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Nintendo’s flagship 3DS has been beset with sales problems. though anticipation for the device was exceedingly high, it’s found itself flustered at retail, often not even able to stand up to the performance of Sony’s now ancient PSP. Though the device dropped in price – by a staggering 40% in some regions – giving it a bit of a momentum boost, what it really needs is games; some big hitters to convince people that its worth the purchase.

Super Mario 3D Land is just such a game.

The story, as much as there is one, is that Bowser has rather predictably kidnapped Princess Peach. Again. You’d imagine by now that she’d beef up her personal security or at least carry a can of pepper spray in her princess handbag, but no – she’s as easy a mark as she’s always been. It’s the impetus that gives Mario his Raison d’être, and gives the famous moustachioed plumber yet another reason to run through an assortment of levels in pursuit of the pilfered princess. It’s simple and familiar, and players know what to expect – coins, mushrooms, turtles, Goombas, lots of jumping and flagpoles that signal the end of every level- yet its incredibly compelling all the same.

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Though it borrows its name from the inventive Gameboy titles that have preceded it, Super Mario 3D Land plays and feels more like a monstrous, self-referential mash-up of console bound Mario titles past. With its 3D perspective it looks more like Super Mario 64 and the ingeniously innovative and imaginative Super Mario Galaxy – but manages, somehow, to maintain the sensibilities of a traditional 2D platformer. To that end, although it borrows from and pays homage to many older Mario games, it feels gloriously like the spiritual successor to the NES classic Super Mario Bros 3 – and not just because the iconic leaf-granted Tanooki suit makes its return. Though no longer granting Mario temporary flight, the flapping tail does allow Mario to slow his descent and increase the distance of his jumps, drifting across the map to easy victory.

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Many of the game’s levels are inspired by the look and feel of that perfect platformer -including a variety of airships that serve as boss stages – where players must weave through, fending off classic enemies like Bullet Bill, Rocky Wrenches and the like – before pouncing on BOOM BOOM’s head – thrice, of course – to claim victory. The Tanooki’s not the only power-up to return – the stalwart fireflower, that switches out Mario’s traditionally blue overalls for white and give him the ability to hurl balls of fire is joined by the Boomerang suit; it allows Mario to throw a curved, returning aborigine stick. Like the fireball, it dispenses with foes – but has the added perk of destroying enemy projectiles as well.

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There are 8 main worlds (each with at least 5 levels) to traverse in 3D Land – and for the most part, they’re incredibly easy. They’re also rather short by design, taking mere minutes to complete. Of course, half the fun and pretty much all the challenge is making sure you collect all three of the hidden stars on each level; currency that allows you to unlock later levels.  Because of their fleeting length and relative ease, I thought I was playing the least challenging game ever made and that Nintendo had completely pandered to the casual crowd. Making it even easier is the fact that if you die too many times on a level, you’re given the option of using a special golden leaf that combines the Tanooki suit with the invincibility star, making our hero impervious to everything other than falling down holes. As a long-time Mario fan and veteran of the genre, I almost felt cheated, even insulted.

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Ha! Clever Nintendo. It turns out it was all just a cunning ruse to lull me in to a false sense of security – because Super Mario 3D Land is actually two games. After finishing the game proper and witnessing the cute ending, you’re given access to a special set of 8 worlds, where the challenge has been ramped up significantly, through some pretty incredible and thoughtful level design. Many of the new levels are also timed speed-runs, which make the second section a pretty thrilling, white-knuckle affair. Even with these extra levels though, the game’s still pretty short  – and doesn’t nearly offer the scope or ambition of other 3D Mario titles like Super Mario Galaxy.

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It is however the first game in which I’ve felt that where the extra dimension actually makes a difference. It takes the series’ signature cartoon art style, making it jump out at you like never before, and certainly helps you navigate levels giving you a better sense of where to jump and make your pixel-perfect landings. Some incredibly clever, automatic camera adjustments that change your perspective make for a sublime, complementary 3D playing experience – as do the many fun 3D effects that make this game a joy to play; you’ll want to make sure your 3D slider is all the way up for this one.

Nevertheless, Super Mario 3D Land is a fantastic title that pretty much every 3DS owner should own. It gives, in true Nintendo style, a real taste of what the console is capable of (as well as what’s to come – hopefully) and what other developers need to aspire to. While not nearly as long or challenging as I’d like, the game oozes with that unmistakable, undeniable Mario charm, and comes highly recommended to 3DS owners.

Scoring:

Gameplay: 9/10

It’s traditional Mario gameplay. It’s hardly evolved at all in decades, but it doesn’t need to.

Design and Presentation: 9/10

Beautiful 3D presentation that shows what the 3DS is capable of, and what clever designers are capable of wresting out of it. Oozes Mario charm

Value: 7/10

SM3DL is a short game, even with its extra “special worlds.” Most of its replay comes in trying to collect each levels hidden stars, or through trying to best your own times. Even so, it’s a game that every 3DS owner should experience.

Overall: 8.5/10

I had reservations about the game while I was playing it, but it starts of slow – perhaps too slowly – but eventually evolves in to a game that’s not only worth he Mario name, but is one of the best platform games available this year, and one of the best for the 3DS.

Last Updated: November 21, 2011

Super Mario 3D Land
Summary
8.5

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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