Nintendo has repeatedly promised that Mario's first 3DS adventure would show off what the system is really made of, cementing it as a truly unique and capable platform. The incredible part? The company actually delivered. 3D gaming has never been fully realized before this.
As the first 3DS title to actually use 3D as an integral part of the gameplay experience, 3D Land's platforming relies heavily on the precision leant by the 3D effect. You can adjust it with a simple touch of the D-pad to either pop out or sink in more, depending on which suits the area best or just which you prefer at the moment. You can play without 3D enabled, but it makes things considerably more difficult and frustrating - this game was designed to be played in 3D, and you can't fully experience it otherwise.
Certain parts of 3D Land, during which a small 3D symbol appears on the top screen, you'll find near impossible to pull off without activating the 3D. By relying on 3D as an important mechanic rather than a second thought to enhance the visuals, the developers achieved the most effective 3D I've ever seen in any medium, as well as the most brilliant use of it. From the clever platforming puzzles to the creative level design, every aspect of the game is heightened by the masterful use of an effect that up until now has essentially only been used as an optional visual boost. As Mario jumps off a bouncy mushroom and soars out of your screen - or pulls off a daring jump onto a tiny platform to nab a secret or hidden medal - it becomes apparent that 3D Land represents the kind of experience the 3DS was always meant for.
The first eight worlds of 3D Land make for an engaging playthrough, though most of them I found relatively easy. While still completely enjoyable and creative - blending old school Mario concepts like Music Blocks and flagpoles with Galaxy innovations like flip switches and timed, disappearing platforms - you'll run through most of these worlds rather quickly. Things really pick up in the difficulty department after defeating World 8. Hardcore gaming enthusiasts should take comfort in the fact that the ease of the first few worlds is most certainly not indicative of the game's overall difficulty level. I've stomped a few Goombas in my day, but some of the later levels still took many, many tries to best.
New mechanics and challenges introduced after World 8 greatly enhance the experience and up the challenge significantly. The level design grows more complex and diverse, drawing creative inspiration from Super Mario Galaxy 2's more difficult trials and applying them to this 2D/3D platforming hybrid in a way that's never been done before. Collecting all three hidden medals in all of the levels will take even the most proficient gamer some thinking and trying to pull off. This progressive difficulty climb, paired with the at times intense medal challenges, make for an addictive and brilliant handheld experience that provides an impressive balance of easy and hard, long levels and short levels, big areas and small ones.
All of the levels, even the easier ones, are truly memorable and instantly classic, just like in the original Super Mario Bros. games. Also like these old gems, you'll find tons of hidden secrets, which you'll stumble across only by chance or by purposefully exploring and jumping around every area. The time limit on each level, which can be extended in some cases by finding and collecting clocks, further adds to the thrill by forcing you to plow forward and not second guess your jumps. While the entire game offers plenty of Mario's trademark platforming bliss, after World 8 the game makes a return to the sharp, clever challenge of the NES days - and it's as thrilling as ever.
The Power-Ups in the game are also brilliantly balanced, once you figure out how best to use them. The new Boomerang Suit allows Mario to toss a boomerang at his foes, and the Tanooki Tail lets Mario float (much like Yoshi does in Super Mario World 2). If used cleverly, both provide a strategic advantage when surrounded by enemies, and you actually need them for nabbing certain secrets and hidden medals. Learn to throw the boomerang at just the right height and angle and you can take down flying enemies, giving the item an advantage over the Fire Flower. The Tanooki Tail provides a great safety net for less proficient gamers, but even with the ability to float, many of the later levels feature blistering difficulty and make holding onto that coveted tail a challenge. Honestly, the fact that one hit from any enemy takes these powers away - and that you must know how to use them to fully reap their benefits - help make these Power-Ups more a clever tool than a free ride.
The graphics are some of the best on the system - hugely reminiscent in look to Super Mario Galaxy, though applied to shorter, non-planetary levels. The shading is beautiful, and the textures look crisper than anything else you'll find on the system. With creative backgrounds in the levels, Mario 3D Land offers a bright, beautiful world right in the palm of your hand. The level of interactivity with the environment is also stunning. Small touches like hearing the Toads freak out when you spin them with your Tanooki tail or charring the grass with Fire Balls helps connect you with the world and brings the entire presentation to a whole new level.
The incorporation of gyroscope and StreetPass help round out the package, making for the ideal 3DS experience. You can use gyroscope when looking through a set of binoculars in some of the levels, tilting the system to gain a better view of the challenges that lie ahead or to zoom in on a captive Toad - sometimes yielding a 1-Up Mushroom, Power-Up or even a hidden medal. StreetPass allows you to unlock mystery boxes - timed challenge rooms where you must race to collect all of the coins and defeat all of the enemies to grab the medal before time runs out. StreetPassing with other 3DS owners allows you to see their best times on each level, a great way to challenge yourself by trying to beat the times of those you've crossed paths with.
Super Mario 3D Land represents the first 3DS title to fully make use of the system’s capabilities. With an expertly balanced difficulty progression, dazzling level design and masterful Power-Ups, this is the ideal 3DS experience. Most of the first eight worlds fly by a bit too quickly, but with extra content you unlock afterward, medal challenges in each level and StreetPass allowing you to best your friend’s times, you’ll still find plenty of replay value here. As an experience, Super Mario 3D Land gets deeper the longer you play, as you sink into its particular groove and learn to appreciate it as a unique title - one that is separate from yet beautifully derivative of the entire Mario franchise. As a whole, 3D Land is brilliant and addictive, and should do for 3D-enhanced platforming what the original Super Mario Bros. did for 2D platforming. If you own a 3DS system, you have no choice - you simply must own this game.
A simple but adorable story, brought to life by short, delightful 3D cutscenes. Even without explanation, the controls should be intuitive enough for even novice gamers to pick up quickly.
Some of the best on the system, the world of 3D Land looks bright, smoothly animated and quite beautiful. It’s reminiscent of Super Mario Galaxy, which is a huge compliment.
A mix of old and new songs, you’ll never get these tunes out of your head. Outside of that, the sound effects are as memorable as ever.
The perfect use of the 3DS system - amazing Power-Ups, creative level design and a well-balanced difficulty progression make this the ideal handheld Mario game.
10 Lasting Appeal
The later levels can be blisteringly hard, and it’ll take some doing to collect all the medals. Throw in the StreetPass content and there’s an impressive amount to do here.
TOTAL SCORE 9.5 'AMAZING'