Much like Star Fox 64 3D, Super Mario 3D Land successfully shows off the vision Nintendo has for the 3DS. The game merges 2D and 3D gameplay with barely a visible seam, and is packed with modern and retro Super Mario gameplay goodness. Some notable hitches keep the title from perfection, but there's no argument that Super Mario 3D Land needs to be in every 3DS owner's library.
ESRB Rating: E
Compatible With: Nintendo 3DS
THE BASICS: Save the Princess -- Again
It's not clear how Bowser got his claws on the Princess: presumably, she had gone for a lonely walk in the torrential rain. Regardless, it's up to Mario to travel through eight worlds to confront Bowser and save his friend.
Mario's primary method of disposing of his enemies has been to jump on their heads, and in Super Mario 3D Land, he pulls on his skull-stomping boots once again. There is, however, some variety to be had thanks to an arsenal of familiar power-ups. The faithful Mushroom and Fire Flower are on hand to help out, and the Tanooki Suit (a favorite from Super Mario Bros. 3) makes a return to help Mario glide courtesy of a raccoon tail. There is one new power-up in the bunch: the Boomerang Suit, which dresses up Mario as a reptilian Boomerang Brother and lets him hurl the popular aborigine weapons at bad guys.
It's easy to see what Nintendo was going for with Super Mario 3D Land. Even though the game combines 2D gameplay with 3D environments and 3D enhanced visuals and puzzles, it also flaunts its roots. For instance, Mario moves a little less nimbly than in most modern Mario games, and he has lost some of his newfound athleticism, like the ability to cling to a ledge after a close jump.
It isn't necessary to play the game in 3D, however -- Not everybody can "see" 3D graphics, and some folks are simply not enthusiastic about playing games in 3D. Luckily, you can get through Super Mario 3D Land without ever turning up the 3D slider, which is fortunate given that Nintendo warns against kids under six viewing 3D images. Some puzzles and environments are definitely easier to navigate with the 3D turned on, but the game is perfectly playable without that added depth perception.
Great graphics -- Super Mario 3D Land is a very pretty game; it looks good and animates well. The environments are detailed and boast plenty of depth, but still manage a level of retro charm that's exclusive to Mario games. You'll explore sky realms, airships, underground tunnels, castles with moats of boiling lava, and more.
Considerable depth -- It won't take you too long to blaze through the first eight worlds in Super Mario 3D Land, though your playtime will vary according to your skill and whether or not you take the opportunity to hunt down every Star Coin. So what happens beyond World 8? Let's just say Mario's work is never done, and that the game has quite a bit more to offer beyond the first finish line.
Beginners can lean on the Golden Tanooki -- If you're having a particularly rough time with one level, you'll eventually be offered the option of grabbing a golden leaf, which will transform you into the invincible Golden Tanooki. Mario will become a big, glimmering teddy bear, and then nothing can stand in your way--not even Bowser's fire. It's a bit of an overkill as far as power-ups go, but the game never forces the golden leaf on you: it's your choice whether or not you want to grab it.
Extra life overkill -- Super Mario 3D Land practically awards you 1UP's for breathing. Not a bad deal, but why bother with a life system in the first place? The abundance of lives up for grabs in the game ties into another problem:
A lack of power-ups -- There's a nice variety of power-ups in Super Mario 3D Land, but you won't come across them very often in the stages you play--certainly not as often as what's the norm for a Mario game. For fans of powered-up Mario, that's a bit of a disappointment.
It's linear -- Since Super Mario Bros. 3, there has been a certain amount of exploration in Mario games via a world map. These maps typically branch off and let you choose which levels to conquer, and some even hide secret paths and levels. Unfortunately, Super Mario 3D Land is a comparatively linear game. You must conquer most of the levels in the order they're presented. This can become especially tedious in circumstances that require you to collect a certain amount of hidden Star Coins before you can proceed.