challenges (at least for a long while), which appeals more to the creative side of my mind than having clusters of levels based around a common theme. Heck, you even get to enjoy mini-games (which recharge on a daily basis) scattered throughout the worlds, where you handle minor challenges inside giant boxes for various rewards.

Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) image

Adding to the "Mario = Kirby?" feelings I had was this game's general (lack of) difficulty, which might come as a shock to players such as myself, who remember just how tough those old Mario games could be. Simply put -- there are eight worlds and after they are beaten, eight more are unlocked and it wasn't until the final of those original eight when I found my skills truly tested. After the game did finally decide to take off the kid gloves, it definitely started feeling a lot more like vintage Mario than Kirby, but until that point, it was pure easy-going fun to advance from level to level, with only a few moments feeling like an actual challenge that must be overcome.

And most of those moments came as a result of me trying to snare the three star coins hidden in each level. You need to collect a certain number of these in order to access more advanced locations in the game, with them not unlocking until you've obtained the necessary amount. Sometimes, they can be found simply by going off the beaten path a bit, but other times, you need to exercise a good bit more skill than you would in simply getting to the level's end. And since, the farther you get into the game, the more coins you need to access advanced levels, it generally pays to develop those skills -- especially since they'll be a necessity later in the game.

For most of those first eight worlds, all you need to cruise to the flag pole is the right power-up. If a level looks to mainly be on solid ground, possessing either the fire flower or boomerang makes them child's play as you'll be able to mow down most, if not all, foes with ease. If the main challenge is that you'll be expected to make lots of mid-air jumps while contending with platforms that pull all sorts of tricks such as collapsing when you land on them, you'll want the leaf, as the limited flight ability it bestows allows you much more room for error, turning what could be a frantic series of leaps into a something much simpler and more relaxed.

But if you're looking for a challenge, just wait until you've accessed the Special Worlds. While some of the originality falls by the wayside, as many levels are tougher versions of things you've seen before with new challenges built in, those new challenges make it a lot tougher to reach that flagpole, with additional (and tougher) enemies, obscene time limits where your only hope is to diligently collect clocks to give you more seconds and the occasional Cosmic Clone mirroring your movements in an attempt to catch up to (and damage) you -- all making the second half of 3D Land a far greater challenge to progress through.

Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) image

All of which leads to this game hitting all the right notes to be a worthy Mario game while possessing a level of accessibility where a novice player can advance far further than one might expect. While there are a few annoyances revolving around the game's control, they never really progressed beyond being minor annoyances because it's so easy to build up a sizable cache of extra lives that inadvertently blundering through a few of them can't even be considered an actual setback. For me, at least, aside from those minor qualms, this is an excellent game -- both bringing me back into the world of Mario and surprising me by allowing me to revisit some of my fonder memories from a completely different series.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 13, 2014)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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pickhut posted June 14, 2014:

I definitely wasn't expecting a comparison to Kirby's Adventure when reading this! The way you describe how there isn't any true consistency with the theme kinda makes me want to try this out more now. I've also had trouble picking a "traditional" Mario game to jump back into series, since the last Mario game I recall playing from start to finish was Super Mario 64, and the last Mario game I tried playing was Galaxy 1.

Good, informative review! Though, I guess if I were to be nitpicky, I didn't actually grasp how the 3D works in this game from what you explained. Is it implemented into the gameplay, or is is just for show?
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overdrive posted June 14, 2014:

Kind of a combination. Hard to put into words, but it's a lot for show (more effectively than, say Shin Megami Tensai IV, where I turn off the 3D since all it does is bother my eyes a bit), but it is integrated into the gameplay. There are a couple rooms you access via pipe where you kind of need the 3D to see how to get to the top and the added depth it provides does seem to be integrated into things. I guess the best way to describe it would be that the 3D isn't completely necessary, but it does add to the experience.
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pickhut posted June 14, 2014:

Ah, I see. Thanks!

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