Hard times have fallen upon Nintendo of late. With an old revolution slowly bowing out to make way for a new idea that hasn’t been well received, the 3DS is pretty much on its own to carry the Nintendo banner. 3D remakes of old classics have been met with mixed reception from the under-equipped Starfox 64 3D to the long-awaited The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. Some are already calling the handheld a failure, but then again the Nintendo DS had a difficult birth. It took a fictional Japanese professor with intelligence tests to inflate the popularity of the Nintendo DS to print money. It is merely awaiting that killer app. Nintendo have therefore called in the plumber to help kick-start the money drain pipe with Super Mario 3D Land. Has Mario done a Dr Kawashima, or has the plumber botched this crucial job?
Mario is once again out to save the Princess from the devilishly evil Bowser who also steals a lot of Tanooki leaves in the process – meaning that familiar enemies like Goombas will now sometimes sport raccoon tails. Finally it seems that Bowser has cottoned on to how Mario keeps winning back the Princess from his grubby paws. Mario can now once more use the Tanooki suit and Fire Flower power-ups, but also adds the one enemy ability he hasn’t found in flower form, the Boomerang Bros boomerangs, to his closet of one-time used costumes. During his travels, he may also come across propeller boxes that enable him to soar into the skies and a variant of the Tanooki suit with a scarf that is more faithful to the original costume found in Super Mario Bros 3. Re-using powers from previous games while introducing new ones is a bit of fan service that is much appreciated, though might be a sign that the plumber is running out of room in his wardrobe.
“From the green plains and peaceful valleys, to Bowser’s Castle and the more abstract locales, Super Mario 3D Land captures the essence that marks the quality of the franchise with its smart level design.”
To say that the game is recognisably a recent Mario game is perhaps discrediting it slightly, as to make a game of this visual caliber is remarkable on a handheld. From the green plains and peaceful valleys, to Bowser’s Castle and the more abstract locales, Super Mario 3D Land captures the essence that marks the quality of the franchise with its smart level design. There are parodies of previous Mario games in terms of the music, but it is the level that is an homage to The Legend of Zelda dungeons that certainly took me aback.
The sad truth is that the more abstract levels are not completely fresh ideas; we’ve seen blocks appearing and disappearing in time with music before, we’ve seen two sets of platforms (red and blue) alternate to being available to walk on every time you jump. At least when you find the special worlds, you will come across interesting variations that use the same layout. One might have you time your jumps to a different beat, while another would have you chased by your shadow. It is still in these bizarre worlds that the most fun can be had with this game, despite a lack of brand new ideas. There are also cubes scattered around levels and in the level select screen where you have the opportunity to collect power ups and star coins. The Nintendo 3DS street pass feature enables more of these levels to appear, yet is a fun diversion at most.
Where the visual experience sets it apart however is the camera and how it exploits 3D. Loading the game and leaving it on the start screen will present you with what I can only describe as the icing on the 3D cake. If you don’t turn on 3D, the platform looks like a singular platform until the camera swivels to reveal that one platform is slightly raised – in 3D this is more obvious. That is essentially the way 3D works here and while it is playable in 2D, I’d recommend turning that slider all the way up to your comfortable level.
Ever eager to cater for the casual gamer whilst not content with angering the hardcore too much by making Mario a paint by numbers game, Nintendo’s assist help function is back once more to hold hands and skip merrily across the plains, caverns, and wherever Mario’s adventures take him. If you lose a few lives in a row, the game throws you a curve ball and gives you one of the randomised item boxes where you come back. If you lose five, a special golden leaf box appears that gives you a special Tanooki suit that renders you invincible to everything except pits, lava and swamp water. If somehow that isn’t enough either, the game concludes that you are so bad at the game that it isn’t worth labouring over this level and gives you a P-wing to warp you to the end of the level. These are only available the first time you come across a level and don’t apply to any special worlds you encounter.
I’m sure someone would have a use for this function, but the thing is that Super Mario 3D Land isn’t a difficult game to complete for anyone with experience with other Mario games. Depending on how many Mario games you have played, the eight worlds will take around three-to-five hours to complete. That doesn’t sound like much on the surface, but there is a twist. Super Mario 3D Land has another eight worlds for you to explore that serve as an arrangement of those previously experienced. Occasionally you’ll come across conditions for those levels. A time limit that can be replenished by collecting clocks or stomping on enemies makes levels frantically paced, while being relentlessly chased by a shadowy doppelgänger of Mario induces a level of panic familiar to the Comet worlds from Super Mario Galaxy. Levels are still linked directly to the star coins with this last world requiring phenomenal sleuthing to collect the ever-increasing toll to pass through the levels. Having the ability to play as Luigi on the fly is a nice touch, if somewhat predictable. For those who wish to collect all the star coins and see everything, there is a lot to offer, but it is fairly mundane to anyone who hates hoarding collectables.
While it is almost guaranteed that Mario will have fixed some of Nintendo’s cash flow issues of late, Super Mario 3D Land is a far cry from its more inspired galactic Wii cousins. The problem doesn’t stem from the visuals, as Mario’s first fully 3D adventure has at last made a convincing argument for 3D in entertainment. The camera is perhaps key to this success, but smart level design showcases the system capabilities to show 3D in an appealing way. The rest of the experience though is perhaps too familiar however. It sounds like a Mario game, it plays like one, and despite trying to mix things up with level concepts it never really takes off from the starting block. Certainly not a fumbled effort, but Super Mario 3D Land misses the world record pace set by the series own high score.