"The time has come for Nintendo to stop playing it safe."
Super Mario 3D Land was supposed to be the one “killer app” that the Nintendo 3DS needed to help spur sales. With many already questioning the systems longevity and use in the homes of gamers (with their short term memory spans neglecting the fact that the Nintendo DS suffered from a paltry line up for its first year), it seemed like the first exclusive title that would usher in a longer line of not only new purchases, but new titles to go alongside it within the coming months and years. I mean, what’s not to love about a new Mario game? Not much really, though somehow that “not much” seems like a bit “too much” this time around.
Now let me say this straight out of the gate: by no means is Super Mario 3D Land a despicable or even a poor release. What Nintendo managed to do well, was done to the typical standards that we’ve all come to love. This new 3D world that Mario inhabits works on a number of levels, most notably the 3D effect. Not once does anything feel obnoxiously overdone. Actually, it seems somewhat downplayed on most occasions. There are instances in which there’s a depth perception utilized in terms of floating down slowly to platforms that are moving below Mario, or even some pipe sequences in which he can duck around and behind some blocks that pop out in 3D. It’s not a grand spectacle, but they are little bits added into the gameplay that feel not only natural, but almost as if it’s supposed to have been this way since the beginning of time. The music is serviceable, though the homages to older tunes, and the newer ones featured are nothing groundbreaking, nor memorable in the least.
It’s everything else that manages to feel either too familiar, too safe, too clumsy or too easy. The one longstanding issue that has plagued all Mario games in general is its ease in difficulty and ease in acquiring extra lives. Not even past the first world, I had nearly thirty lives and only lost one of those lives. On World 7 and died maybe eight times and have over eighty lives and counting. The challenges thrown out by 3D Land are laughable, even with the overly abused gimmicks, such as small platforms above instant death pits. The bosses make the sub castle mini-bosses in Super Mario Bros. 3 seem unstoppable. There’s really nothing holding even the most novice players back from running through 3D Land virtually unscathed….
….and running through players will. This might be the shortest traditional Mario title I have played since Super Mario Land. Each world almost ends as soon as it begins, and with just eight worlds in total, there’s little content provided. Defeating the game opens up a sorta remixed batch of “Special” stages, which add next to nothing in terms of legitimate content. Many of the stages available are near blatant retreads of what has been conquered already. Even the advent of Luigi doesn’t help refresh the notion that there’s a lack of fully fleshed content.
There are eight slots in each world, which one would think would mean that there are eight stages per world. Not the case here, as most of these worlds only have five playable stages, including the castle at the very end. Sometimes players will come across a Toad house that will provide them a meager power up, which usually isn’t the most viable choice for the stage coming up. Then there are a few question mark box stages that are opened up via star coins collected. Some worlds will open a new stage up, while others will provide some flimsy minigame like stage that ends almost as soon as it begins.
To be honest, these stages are not as creative as one would expect from such an illustrious franchise. Even the power ups are nothing special. The Tanooki Mario powerup lacks a statue transformation until the game is completed once and the special stage opens up. There’s still a lack of flight ability granted, but then again, with how embarrassingly easy the game turned out to be, the point seems moot. Star Mario seems like it’s designated mostly for the bonus areas found in certain stages, where hopping onto a rainbow musical note block sends Mario into the clouds. The Fire Mario poweup remains the unchanged, immaculate ability that it always has been. Then there’s Boomerang Mario, which is a take on my all-time favorite powerup, Hammer Bros. Mario from the third installment. The boomerangs move quite slow, and they seem to be as rare as the Hammer Bros. suit.
I wouldn’t mind so much if the stages were a bit longer, but they are mostly brief, with zero incentive to return, unless a star coin was not obtained previously. If these were all bit sized levels, but doubled in terms of the number available to the game, then that oversight could be forgiven, however these are all miniscule, not entirely creative stages that don’t really challenge anyone that comes through them.
Then there’s that one aspect to a Mario game that never seems to falter – the controls. I really can’t chalk this up as a discomfort of using the circle pad to manipulate Mario as opposed to a traditional analog stick, but the controls do not feel as tight as they should feel. There are more awkward acceleration and deceleration moments, and just an overall feeling of disconnection between my commands and Mario’s actions. They still work, but they are not as refined as any other 2D or 3D Mario release.
By no means is Super Mario 3D Land a flop – the Mario charm is still there, as well as the colorful world that he inhabits. It’s just that the rest seems phoned in. Nintendo did manage to have the 3D effects as an augmentation to the visual design and gameplay as a whole, however the controls are not as refined as they should have been, the content is way too paltry, the difficulty is non existent and there’s little reason to replay any stage. While Super Mario 3D Land did provide an experience that does show off what 3D can add to a game, it seems like that took away from further fleshing out all of the aspects to the game. If you’re really jonesing for some Mario gameplay on the 3DS, I say stick to New Super Mario Bros. for the time being, and once 3D Land drops in price, then take that leap into the third dimension.