Super Mario 3D Land Review (3DS)

It’s funny, really.  Just when you think you’ve played the best Mario game you’ve laid your hands on, Nintendo goes and turns something around in the formula to make the next one even better.  It’s only been a few months since we’ve gotten through practically everything Super Mario Galaxy 2 had to offer, and it left us in awe.  However, now we’ve got a new game that manages to bring a newfound depth to the picture – 3D, that is.

Super Mario 3D Land captures the classic essence that has worked so manageably well in previous efforts featuring the plumber, from the sound effects that many grew up with to the retro-flavored design (question marked blocks, Koopas, Goombas) that will be a recognizable sight to anyone who’s ever owned a Nintendo console.  And yet, thanks to the platform the game is on – the Nintendo 3DS – there’s a fresh new perspective that actually makes use of the dimension, rather than tacking everything on like a gimmick.  As a result, the game turns out to be quite fun, and validates the troubled handheld to must-own status.

The plot is all too familiar.  Bowser’s back and he’s stirring up trouble in the Mushroom Kingdom, snatching up Princess Peach and just being an out-and-out menace.  Mario, the heroic, tireless hero that he is, sets out to rescue her, and gets a little help from his Toad-y friends and some well-placed power-ups.  These include the returning Tanooki suit, which gifts him the power of hovering and “thwacking” enemies with his tail, along with the Fire Flower, which lets him shoot fireballs.  New to the series is the Boomerang Shell outfit, allowing Mario to launch projectiles that not only strike enemies, but collect out-of-reach coins and other special goodies.

As in previous Mario games (namely Super Mario Bros. 3), the game features an item storage system, so if you somehow lose a power-up or get shrunken down to pint size, you can tap the screen and launch it, immediately putting Mario back in the driver’s seat.  You’ll need them, too.  While the early levels in the game are deceptively easy, the later ones get quite tricky, with pitch-perfect timing required in some of the later settings.  But don’t worry, kids.  It never gets entirely out of hand.  Lose too many lives or get stuck, and you’ll gain access to power-ups that will help you get through the area.

In addition to the eight worlds scattered with breathtakingly designed stages, Super Mario 3D Land also comes with special stages, which pose some interesting challenges that even the most dexterous of Mario fans will be challenged by.  But ample rewards await, including additional power-ups, coins, stages and a second playable character – Luigi, of course.

Nintendo could’ve easily stuck with a typical side-scrolling formula for Mario, ala New Super Mario Bros., and probably pleased the fans.  But instead, Shigeru Miyamoto and his team have really researched the depth of the game, making 3D not only a neat visual effect, but also a useful one.  You’ll love the added verticality of certain stages, like sliding down a multi-colored stage or hovering your way to cloudy platforms to reach special bonus coins.  It really does look gorgeous, making this one of the few occasions you’ll want to keep your 3D slider firmly in place throughout the adventure.  It never gets distracting, not even when plants spit ink blots on the screen.  (We actually thought that was kind of cool.)

Sound effects are typical Mario, complete with small snippets from the plumber, along with familiar coin pick-up and enemy trouncing effects.  And when you snag a 1up, that little chime that goes off will sound like a welcome relief – especially in the later stages.  The music is wonderful too, a mixture of great new stuff and classic themes, kindly remixed for today’s gaming scene.

Aside from the special levels, Super Mario 3D Land also offers a couple of technical features.  With some new viewing glasses, you can use the 3DS’ built-in gyrometer to look around and spot Toad characters.  It’s gimmicky at best, though, as you’ll quickly want to get back in the action.

And while the game doesn’t support direct multiplayer (Mario games are usually a one-man show), it does support StreetPass.  Running into folks – even those who don’t yet own the game – will earn you extra goods in your mushroom houses, along with challenge cubes with new rooms to explore.  We would’ve preferred something more personable, tied in with certain Miis, but this expands the gameplay enough that it won’t really bother you.

Honestly, Super Mario 3D Land couldn’t be any better on the portable front if it tried, even with the somewhat questionable Viewmasters scattered throughout the game.  Its gameplay is refined, classic Mario with a modern twist, and the graphics and music really bring out the best in the 3DS.  The game offers plenty of young and pro gamers alike, especially those cool special levels.  If you have a 3DS, you should pick this up immediately.  And if you don’t, well, you’ve just gotten a great new motivation to snag one this holiday season.