Nintendo 3DS owners having been begging for a 3D Mario title since the handheld first launched back in March of this year, and Nintendo has finally answered their prayers in the form of Super Mario 3D Land. Nintendo is aiming to end the less than stellar drought that has been plaguing the portable system since launch, and Super Mario 3D Land will more than quench the thirst of handheld enthusiasts.
There are a few faults that may frustrate players but, at the end of the day, this game is the reason why people bought their 3DS, and it should be owned by everyone with the portable.
Super Mario 3D Land throws the all-to-familiar plumber into a new environment that is fine tuned to accommodate the Nintendo 3DS' glasses-less 3D abilities. The graphics in this game are easily the best found on the 3DS to date, and fans won't be disappointed by the use of 3D either. Unlike many other games, 3D actually serves a purpose and is essential for certain areas in the world. The game actually goes out of its way to troll players who are playing through the game with the 3D turned off, and having it on makes every leap from platform to platform much easier. Super Mario 3D Land is the first game on this handheld that uses the third dimension in a way that it doesn't feel like a gimmick, and that's a massive accomplishment.
There are initially eight worlds that Mario is tasked with going through to, once again, rescue Princess Peach. There are plenty of familiar faces, both friend and foe, and more importantly one returning power-up in particular that newcomers and loyalists will enjoy. Mario faithfuls will also be delighted when they learn that the goal pole has been returned to its rightful place at the end of each level — effectively replacing the star at the end — as well as the infamous Airship levels that were notorious for their challenging difficulty. The Mushroom Kingdom feels more familiar in Super Mario 3D Land then it ever has before, and that's in large part because of the nods to the series' past.
Power-ups have always been an important part of Mario games, and Super Mario 3D Land is no exception. The classic Tanooki suit makes its triumphant return to the gaming scene with a few alterations. The suit has been modified - this time allowing players to briefly hover and slow their decent after a jump and that serves a huge purpose when trying to navigate different platforms. Other power-ups include the propeller box, Boomerang Plant, and Fire Flower, and each serves a purpose that can be especially helpful — and occasionally crucial — in completing certain obstacles. The power-ups are great and all, but there isn't much variety, and after a while the powers they bestow upon Mario can become a little stale.
The one thing that is instantly noticeable after playing through a few worlds is that the levels are extremely short, and can actually be completed within four or five minutes. These aren't massive worlds like those found in past games like Mario Galaxy, but instead are nice little bite-sized pieces that are perfect for anyone who just wants to pick up and play some Mario. It's easy to think that smaller worlds are a bad thing, but Nintendo has designed each of the worlds, and the levels that fill them, to be extremely fun and rewarding. Don't worry, this title provides gamers with countless hours of content, but we'll get into that in a bit.
Super Mario 3D Land will lure players into a false sense of confidence by making a majority of the first levels easy to complete and traverse through, and then it slowly (but surely) begins to turn up the proverbial heat. Some of the later levels will have players loudly cursing at their handheld in an attempt to scare it into submission after several deaths. If you reach a point where you're not able to complete a certain level then the game will grant you power-ups to help get frustrated players over some difficult humps. Five deaths will grant players a Tanooki suit that will make them completely immune to enemy attacks, and if they still can't manage to get the job done then after 10 deaths players will receive the fabled P-Wing and it will teleport them to the end of the level. These special power-ups are completely optional however, so those who are enjoying the challenge don't have to use them.
The best part of Super Mario 3D Land isn't in the first eight worlds, as many will likely assume. The real challenge begins after completing World 8 and defeating Bowser for, what many believe to be, the final time. I was a little disappointed after beating Bowser because I thought I had completed the game in a short amount of time, but after the credits rolled I learned just how mistaken I actually was. Another eight worlds immediately unlocked, and I was given access to a modified Tanooki suit with a bandana (which allowed Mario to change to stone) and after a short while I also earned the ability to play as Luigi.
Each of the levels that appear after completion of the initial game take place in previous levels, but occasionally players are tasked with different challenges. There's a shadow race where Mario will have to race against his evil doppleganger Shadow Mario, and a 'Time Challenge' mode where players will have to scurry across a level's terrain in search of more clocks to increase what little time they often have left. When a level pops up that isn't a time challenge or shadow race then it will be a redesigned area for Mario to jump around - one that players have yet to experience.
Super Mario 3D Land is one of those pickup-and-play games that fans of the series and newcomers alike won't be able to put down. There is a ton of content that will keep players preoccupied for hours on end, thanks to the difficulty of later levels and compulsive need to collect all of the star badges that are hidden within each level. The game isn't without flaws though, as making certain jumps can be a little difficult at times when it's hard to judge the depth on some platforms, and the lack of additional power-ups is also noticeable. However, our mustachio'd friend is in some of the finest form ever on the Nintendo 3DS, and Super Mario 3D Land is a must-own game for Nintendo fans.
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Super Mario 3D Land is out now for the Nintendo 3DS.