As a 3DS owner (and ambassador!), I have committed a mortal sin: not playing Super Mario 3D Land in 3D. What is wrong with me, the 3D aspect is even in the name! Slightly late to the party, I picked up the game after hearing all the fantastic press it had gotten, how it changed the landscape of 3D gaming, and how it was IGN’s top 3DS game ever.
I can’t help but feel Nintendo is jumping ship with narratives for the traditional Mario games. True, everyone knows the formula by now–Bowser grabs Peach, Peach gets rescued by Mario, they are out Go-Carting next weekend. This game by far has the most liberal iteration of this story; everything is portrayed in twelve 3D photographs conveniently found by Mario after beating each group of bosses.
Though tenuous at best, it’s easy to give SM3DL a pass on this. When the story is so widely known, they don’t need to elaborate much on it (or at all) if the game doesn’t call for it.
SM3DL is a very simple game, something made evident by looking at the “user-friendly” menus. Now simple isn’t always a bad thing–the menus are easy to navigate through, giving you hardly any options one-way or the other. Choosing a level has a very linear progression in lieu of a world map.
My guess is that the simple design is Nintendo catering to the casual/mobile gamers of the world. The display and look isn’t uncommon–it’s something you would most likely see on an iPhone or iPad game. Where some gamers will regard it as shallow, it clearly is fitting with the image being imposed by SM3DL. With the purpose to be more mobile oriented (seen with the short nature of the levels), the game is supposed to be the Angry Birds of the 3DS.
However, just because it holds the benefit of being simple and easy to navigate doesn’t mean that it doesn’t look cheap. Though not much of a complaint when exploring the various levels and worlds, the menu system brings the game down–it aspires to fit the “mobile” niche instead of aiming at multiple markets.
Though I am very critical of the “feel” of SM3DL, I am happy to say I quickly changed my tune about the other elements–especially the soundtrack. The style of music, like most of the game, is heavily influenced by Super Mario Bros. 3. The main theme of the game is brilliant. Used on a variety of levels, the trumpet-blazing melody will become an instant classic to the already amazing collective soundtracks the Mario franchise has accrued.
A popular characteristic of Nintendo games is a re-imagining of classic songs in the new iterations of franchises. Sure enough, the Underground music has been revamped, as well as the Underwater theme, Cloud theme, and Flying Ship theme. These songs successfully balance innovation and nostalgia together.
The musical genius of Nintendo comes out in the small details. For instance, each world’s music is slightly altered in their “Special” counterparts. When Mario starts swimming the staccato and forceful tones become more melodic and fluid. The versatility of the music is played with over and over again, always adding to the experience.
On top of that, the sound effects are taken seriously. Nothing seems out of place or overdone.
Many sources have hailed this game the saving grace of 3D gaming; I respectfully disagree. While this game effectively uses the depth of the 3D effect, I found it wholly unnecessary to enjoy or play the game. The 3D effect never made the game any easier, short the brief 3D rooms. If there was one thing that could (and maybe should) have been added to this game, it is more 3D intensive levels.
Beyond that, this plays as a standard Mario platformer–everything video gamers have come to love in 2D gaming realized in a 3D space. The game has the feel of a 3D Mario game (Super Mario 64), however with bite sized levels (a la the cave levels of Super Mario Sunshine). Though I can’t know for sure why, I imagine it is catering to the mobile crowd–people looking to pick up a level on a bus ride. This makes gameplay addictive. Being able to pump out 3 levels in ten minutes makes you just want to keep going and going.
The levels are diverse in the standard Mario equation: normal stage, sand level, water level, sky level, bridge level, etc. There is nothing wrong with this of course, it is just more of the same. The new feel of the franchise brings some new flavor to the formula, but it isn’t enough to stop me from noticing.
This game will keep you busy for some time. While someone can easily breeze past the initial stages in under a few hours, higher difficulty is quickly found in the Special levels. Not to mention the daunting task of finding all 3 Star Coins and reaching the tip of the flagpole in each level. And even all that is only HALF The battle to get to a 100% completion. This game lets you enjoy it at its own pace, while offering challenge to those looking for it.
Super Mario 3D Land has a unique connective feature using Spotpass. With the help of Spotpass, you and friends can compare time scores on levels, and “give” each other Bonus levels and Toad houses. Needless to say, the features are limited. The game could have been fairly improved by adding something as rudimentary as a global/friend high score count. Hopefully we can see this with future iterations and the growing Nintendo Network.
The Verdict: 8.5 out of 10
Super Mario 3D Land is undoubtedly one of the saving graces of the 3DS. When it was in its darkest hour, SM3DLproved its relevance to gamers everywhere. The game is great in most respects, however suffers from an over-simplified design that makes the game look cheap and so many blatant carryovers from past game, you can’t help but take notice.