Super Mario 3 + D?
From the start Super Mario 3D Land evokes nostalgia for classic entries in the series, most specifically and obviously Super Mario 3. All the 8-bit Mario rules are there, like the three tiers of damage Mario can take (as opposed to coins refilling health), completing a stage by jumping on a flag pole, the increased importance of the time limit, and more are all integrated expertly into this new game. It’s worth noting that it deals with nostalgia better than the New Super Mario games, as it uses it as the starting point for new level design, instead of being shackled creatively through an excess of reverence.
Clearly the most obvious bit of Mario 3 love is how the Tanooki power-up and its telltale tail are back with a vengeance. After going missing for over 20 years, the floaty raccoon suit and its helpful tail are back, though now it just works at slowing your descent instead of flying, which is fine since flight would certainly break the game. As it is, the Tanooki suit is a loving homage to one of Mario’s most popular looks, but as a gameplay addition the extra time it adds to jumps can almost make the game too easy.
The tail love has infected the enemies too as Goombas, Boos, Thwomps, Bullet Bills, and even Bowser have tails in this game. It’s almost too much of a good thing, but since most of the game’s baddies are recycled, why not make old enemies new again with tails? Also, the boss battles have their moments, but aren’t the most creative ever, save for the final boss fight. We won’t spoil it; let’s just say it’s one of the most epic final encounters in Mario history.
Super Mario 3D Land goes for classic style and gets it right almost all of the time. Many levels clearly reference beloved Mario stages of old without recreating them directly, instead drawing inspiration from them to create imaginative new stages. We wouldn’t say this is the most innovative or fresh Mario ever made, but it’s full of clever ideas and many moments made us say, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.” It skates the line between reverence and originality well.
Too easy? Yes and no
By franchise standards, Super Mario 3D Land is one of the easier titles in Mario history, and starts off exceptionally relaxed. During our playthrough of Worlds 1 through 8 we did our share of dying, but we almost never felt truly tested. We picked up the bonus Star Medals in every single stage with relative ease and while we’re experienced Mario players, we’re not savants. If you’re the type of person that got 240 stars in the Galaxy games, the main game probably won’t tax you.
Fortunately the game doesn’t end with World 8. We’d rather not spoil it, but after the eighth world is in the books, a wealth of new content opens up for you. The equivalent of a second game begins, and that’s where those looking for a challenge will find it. The super-duper-hardcore still might not feel challenged enough by this post-game content, and if you feel that way just keep replaying the Galaxy Comet Challenges if that’s all you want.
In general, 3D Land aims to be an introduction to 3D gaming and it does it very well even if it’s at the expense of starting off easy. For people that know the rules already, it’ll be an unneeded lesson but even when it’s easy it’s still fun. The simplicity wrapped in inventiveness is still there, and despite not being the densest, freshest Mario ever, it takes advantage of the new canvas of the 3DS well.
Is it better than…?
Rayman 3D? Yes. This may not be the fairest comparison, as Rayman is a remake of a Dreamcast game, but with little else to compare it to, this shows how at the time of release 3D Land is such an original experience on the 3DS. With few games like it, it makes 3D Land an even better proposition for owners of the handheld dying for something worth playing.
For those who skipped straight to the end
Though it falls slightly short compared to other Mario titles (aka some of the greatest games ever made), it’s certainly a release worthy of the character’s legacy. It expertly builds on franchise history, has tons of clever ideas, and even with the rare control hang-ups, it stands tall in the realm of 3D platformers, especially compared to the paltry library of games the 3DS currently has.