Super Mario 3D Land is a 3D platformer for the Nintendo 3DS. It’s your typical Mario kind of story. Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach and Mario must run and jump his way through levels and worlds in order to track her down and save her. The gameplay is essentially a combination of the New Super Mario Bros. structure with Super Mario Galaxy level design. You select levels in order via a linear overworld map. Each world has somewhat of a visual theme to it and may contain ghost house levels, castle levels, or airship levels alongside the more standard variety. Some levels will automatically scroll while others let you move around freely. Certain sections may restrict you to a more two-dimensional playing field though most of the game is an open 3D platformer. At the end of each world you’ll have a boss battle with one of the Koopalings and be rewarded with a photograph illustrating Peach’s current situation. You can also find toad houses where you can obtain powerups, one of which can be stored in your inventory and used at any point by tapping on it on the touchscreen. There are also some question mark levels that will contain a small room of enemies to defeat within a time limit. Winning awards you with powerups, coins, and star coins. These challenge rooms are entirely optional and not necessary to complete the game, but they will regenerate over time for refills. The star coins can also be collected throughout all of the levels. There are three hidden in each level and are used to unlock later levels in the game. The game also keeps track of your best time on each level as you do have a time limit as well as if you hit the top of the flagpole at the end of each one or not. 100 coins still nets you a 1-up like always but there are also clock items that can increase your timer when collected. Usually the silver clocks add 10 seconds and the gold clocks add 100. There is no score in this game, however.
Mario himself has a handful of techniques in this game as well as powerups to give him even more abilities. Right out of the gate he can walk, run, jump, triple jump, duck, ground pound, wall jump, back flip, side flip, wall slide, long jump, crouch walk, and even roll. You can mess around with the controls a bit to figure out all of these basic techniques, but the powerups give you a few more on top of it. Returning are the fire flowers, super stars, mushrooms, and leaves. Though the leaf powerup turns you into tanooki Mario in this game, even if it functions as the usual raccoon suit from Super Mario Bros. 3. There’s a stone leaf that turns you into a variant of the tanooki suit that turns into an invulnerable statue for a short while when you ground pound which is more akin to the traditional powerup. There’s also a brand new boomerang flower powerup that lets you turn into a Boomerang Bro and throw your own boomerangs to hit enemies and collect far-off items. There are a couple of temporary powerups you can only grab inside a level and disappear afterwards. These are both formed when hitting certain question blocks. One of them is a box that goes on your head and gives you coins as you move. The other turns into a box on your head with a propeller that can boost you high into the air and help slow your descent. There 1-up mushrooms return, but so do the poison mushrooms made infamous by the original Super Mario Bros. 2, often known as the Lost Levels. These mushrooms are bad mushrooms so try not to trip on ’em if you can help it. There are also two super items that show up if you’re having difficulty with a level. Dying enough times will make an item box appear upon your next respawn which, when hit, will give you a super leaf for the white tanooki suit. This has the same properties as the regular tanooki suit but also makes you invincible. You’ll still die if you fall into the abyss or some otherwise deadly groundless hazard like lava. You also cannot take the suit off and at the after finishing the level it reverts back into a standard tanooki suit. The other, if you manage to die enough more times, is the p-wing that can bring you directly to the flagpole of the current stage without collecting anything.
After beating the 8 main worlds you’ll unlock a set of 8 special worlds. Along the way through these worlds you’ll save Luigi and then you can switch between the bros. before going into a level. Luigi doesn’t pick up speed as easily but can jump a bit higher than Mario. Otherwise they are practically identical. These levels often resemble the main ones but with some alterations to make them more difficult. These levels often incorporate one if not both of two new mechanics. One is a short time limit from the start. On these levels you’ll either need to collect clocks as you progress or kill enemies to get time back in order to have enough to make it to the end. The other has a shadow Mario show up and follow your every movement in a delayed fashion, forcing you to keep moving to avoid his deadly contact. You can sometimes temporarily kill him with a super star and certain parts of levels may act as temporary safe zone. Near the end an increasing amount of levels will combine the two elements to keep you moving and moving forward at that. Also, there are no super items in the special worlds no matter how many times you die. If you manage to beat all of the levels in the game at least once by hitting the top of the flagpole you’ll unlock a secret bonus levels that’s much more difficult than the rest of the game. You can also get stars on your profile. As far as I understand it, you get one for beating the normal levels, one for beating the special levels and beat the final rematch with Bowser, one for getting all the star coins in the normal levels, one for getting all the star coins in the special levels, and the final one for beating every level as both Mario and Luigi. You can make them shiny by beating the entire game without ever triggering the super items. Full disclosure, I did not know about the shiny stars and was unable to beat the bonus level, but I did all the rest.
So in case that didn’t clue you in, I really enjoyed Super Mario 3D Land. The 3D Mario gameplay is very appealing to me and works just fine on the 3DS. A lot of the concepts are pretty familiar if you’re no stranger to the series, but with these visuals and physics it’s fun to see them all working together cohesively in one place. It all looks and feels very Mario. I really like the star coins hidden in the levels as it makes me explore for them like I would in other 3D Mario games. It’s just really enjoyable to explore every inch of a level to find all the little things a more impatient or speed-oriented player may miss out on. The ability to easily save and do individual levels is pretty handy for a handheld too. I do want to praise the super items as well. The special tanooki suit is incredibly helpful, but it doesn’t protect you from bottomless pits or anything. And it even prevents you from getting some of the star coins. The P-wing straight up makes you miss all of that stuff. It’s cool that it still gives you some incentive not to use those items without completely punishing you for being unable to do some of the levels. It’s just a really solid 3D Mario platformer and the Super Mario Bros. 3 flourishes certainly don’t hurt. It throws a lot of fun stuff at you and it’s just such a treat to see and experience it all. Oh yeah, and that difficulty certainly ramps up a bit as it goes along so the whole game and its many levels aren’t going to be a total cakewalk.
However, I wasn’t thrilled with some of it. I do think the P-wing was a bit insulting and these super items don’t do you any good for the second half of the game. It doesn’t ween you off of them so much as it totally cuts you off. Realistically I think it should’ve kept them in and instead pushed you to use them less so you could get more of the star coins in order to unlock more levels. I also really hated the time limit. On the levels where the short time limit is the point, it was great. However, in most levels I just wanted to explore at my own pace to find everything but would be rushed in the last leg of the level if I tried. This meant more replays of levels than I would’ve liked. I also found the respawning challenge rooms for extra star coins to undermine some of the point of collecting them. It was to make it possible to unlock levels even if you didn’t get them all in the previous ones, but that also encourages you to wait rather than get better, which will naturally aid you more as the levels get harder. Admittedly, I didn’t use the 3D effect because it hurts my eyes so it’s possible that helps with this, but I found the perspective to be a bit difficult to judge at times. Sometimes I just didn’t land where I felt like I was supposed to due to the camera angle and zoom. You can slightly manipulate it but only with the touch screen buttons which you can’t really hold down and play at the same time. Proper 3D camera manipulation would’ve helped in many places. The one other thing I think is worth mentioning is that this game lacks some identity. I mean, it’s clearly Mario, but it’s not the Mario that really did anything. It takes a lot of established ideas and put them together in a nice package, but that package is pretty standard. Red bricks. Green pipes. Goombas. Koopas. You recognize it all as Mario stuff, but none of it really feels like Super Mario 3D Land’s unique stuff and that’s a shame.
Overall, Super Mario 3D Land is a great 3D platformer, even for Mario standards. It may not innovate, but it polishes and perfects. It’s large enough yet consumable enough to easily shine in the 3DS library. I got it for about 30 bucks and even at that price it was worth it. Though I’m sure you could get it cheaper if you waited or shopped around. I’d say in general 25 dollars is not too bad a price if you’re not necessarily a big Mario fan to start with. It’s just such a solid experience it’s easy to recommend. The craziest part is… this was almost like a preview… a demo… of sign of what was to come on the Wii U. Tune in next time to hear about Super Mario 3D World!