It’s not hard to love Mario. He’s had his ups and downs – what, for example, was the deal with Paper Mario? And Super Mario Strikers was pretty hard to love, at least for this non-sports fan – but darn it if the little guy doesn’t keep coming back for more and keeps you, at the very least, entertained.
Super Mario 3D Land is the latest in the Mario saga. The story is fairly typical – something was stolen (a lot of leaves) and Bowser took Princess Peach. Your mission is to find the leaves (which are special and give you the Tanooki suit) and then find Peach. What you go through to find her, however, is where all of the fun comes in.
The game is a 2D platformer turned 3D. You move swiftly through a nicely rendered 3D land and hop, stomp, and jump on enemies and into question blocks. Initially gameplay is a bit stiff and weird but once you realize you’re actually following a nicely and cleverly set path through this 3D world you can loosen up and explore a bit.
Mario has existed in 3D before, most strikingly in in Super Mario 64. This game has very little to do with that title and is instead a fully-formed platformer in 3D. It is more on par with Super Mario Galaxy in terms of gameplay and mechanics and it’s clear the 3D Land is a Galaxy title reduced in scope and, obviously, space flight.
Now for the million-dollar question: how is the 3D on the 3DS? The problem with the 3DS is you often lose the 3D sweet spot while heavily into gameplay. This problem is quite pronounced in action titles like Starfox and less prevalent in SM3DL. However, it was a bit frustrating and I often resorted to turning 3D off while playing. Does this mean the 3D doesn’t work? No, but it wasn’t quite to my taste.
The game itself offers excellent playability and the “help” system, namely a super leaf that essentially allows you to breeze through the level unharmed by enemies and with a flying Tanooki suit, makes it great for novices. The help system kicks in after two deaths – it gives you a power-up – and then when you die five times it gives you the special leaf. Basically it helps reduce the frustration for casual gamers.
This is a Mario game. Mario is great. Is it worth buying a 3DS over? Probably not unless you’re also a Zelda fan as Ocarina of Time is superb on this device. However with the launch of the equally superb Mario Kart 7, Nintendo does offer some compelling reasons to pick up their console – and this game – for the holidays.