|Dev: Nintendo EAD Tokyo|
|Release: November 13, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Sean Engemann
Mario has finally made his way to the 3DS, and the big boys of Nintendo are hoping their mascot can push the steadily climbing sales of the portable to loftier heights. Historical retail records and name recognition will likely give profits a good push, but the big question for gamers is whether they will be happy with their purchase of the portly plumber's latest adventure.
After weighing everything Super Mario 3D Land offers, our overall score merits a "Great" rating. With most other games of this genre, a "Great" score would be enough to break out the champagne. But Mario games typically set the highest bar in the field, and their attention to small details and tight controls has always shone through. Unfortunately, a noticeable lack of a few expected facets ultimately brings Mario down off his platforming pedestal.
But let's begin with the game's high points, which are of the caliber expected of the series. Mario's level design is second to none, and despite a couple minor complaints mentioned below, the overall quality is superb. Each level takes advantage of a specific theme (desert, aquatic, snow, etc.) with obstacles befitting the locales. The final stage of each world pits you against Bowser's minions in lava-laden castles and Bullet Bill-loaded airships. Most stages have a set path to reach the flagpole at the end, but the few free-roaming areas are a treat, offering a great supply of secrets to discover and alternate routes to take.
The camera is surprisingly flawless, which is typical of recent Mario entries but refreshing nonetheless. The camera changes perspective at various times, panning overhead or giving you front close-ups for added effect. Your skills are tested a little to compensate, but the mechanics here were obviously well-thought out by the developers to add new dimensions of enjoyment.
Speaking of new dimensions, the 3D effect is finally given the care needed to showcase it as more than a mere gimmick. The levels look much larger than they actually are, and paired with the camera create a stunning experience for the eyes. The most exciting (and nauseating) use of this effect occurs in a segment in which you must plummet downward through miles of platforms, the finish pole a mere speck from the view at the peak. Acrophobic players beware; this perspective is uncannily represented, but it's sure to make your eyes widen in awe. Enemy and block positions are more discernable with the 3D effect at full, and easier to squash and bash, respectively.
The basic visuals are also pleasing to the eye. Sure, many of the templates were probably pulled from the Mario archives, but they've been polished for the title, with colors running the length of the bold spectrum.
Equally impressive are the music compositions. Most are remixes of tunes from past entries, and many of them keep a familiar melody in the background with a fresh harmony in the foreground. The echo effects in underground stages are spot-on, and the instant change to synthesizers when diving underwater is an audible delight.
Certainly Super Mario 3D Land will be applauded by many, but longtime fans of the series might feel a few things are missing here. Though these next criticisms would seem trivial when made about any other title, the Mario series has a sterling reputation for going above and beyond what would be expected of other games in the genre.
The first is with the muddled design choices of level construction. The New Super Mario Bros. series was successful because it took the classic format and tailored it to a modern gaming audience. With Super Mario 3D Land, elements are plucked from nearly every past entry, but some of these are simply the wrong choices.
For example, the world map is completely linear, offering the option of only moving forward or backward to each level. The end of each stage has a flagpole (taken from the original Super Mario Bros.), but it would have been nice to have the roulette block from Super Mario Bros. 3 instead, offering us a chance at extra lives or power-ups. There are red coins (originally from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island), but these are not mandatory collectables, and offer only a mere 1-Up or power-up. Even the level design, although impressively crafted, is more in line with that of the Super Mario Galaxy series rather than the classic titles Nintendo has compared this 3DS version to.
And then there's the Tanooki suit, the highly sought after and much loved power-up of old, which has become the latest fad in the Mushroom Kingdom. Instead of a rare find with game-changing powers, it seems you can't shake a tree without a Tanooki leaf falling out. These aren't exclusive to Mario either, as Goombas, Boos, Whomps, and other beasties are all seen sporting the soft tail, trying to swat you down. The Fire Flower and Boomerang Flower offer some ranged weaponry. The boomerang is also able to snag out-of-reach coins, and the fireballs can be used to light torches to reveal secret treasures. But the floating ability attached to the Tanooki suit makes it the go-to power-up, which also lessens its rare appeal. And there's no flying involved here, which is bound to disappoint Mario fans of old.