I purchased a 3DS back when the price dropped a few months ago. There were a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I haven't actually owned a handheld system since the original GameBoy (which made me feel old). Secondly, I really wanted to play the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D remake. Plus, there are so many great titles that were available on the DS systems that I never had a chance to play. Since the 3DS was backwards compatible, it seemed like a great chance to have the best of both worlds as it were. And while I love my 3DS, I've been less than impressed with the admittedly small launch library (Ocarina of Time being the one truly awesome game available for the new system). However, I was unaware of just how fully my mind would be blown when I picked up the new Super Mario 3D Land. Not only does it bring back childhood memories of the classic Super Mario Bros. games I played as a child, but it utilizes the 3D technology in such a proficient way that it truly surprised, and more importantly, impressed me.
Super Mario 3D Land is the first game I've played where the 3D effects are more of a help than a hindrance. I've been dabbling in some of the other titles that have been available (don't worry, the reviews are coming), but from that standpoint the new Mario game nails it. It's the first game I've played on the 3DS that really harnesses the awesome power of glasses-less 3D. It looks great, and didn't give me headaches the way some of the other titles have. But most importantly, it actually enhances the experience. There are some 3D related puzzles, but that's not what I'm talking about. There were actually a few moments where Mario falls and it gave me a weird vertigo sensation... awesome! This is the future here people!
In a stunning (and completely unexpected) turn of events,
Princess Peach is kidnapped by the evil Bowser and his cronies. Mario
hastens after the villains to rescue her. It's hilarious, after each
world Mario will receive a message from the Princess complete with
"Maaaariiiiooooooo!!" scream. It's the very definition of "old hat,"
(that is to say it's been done)... but hey, it's been working for this
long. If it ain't broke I suppose....
So off goes Mario, leaping and jumping his way through eight crazy worlds. Each world has multiple levels, perhaps a Toad House or two, and a boss level at the end. Probably my favorite thing about Super Mario 3D Land is the level
design. Some of the levels are incredibly clever, utilizing all three
axis. There are some parts that are more of the classic 2D side scrolling we all remember, but mostly you have control of Mario in all three dimensions. The way the levels are designed gave me a feeling of control over
our plumber pal that I haven't really experienced before.
I had several
"Wow... that's awesome!" moments that came right at the beginning of
the level as I saw what I was up against. And that kept happening.
Even late in the game there were new gimmicks, gizmos, and environments
getting pulled out of the developer's bag of tricks. Some harkened back
to previous games (including several wonderful homages to the
originals), others were entirely new... and unexpected. I can't recall a game that had me smiling so consistently, nodding at each new trial that was tossed into the mix.
To help Mario traverse the challenges before him, you'll find a slew of different power-ups. Beyond Mushrooms to help you grow and Fire Flowers giving you some offensive options, the Tanooki suit makes its triumphant return. This raccoon-esque suit allows Mario to glide after he jumps. It really helps in some of the harder platforming sections. You'll also gain a Boomerang Flower on rare occasion, allowing you to toss the winged projectiles at your foes... a welcome change from the other way around!
What's nice though is that you can keep one power-up in reserve. By tapping the bottom screen you pop it out and can even switch back and forth between what you currently have. For example, if you're already powered up with a Fire Flower and you get a Super Leaf and turn into Tanooki Mario, then the Fire Flower goes down into your bottom screen inventory. If you prefer the Fire Flower (or the situation requires it), activate the power-up and when you switch the Super Leaf will automatically go into the inventory instead.
You'll not be completely alone either as you attempt to free the Princess. Your loyal friends the Toads show up from time to time. Sometimes they have houses in each world where you can go in, say "Hullo!" and get a free power up. You'll also notice binoculars in some of the levels. You can use these to look around and see what challenges await (by tilting the 3DS to look, it's a very well done and effective technique). However, keep an eye out for Toad and his buddies. They are usually mere specks in the distance, but if you can get the camera centered and zoom in then they will drop some goodies for you.
As we've grown accustomed to, each level has three hidden "Stars" to
discover. Some of them are right in front of you, others are fiendishly
hidden. You'll need to actually search out the hidden stars though, as
certain levels won't be unlocked (including some of the boss levels at
the end of each world) unless you have the requisite number of stars.
Unlocking hidden levels I understand, but I didn't like the fact that
you couldn't finish out a world without backtracking. Still, it adds a
lot of replay value to the game as I went back repeatedly to certain
levels to search for the illusive ones I had missed.
But one thing that I found interesting is that the game is surprisingly easy. The levels are pretty short and relatively straightforward (of course, the aforementioned variety keeps things from getting stale). After the first couple of worlds I never had less than forty lives. And if you do have trouble, the game removes any shred of challenge. There was one part where I simply couldn't get the timing right on these jumps and would subsequently fall to my death. It was almost a running gag, as I ran through half a dozen lives. Then, the next time the game reloaded, I was given a white Tanooki suit that allowed me to not only fly, but also be invincible. It was like an invincible star mixed with the raccoon suit. Of course, that didn't help with the mistimed jumps... and if you lose enough lives you'll get the infamous "P-Wing" which shoots you straight to your goal at the end of the level. I understand the reasoning behind this. After all, the game is designed for a younger demographic in mind. Still, I kinda felt like the game was feeling sorry for me. Of course, you don't have to use the magic suit if you don't want.
However, once you've defeated Bowser and rescued the Princess (sorry, by this point I don't consider that a spoiler) you unlock the "Secret Worlds." These levels are much more difficult. Oh, and there is no super magical Tanooki suit to save you this time! In fact, be wary, there are poisoned Mushrooms that have negative effects out there as well! You've just got to get it right: it takes time and patience to get through these challenges. After beating the first world you unlock Luigi as a playable character, which was a nice surprise. I have a feeling I'll be chipping away at these for a while, not to mention going back and getting all the hidden stars from the previous worlds as well.
I love my new 3DS, but up until now it was just for the fact that I could go back and play all the games I missed from the previous DS generations. But Super Mario 3D Land is one of those games that makes it worth purchasing a new system in the first place. It's an absolute blast to play, reminding me of childhood memories while innovating at the same time. It's fun, funny, and challenging in all the right places. The 3D effects actually work, and what's more, actually enhance the game experience. It's the first example I've seen (with the possible exception of the movie Avatar, provided you saw it in the theater) where the 3D is more than just a gimmick. If you own a 3DS, then this is one title you can't miss!
Score = 9.4 / 10