Super Mario 3D Land Review (3DS)

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Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher: Nintendo

Main Review

Review Context: I have been a long fan of Mario games ever since I first played the ‘original’ Super Mario Bros. I have then followed the series from Super Mario World all the way to its more recent ventures in the Mario Galaxy duo of games.
Date of Playthrough: October 2016

Mario has been a household name all the way since the 1980s, and still is going strong even to today. Mario does sports, parties, go-karting, but none have been as popular as the platformers. Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy; the list goes on from both 2D and 3D platformers.  Super Mario 3D Land is yet another platforming Mario game in the ever-growing Nintendo franchise, yet it hopes to deliver an experience of a 3D Mario game, along with the format of the more traditional 2D Mario games. This is arguably the first time this was ever truly tried, as the New Super Mario Bros. focused more on a 2D experience with 3D models rather than the other way around. In a franchise filled with an ever-changing design model, will Super Mario 3D Land prove to be one of the more memorable experiences?

Mario has a very simple story and this time it is no exception. Bowser has captured Princess Peach and Mario must save her. What truly matters in a Mario platformer are the mechanics and how it differentiates itself from the others. Though as far as Mario platformers go, Super Mario 3D Land is pretty standard on the control scheme. The running mechanic is essential to completing stages and some of the items are essential to grabbing some of the collectibles. This necessity will often make for backtracking to multiple stages if you miss one of the star coins, but each stage in the first playthrough is generally easy and is quite brief, making for a relaxing and fun time. Each world has the same basic rundown; beat several stages and then defeat the boss at the end of the world.

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I have been said multiple times about a first playthrough, and that is because you technically play through the game twice. When you beat the game, this unlocks special mode which is all the stages you have completed but with enhanced difficulty. They upgrade the gimmicks with picture perfect jumping and having some situational stages, such as thirty-second challenges to finish the stage while picking up time. These should scratch the itch for the more experienced Mario player, and the amount of lives you can obtain from your first playthrough, thanks to the enormous amount of coins one can find throughout stages will surely ease the number of fails one is sure to have. The gimmicks are really the key focus for these special stages as sometimes that is all the stage becomes. Swinging platforms, disappearing blocks, teeter-totter platforms, thirty-second challenges, everything is ramped up to the point of forcing the player to utilize their previous knowledge found in the original playthrough in order to circumvent these treacherous new levels.

The collectibles are for the most part very simple to collect. Each stage has a set of three star medals for the player to collect in more offbeat locations from the streamlined map layout. Whether it be deviating from the path, jumping onto something, or finding a hidden slot in the wall, these coins give players something to strive for when completing each level, since every level follows a more streamlined set up of point A to point B. These star coins are also essential to completing the game, as they are used to unlock hidden stages and boss stages. You can’t neglect them, but there is enough of them that missing one or two every once in a while will not completely hinder progress. That is until you reach the special levels where they do force you to collect certain amounts (often in the hundreds) of these medals in order to continue forward. These medals allow for more innovative ways for traversing the levels and certainly push the player to adapt to various situations in order to find/retrieve them.

Controlling Mario is fluid, and more often than not, the camera adapts to the map layout in order to give the best view for the player. That is something not found in prior 3D Mario games, as often the camera turns into the one problem with the overall playstyle of its platforming segments. The camera is more overhead in most stages allowing for a better view of what’s ahead without feeling too limiting, but the problem comes at times in the depth perception. Whenever you are jumping from one thing to another it is difficult to gauge the distance, especially in gimmicky levels later on. That still remains an aspect that does at times hinders 3D Mario games, but because of Super Mario 3D Land’s overuse of gimmick stages and the 3D, this becomes far more apparent. The easier set ups and the more fixed camera angle does make the game more manageable than other 3D Mario contemporaries. Having a suitable camera rather than one you control yourself does take a lot of the hassle off the player to constantly adapt the camera to where they wish to move.

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I found myself struggling with where I would place this game. I had a fair amount of fun with both its accessible gameplay and leisurely pace, yet never found myself feeling a form of anxiety when I was not playing it. I loved playing the easily navigated yet complex collectible stages, yet I found myself lacking the ability to discuss specifics that I enjoyed within the level design when originally thinking about it. The game was relatively easy to interestingly challenging with its gimmicks, yet I found myself at odds ends with them later on in the special area. That is when it hit me! This Mario game is technically sound, yet lacks something unique to set it apart. The visuals are good and what you come to expect with a Mario platform, to which they are even better when used with the 3D slider. The music is classical and upbeat, much like the traditional Mario games, yet there was no track that immediately stood out to me. This game for all extents and purposes is a technically solid game, and easily one of the best platforming experiences in the Mario franchise, yet it lacked distinction from the others.

Yes, Super Mario 64 had a bad camera, yet it had the distinction of less worlds allowing more discovery in said worlds, as well as it being the first shift into 3D. Super Mario Sunshine had the FLUDD, which allowed for more complex maneuvers in traversing its colorful places set on a tropical island vibrant with life. Super Mario Galaxy had a fantastic tone, visual and audio sense, and gravity mechanics that transcended the franchise in a way no one thought possible. Each of these games stood out in my mind as doing something unique and different, despite there being hiccups along the way. Super Mario 3D Land was fun, yet never managed to wow me. It didn’t have that interesting distinction that made me want to proactively recommend or truly finish the game when I first played it back when it was first released.

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It may be fun and scratch the Mario itch while on the road, but in the end you probably won’t remember it as much as other games in the franchise. Even the distinction of being a 3D Mario game in a traditional 2D format, which allowed for some fun times at a more leisurely pace didn’t stand out as something groundbreaking. Essentially this game is just more 3D platforming Mario goodness that won’t top the list of anyone’s Mario games, but is certainly worth the time of newcomers and veterans alike, and is easily up there as an easy pick for one of the better titles in the franchise. Super Mario 3D Land is by no means a bad game, in fact, it is very fun and more accessible than most, but sadly due to its bare bones nature in comparison to other titles makes it not as memorable as its contemporaries.

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