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Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) artwork

Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) review

"Super Mario 3D Land is clearly ready to have a love affair with your nostalgic side. You can make a game out of recognizing musical compositions, enemies and even platform types that you recall from elsewhere. Given the raccoon tail, the airships, the mushroom houses and a variety of other returning elements, itís clear from the start that Super Mario Bros. 3 was the development teamís primary source of inspiration."

Hereís a shocker: one day, Bowser kidnapped Princess Toadstool. He took his dainty captive to his castle and then he dispatched his minions to make sure that no mustached heroes would mount a rescue attempt. Thatís the extent of the plot in Super Mario 3D Land. The simple and familiar story works yet again, though, because itís not like anyone was looking for narrative excellence. What gamers really want--and what this newest title delivers so effortlessly--is the sort of gameplay magic that made everyone think so highly of Italian plumbers the first time the tale unfolded.

As Mario, youíll journey through eight worlds in search of the blond-haired heroine and the delights that await discovery along the way. None of the regions feature any unifying elements of note. The fifth world doesnít consist almost entirely of high-altitude challenges, for example, and you wonít run through a string of chocolate environments. The lack of thematic connections between stages is mildly disappointing after the interesting zones that players saw in the likes of Super Mario World and even New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but itís not really a big deal. Besides, the developers made up for the potential shortcoming by providing models of each stage that youíre about to enter. Such visual cues are helpful if you decide to revisit a favorite stage but donít automatically associate your old stomping grounds with an arbitrary number.

Super Mario 3D Land asset

While advancing through each world, youíll sometimes take a helpful break by visiting a mushroom house or a bonus box where you can claim extra lives, star coins or power-ups. These brief respites are a one-time deal, and since you can only carry one extra item at a time (as in Super Mario World), youíll want to delay entering Toadís house until you actually need his assistance. You can tap along the top of the bottom screen to revisit a world youíve already cleared, in case you need to stock up on extra lives (though that isnít likely to prove necessary until late in the proceedings). If you enable StreetPass and find a trading partner, you can also share conquered bonus stages with friends who may not be as excellent as you.

At the end of each world, youíll sometimes enter a dark and mysterious castle to do battle with Bowser. More often, youíll face his offspring after navigating one of several flying airship stages that all feel as if they could have been ripped directly out of Super Mario Bros. 3. Thereís no king in animal form waiting for you to zap him back to health by retrieving a magical wand, but the process still feels pleasingly familiar.

Super Mario 3D Land is clearly ready to have a love affair with your nostalgic side. You can make a game out of recognizing musical compositions, enemies and even platform types that you recall from elsewhere. Given the raccoon tail, the airships, the mushroom houses and a variety of other returning elements, itís clear from the start that Super Mario Bros. 3 was the development teamís primary source of inspiration. Yet there are the flagpoles and underground areas and brick castles from the original Super Mario Bros. and there are the massive spiked columns and oversized Bullet Bill enemies that didnít make a first appearance until Super Mario World, as well. Then there are varieties of Thwomp enemies that held out for Super Mario 64, and there are numerous surprises that canít be described without spoiling one thing or another.

Super Mario 3D Land asset

Somehow, despite the fact that the game features elements from a number of distinct games spanning nearly three decades, everything fits. Past successes are plundered only as appropriate. Youíll want to explore every nook and cranny of the Mushroom Kingdom on this particular visit, just so you can see how everything works in three dimensions. The game effectively encourages such behavior by providing plenty of special star coins to collect. At key points throughout your adventure, youíll need to have obtained a certain number of the trinkets before you can proceed through a given barrier. Each proper stage features three such coins. Some lie directly in harmís way and youíll perhaps choose to come back for them later. Others can be found only when you slow down and look around for a bit, reminding you yet again that itís okay to relax.

In an effort to make a substantial experience available to everyone, the game provides multiple routes to nearly every goal flag. The developers did a nice job of rewarding the player who takes more risks, but thereís often an easier way around the more challenging gauntlets. In addition, players who have too much trouble (five deaths in the same stage ought to do the trick) will eventually prompt a magic block to appear. That block yields a glowing leaf that grants invincibility for the remainder of the current level. You donít have to grab it if you donít want to, of course. Real satisfaction comes only when you triumph over each obstacle using only the more standard special abilities.

There are three such abilities that you can find on your way to the showdown with Bowser at the end of the eighth world, if you exclude the short-lived invincibility star that appears in some stages and the blocks that you can carry to perform spinning jumps that carry you skyward. Mario can snag a fire flower that enables him to toss fireballs, or he can pick up the boomerang brother suit or the leaf. The developers robbed the raccoon tail of its flying ability, which perhaps ought to be disappointing, but the stages are built in such a way that the new limitation doesnít matter. Thereís no reason to fly if thereís nothing overhead but blue sky, after all, and the areas that youíll explore still deliver plenty of altitude-based challenges when theyíre needed.

Super Mario 3D Land asset

Super Mario 3D Landís worst offense winds up being its control scheme. If youíve played the classic NES titles for too many years, some habits die hard and Mario will pay the price. Specifically, it is difficult to build up the speed that is required to make some long jumps, and faltering mid-air while attempting some jumps will lead straight into a bottomless pit. Thatís not an issue that will prevent you from reaching the closing credits, but cheap deaths do happen just the same (particularly if you take it upon yourself to find every last star coin, or if you try to clear the substantial and extremely demanding post-game content). Deaths can also feel extra cheap in those few rare cases where the camera obscures the path forward. Fortunately, such instances are rare and the game as a whole is polished enough that itís easy to forgive the occasional misstep.

When Nintendo initially launched the 3DS hardware, the system didnít feature must-have content even for the companyís most loyal fans. It took some time, but Super Mario 3D Land has changed that condition. Marioís newest handheld romp features exemplary gameplay that nails all the right adjectives: robust, engaging, charming and challenging. It will surely leave most gamers hoping that Bowser stages a few more abductions in the near future.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 09, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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If you enjoyed this Super Mario 3D Land review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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joseph_valencia posted November 09, 2011:

I like the new rating slider.
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Suskie posted November 09, 2011:

What he said.
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Roto13 posted November 09, 2011:

From now on I'm not even going to think of a number when reviewing a game, just whether it's "Excellent" or "Very good" or "Needs work."

Also there's a review here, which I will read after I actually play the game. I'm on a blackout.
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overdrive posted November 09, 2011:

That slider is pretty sweet. It'll tell people exactly HOW BAD I think games are. Which clears up misconceptions like a certain demo of people thinking a number like, oh I don't know, FOUR means unplayable crap worth no one's time.
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honestgamer posted November 09, 2011:

The purpose of the slider is to tell people at a glance how much we did or did not like a game. Numerical scores will never be perfect and of course we'd all prefer that readers get context from the body of our reviews, but this at least makes it easy to tell that a 5 on this site is not "way below average" or whatever.

In the past, people would have to click through to the page that broke down scores in order to get that info, so this saves people from having to click (I don't think most people ever clicked, anyway). It also eliminates the more verbose score descriptions, which people would sometimes attributed to the writer of an individual review even though it was actually just the site's default description. Also, the new slider makes it clear that if we give a game a 3 or a 4 or whatever, that's out of 10, not out of 4 or 5.

Basically, the new system allowed me to make every change I've wanted to make for some time now, in a convenient and easy-to-read format that doesn't require a disastrous change in how we score games on the site. Ambiguity is gone and now readers can't blame us if they fail to understand what a given score means on the site. I'm happy with the new slider and I'm glad that (at least so far) others are too.

By the way, I think this review might hold the record for most posts in a feedback thread that don't actually leave any feedback on the associated review.
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jerec posted November 09, 2011:

Nice review.

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JonDavila posted November 09, 2011:

Let me jump on the bandwagon and say that I'm a fan of the new review slider. Also, can't wait to pick this up.
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Suskie posted November 10, 2011:

I just realized the big downside to this: Now all of the "score captions" we've written have been lost. Some of mine were pretty good, too.
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yamishuryou posted November 10, 2011:

I didn't even realise this game was coming out in a few days.

And Nintendo actually sent you an advance copy? I'll admit I've been out of the loop for years but they didn't for you last time I chatted with you.

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