Landing the Big One
After a mediocre eight months on the market, the 3DS finally received its first of many supposed kill apps in Super Mario 3D Land. It finally feels that there’s a reason to play Nintendo’s latest hardware offering, because every time I fired up a level in Mario, I couldn’t help but smile at its pleasantness, its ingenuity, and its quirkiness. 3D Land really is a joy to play and, like all mainline Mario games, is the purest definition of video game fun for a list of reasons.
The most noticeable thing about 3D Land is how noticeably pretty it is, often resembling its big brother Galaxy games on the Wii in terms of charming art style, and explicably triumphing over the blandness of the New Super Mario series. It’s bright, cheerful, and eccentric, more than likely because it chooses to accentuate the inherent blocky design that comes with its form of gameplay, playing with these ideas at first and then totally going overboard in later levels when the player finally comes to grip with the mechanics. The 3D graphics actually complement the game fairly well, unlike previous efforts on the system, thanks to the careful placement of the camera: vertical levels have a much needed sense of depth when the camera shifts to an overhead perspective; enemies use the effect to their advantage by attacking at angles otherwise unheard of in a left-to-right platformer; and the M.C. Escher-esque mini-levels become quite the sight to behold when the camera slowly shifts to reveal a mind fuck truly worthy of a Mario game. Even though the 3D should be righteously held as a gimmick, no matter what the game, it’s a gimmick that works in 3D Land, because it feels somehow different when you turn down the 3D volume. This is the only game on the system where I felt compelled to play through entire levels with the head-splitting 3D. You won’t find another game that convinces you otherwise, unless it’s built from the ground up to take advantage of the effect, like 3D Land is.
And then there’s the music. The main theme is particularly charming in its own, especially during the mesmerizing title screen. It stands side by side with the tone of the game rather well, and the game even incorporates some classic tunes in some levels, reinforcing the obvious homage to Super Mario Bros. 3. There’s just a certain joy to be felt by wandering around a Toad’s house listening to that jolly tune we all know and love from years back.
One department that Nintendo could consider spending some time in is the hub world. Gone are the days of having a classic sprawling map littered with levels that make sense cohesively, replaced by a nonsensical linear selection of levels. It would make more sense to have a full 3D hub world connecting each level, like the Mario games of old, but I guess it’s too much to ask for. That, and Nintendo did away with full analog control for this installment, instead opting for a run button coupled with eight directional inputs. This idea works fine in the levels that resemble older Mario games, but in others, it just incites frustration, having to fight with the controls just to jump onto a static platform, but that’s more of my fault rather than the games because I’ve been indoctrinated to think that 3D games should always have analog control. Despite my shortcoming and my apparent inability to play Mario games, Mario 3D Land still controls like a dream compared to it contemporaries, ,pre than likely because its levels are simple to navigate.
Whatever you do, don’t go thinking of Mario 3D Land as a simple retread just because its marketing solely focuses on the classic Tanooki Suit. There’s a lot of new and exciting ideas here, and they’re executed wonderfully, if not a bit easily for the player. That is to say, the game isn’t an absolute must have for everyone; it’s only an absolute must have if you have a 3DS somewhere collecting dust or weighing down a pile of school work that you always intend to finish “tomorrow”.