Review: Super Mario 3D Land

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Super Mario 3D Land is a terrific platformer that mixes moments of insane difficulty with a player-friendly approach and brilliant visuals that perhaps more than any title so far, make a case for 3D visuals as an essential component of gameplay.

How so? Acrophobia, to put it simply. Running and jumping to ridiculous heights has always been at the core of Mario games, and the Nintendo 3DS’ stereoscopic visuals make it easy to imagine what it would be like to ascend – and perhaps fall – hundreds of feet. The handheld’s visual capabilities also make enemies, fireballs and even boomerangs as if appear as if they are capable of flying towards and almost out of the screen itself.

But as nice as the graphics are, Super Mario 3D Land – and any other game – needs to be fun to play to avoid failure. Thankfully, Nintendo delivered a classic Mario experience that relies on the traditional running and jumping exploits of vintage Super Mario Bros. while adding a series of zany and zanier surprises to keep things interesting.

Super Mario 3D Land is a game that lets players shoot Mario from a
cannon, curl inside a propeller-topped box that allows Mario to fly for
short distances and also throw boomerangs. Mario venture into haunted houses, castles, pyramids – and in a throwback gesture to the classic Super Mario Bros. 3 – airships.

And the Tanooki suit
from Super Mario Bros. 3 also returns. The suit doesn’t let Mario fly like it
did back in the day, but seeing Nintendo’s flagship plumber dressed in a
raccoon suit is a nostalgia rush for players who grew up with 8-bit gaming.

Super Mario 3D Land’s biggest change-up, however, when compared to its predecessors is how player-friendly the new game is. No one who played the original Super Mario Bros. is a stranger to “Game Over” screens, but Super Mario 3D Land makes it just about impossible to see one. That doesn’t mean it’s not a challenging title, since this reviewer watched Mario fall to his virtual death dozens of times, but the game is not really designed to allow failure.

Players will be able to earn many, many 1-Ups and if they still get stuck, there’s an invincibility power-up to help them get past a level’s enemies. If a level still proves to be too challenging, the P-Wing power-up serves as a get-to-the-end-of-the-level free card.

Some traditional-minded gamers may see these mechanisms as being too easy, but this reviewer disagrees. The only reason for the games of the 1980s and 1990s to have been as difficult as they were was because game companies wanted to claim as many quarters as they could from arcade machines. Now that games are built for home entertainment, or as often the case with handhelds, commuters, there’s no reason for them to be frustrating just for the sake of being frustrating.

Super Mario 3D Land is a cartoonish, even childish, game with wacky sound-effects and bright colors. Nonetheless, it should appeal to players of all ages who are looking for fun, with a little vertigo thrown in. Recommended.