The lights are on
Mario and Luigi have been of great service to the Mushroom Kingdom. Apart from being a boy friend and a friend, respectively, they have also saved the kingdom, and Princess Peach herself, since 1985.
But in real life, each Mario game introduceds a new gaming concept. Mario 1 introduced side-scrolling adventure genre on the NES, Mario 3 changed how Mario games should be like till date, Mario World introduced 16-bit platforming on the Super Nintendo, Mario 64 introduced 3D gaming, and the Mario Galaxy introduced gamers to space exploration via wireless controllers. Now, "SUPER MARIO 3D LAND" introduces us to the other type of 3D gaming: 3D visuals. From the title alone, you can tell that world exploration in this Super Mario game is a very interesting experience.
But, there are things you ought to know before buying this game, and try as best as possible to ignore other reviewers out there. The review starts now. Although, I must warn that there may be spolier and, if it's taking too long, you may want to copy-paste this review and print it out on papers.
This time, the plot rotates around a Tanooki tree outside Peach's castle. After a storm occured, Mario and a group of three Toads discovered that Bowser kidnapped Peach and took all the tree's Super Leaves – giving some to his minions. Hence, the only story here is similar to that of, let's say, New Super Mario Bros. Wii: Mario must run to Bowser's castle, beat him, rescue Peach and return together to Toad Town.
Yeah, that's it. No side stories within the story. Nintendo intends to keep things simple this time around, and that's a big concern over a full, retail-priced game like this one.
In this game, Mario and Luigi are able to do their thing: using power-ups, butt-slamming, wall-kicking, long-jumping a distance, and back-flipping. You won't be able to do the famous double and triple jumps, or punch enemies, but I guess many of you can live with it.
The controls are a bit trickier than those on the Wii. For example, to long jump, you'll need to leave your thumb on the "Y" button for acceleration. Then, hit "L" with your left finger, and hit the bottom of your right palm on "B". Yeah, it's very technical and, by long run, uncomfortable. Apart from not always work everywhere, that's why I only occasionally use long jump.
Occasionally while on the maps, the game also generously reminds you to rest awhile. It's nice that Nintendo care about their gamers during unexpected moments.
"Super Mario 3D Land" is a crazy combination of Mario Bros. 1 and 3, Mario 64, New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Mario Galaxy 2. The levels, just like the old Mario games, they are a series of beautiful lands... with Toad houses and occasional ghost haunts. Parts of the game's levels are copy-pasted from older Mario games: the blocks and flag poles from Mario 1, the metallic, rectangular platforms from Mario 3, the saws and parasites from Mario World, the metallic platforms that sink into the lave from Mario Galaxy 1, the rotating square platforms from NSMB Wii, and the flipping platforms – which thankfully respond to your jumping and not spinning – and spiky platforms from Mario Galaxy 2. Also expect to see areas that resemble the Mario 1 sprites of Mario, Luigi, the Super Mushroom and Peach... and that same level ending in a retro fashion.
The levels and gameplay are designed based on those on both Mario 1, Mario 64 and Mario Galaxy 2, which is kinda cool... and a concept done well.
It's too bad that this game doesn't have shortcuts to upper worlds, though, whether it's the Warp Zone, the "Legend of Zelda" flute, or even cannons... like in the old Mario games.
It's obvious that each world is themed, like water world, sky world, lava world, etc. What's odd's that their levels don't seem to show such world designs during gameplay. You can be at world 8 (Lava world) for example, but its level 2 looks like it's in the Forest world.
This game is for people who love to think outside the box. You may discover clever routes to additional coins, power-ups and the ever elusive Cosmic Medals... some giving you better access to the top of the flag pole at the end. Some, however, are harder to find and access than others. You may need to watch gameplay footages at YouTube for ideas.
This game not only brings us classic enemies. It introduces some sort of a dragon, colorful bugs, and a cute rock unit that serves as an obstruction. The latter actually makes certain levels fun to play through, especially while looking for coins, power-ups and Cosmic Medals at higher elevations. For some odd reason, the game's manual is only 4 pages long – the cover being page 1. Thus, there's no way of knowing the new enemies' names without heading over to... for example... Mariowiki.com.
Yeah, the Cosmic Medals of Mario Galaxy 2 return in this game. They're now called "Star Medals". Instead of harder missions in already visited levels, these are used to unlock latter levels... just like the Power Stars did in older Mario games.
And just like the Prankster Star levels of the Mario Galaxy franchise, the levels at the Special worlds are difficult versions of the original, with brand new levels thrown in. There, expect to be chased by the infamous Cosmic Clones from Mario Galaxy, or even run over Poison Mushrooms, both of which actually following you! On the negative side, the Special worlds are as infamous as the "World S" of Mario Galaxy 2. If you have 100 lives, for example, you'll lose all them effortlessly. And, in some 30-second levels, they won't even tell you that you've just entered a chase scene with the Clone... or when the Clone becomes X-L. You've been warned.
As for power-ups and blocks, expect the return of the Super Mushroom, 1-Up Mushroom and Starman. Nintendo also included the boomerang power-ups, the super-fun propeller boxes and, most importantly, the Tanooki Leaves (or "Super Leaves") – 3D Land's theme. These can be used strategically into your advantage, depending on the level you're currently at. They also brought back Mario 3's music blocks and, this time, they aren't here for show. They actually make musical sounds as you bounce off them. The dark purple ones shoot you up to the bonus levels in the skies, like the plants would in the classics. Some of those bonus levels either are zoomed out or resemble the level camera angle resembles that of "Super Mario RPG".
They also included telescopes to see the levels ahead but, if you have good Mario moves from the old games, I doubt you'll be needing it for other than looking for clever routes or Star Medals.
But what about the differences between Mario and Luigi? Just like the Mario Galaxy franchise, Luigi can still jump higher than Mario. In fact, I found it easier to beat Bowser with him than with Mario.
Strangely though, there are actually only three bosses in this game: Boom Boom, Pom Pom (probably Boom Boom's sister?) and Bowser – who will occasionally attack you with his whirlwind ability from Mario Sunshine, which I thought was cool. Either these bosses re-occur in doomships or castles, or you get to fight two fake Bowsers (read: a Tanooki Goomba and a Tanooki Magikoopa). Dry Bowser, the skeletal ghost version of Bowser, is also encountered at the Special worlds.
But oddly yet, Nintendo usually introduced new ways for Bowser to be beaten in each new Super Mario title: Mario 1 – collapsible bridge, Mario 3 – butt-slamming into a breakable platform, Mario World – throwing Mecha-koopas at Bowser in his clown kart, Mario 64 – tossing him to bombs, and Mario Sunshine – defeating him with your F.L.U.D.D. In this game, though, does anyone here think that collapsible bridges are getting too old?
The 3D display is a thankful addition to the gameplay. Apart from making the environments a lot more realistic, and having me awed at the amazing lava pool – at the stage before Bowser's castle, it somewhat makes gameplay easier. Among my biggest complaints on the Mario Galaxy franchise's that it was hard to tell if you're over safe grounds, partially thanks to the beautiful, and yet complicated, level designs. In Mario 3D Land, except often in the harder levels, you can tell if Mario/Luigi is jumping over safe grounds, hence minimizing your fall over a cliff, bridges etc. It even helped me out in accurately jumping onto Hammer Bros., Boomerang Bros. and their weapons, a deep improvement from the days of Mario Galaxy 2. Thanks, Nintendo, for answering our wish!
And another cool feature the game earns is making use of the 3DS's sensors. While using the telescope, or aiming yourself in a cannon, you can look around the distance just by moving your 3DS all over. Also, the Mario 64-style rings are cool gameplay features.
It's just too bad that the infamous "Perfect Run" from Mario Galaxy 2 didn't return in this game. I'd have loved to see how the improvement, adding the 3D... and how the flipping platforms respond this time around, would've been like.
And as for Peach's fans, Nintendo came so close to making Peach playable in a Super Mario game, even if it's in special levels. She even tried to escape, while taking down some Goombas... Super Princess Peach style, but failed and got caught. (At least, Nintendo did answer why it's close to impossible for Peach to rescue herself... and Peach needs the Mario Bros.) Rather, you may as well settle for this accidental artwork. Let's hope that it implies a sequel. It's too bad we don't even get to visit Toad Town or Princess Peach at her castle after beating World 1 – 8, or after beating the entire game (for seeing Tanooki Peach).
But overall, truthfully, I smiled throughout the whole gameplay, a sign that Nintendo really offered something refreshingly new.
"Super Mario 3D Land" is strictly single player, which is weird. So, no word from Nintendo over any experiment of the abandoned Mario 64 multiplayer? Hence, the game lets you switch between the Mario Bros. instead, like Mario Galaxy 2, which is still alright.
This game also has a StreetPass feature. Since I live outside the traditional countries, I'm yet to learn more about the value of this feature in details. Again, the manual that came with my copy of the game says nothing about it, but the back of the box did say that you'll be collecting useful items.
The graphics are a little bit of how we remember them on the Wii. The Mario characters haven't changed a bit, and the level designs are beautiful. The post cards that Mario receives at the beginning of each world, which are actually 3D layers of drawing parts, are interestingly interactive. Shake your 3DS, and see for yourselves. (Although, personally, I'm not sure if the postcards should've been 3D layers or interactive at all.) They can also be seen at a Toad's house, in the form of a photo album, at World 3.
And still on the subject, this game is no exception to having maps. The maps look like the mix of those of "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" and "Super Mario Galaxy 2". For each world, a Mario Bro. is in the middle, scrolling left or right accessing old and new levels. Each level is shown in a summary way, as is done in the Mario Galaxy franchise. If you'd rescued Luigi in Special world 1, there'll also be a green L button on the touch screen. In addition, you can access one Toad house per world, as to collect power-ups or look through your postcards. (Did I mention the 8-bit Mario and Luigi sprites on the touch screen? Not so wow, but I guess this is cool.)
Also, I did mention that this actually makes gameplay a little bit easier.
And finally, the yellow-colored User Interface (UI) is ideal for the Nintendo 3DS. It's simple and very accessible on the touch screen, or even with the buttons.
The sound effects are beautifully executed. No need to go into details.
It's too bad that voice-acting is at its minimum. The Toad NPCs only make gibberish sounds or yell "Hey!", so it's hard to tell that they're trying to help in places other than the Toad houses.
All sounding great, most of the soundtracks are remix of classic Mario game themes. You'll be hearing the Mario 1 and Mario World theme music, the mushroom gorge and Toad house themes from Mario 3, and the tunnel theme, death theme and the Game Over theme from Mario 1. Others are immediate classics, such as the Boo haunt theme from Mario Galaxy 1, which is among my most favorite of all time.
This game also has its own theme, as being heard since E3 2011. Plus, there's also a much cooler version... still stuck in my head... at the clock level of World 7, and another at Special world 2. The castles now have three new soundtracks you may love listening to again, from time to time. Plus, the water levels and one with disappearing platforms have some interesting soundtracks of their own as well.
And there's also a cameo Nintendo theme as well. Step into World 5-2 as Fire Mario, light up an empty torch near a locked door, and keep your ears pealed.
But, with the 3D Land theme, this was a good opportunity for Nintendo to come up with brand new themes, with similar tunes, for both the death and Game Over scenarios. That's what they had been doing till the mid 2000's, hadn't they?
Boy, do I have some problems with this game! Since it's a mobile gaming title, the following faults would've been unforgivable if the game were to be made for the WiiU, rather than the Nintendo 3DS.
Putting gameplay and others aside, comparing to its competitors – or eve the Mario predecessors before it, you basically have nothing else to cheerish out of this game. With other games being released, such as "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim", you'd think that Nintendo would've delivered extra value. The following are the reasons why this is the only Super Mario game I'm doubtful over so far.
How many of you guys realized that Boom Boom, Pom Pom and Bowser are the ONLY THREE bosses in this game? Apart from the first two re-appearing frequently, the rest are a couple of Bowser imposters, like those in Super Mario Bros. 1. Compare to that game, just two fake Bowsers isn't enough to gamers like me to care about.
In other words, the Koopalings, Bowser Jr. and Kamek (among our favorite boss characters for one reason or another) – and even unknown bosses who'd been showing up from nowhere since "Yoshi's Island" – are completely ABSENT in this game. I originally anticipated the kids and Kamek to be in this game.
Thankfully, though, the well-designed gameplay will make you forget about the number of bosses involved.
Apart from changing its source, the Super Leaf does not give you the ability to fly... except in the game's ending credits (non-playable). Instead, you glide back down to earth with it. Only in the Special worlds, starting from 1-1, will you be able to find those that can turn you into a statue, one of the Tanooki's original abilities. There's also the Invincibility version, if you're losing a lot, but that only saves you from being hurt.
The (P) power-ups, which show up if you lose more often, take you to flag poles rather than giving you infinity flight like Mario 3.
What's worse's that Shigeru Miyamoto actually came through with making this game nothing more than running to Bowser's castle, beating up the Koopa Troops, beating up Bowser, and rescuing Peach. The entirety of it looks like the 3D version of "New Super Mario Bros. Wii". Even the intro has no decent, captivating cinematic, extensive voice-acting... not even Peach reading an entire letter to you aloud (which are all now interactive drawings on postcards). Instead, if you thought that the intro of Mario Galaxy 2 seemed weird, check out what we got as our 3D Land intro at supermario3dland.nintendo.com, under "Story & Characters". (Complete with a 1920's remix of the 3D Land theme as their excuse for the simplicity.)
No surprise; voice-acting, worst when compared to the Mario Galaxy franchise, is at its absolute minimum. You'll occasionally be hearing one-liners from older Mario games. You probably just heard at least two at the game's intro. There are no cinematic dialogues either for us to read through either – or speech bubbles, since there isn't a complex story involving NPCs. (More on that later.)
You'll even be forgiven for thinking that you could speak to the Toad NPCs during gameplay, especially the prisoners at the end of each castle level. You'll only use up your time limit trying to do so. Also due to this, you won't even figure out why those Toads were captured in the first place.
It's a shame, because it took me a trip to YouTube to figure out that the Toads at far off distances actually had the missing Star Medals with them all along. I originally thought that they were merely pointing at where the flag poles were with their yellings.
On the plus side, although only at one particular scene after beating Bowser the first time, you'll hear Mario crying "Oh, no! Mama mia...!"... or Luigi saying "Thanks, bro!" at the end of Special world 1. Sadly, those are all of the decent in-game voice-acting you'll hear. In fact, not once I'd heard Kenny James' Bowser conpleting a verbal conversation, between the Wii console and the 3DS handheld.
Am I the only one who thinks that the Super Mario franchise is way overdue in getting in-game voice-acting in full? Other games like Sonic had already done so, and it brought in more value to such gaming brands. Now, assuming you've already beaten Bowser, or you saw the boss fight on YouTube, check out what small changes this simple voice-acting concept could bring to this level alone:
After rescuing Peach, it'd have been cool to see both Mario and Peach talking to each other in a cutscene, checking if they're alright, and talking a bit more about their ordeals. Then, the three Toads show up with the Super Leaves, they all leave, and the credits roll. Sounds like I have game-making potentials.
I even thought of it a bit longer than when I found others saying the same thing. Fighting with Bowser this time around is not even a boss fight. It's more like an obstacle course. It's as if Bowser's just testing his skills, and that he's using Mario (or Luigi) as his little guinea pig. If it's not about Bowser, then it's about Mario and Luigi dodging all obstacles and crumbling platforms, just to reach the finish line. We'd have liked to see what Bowser did in both Mario 64 and Mario Galaxy 1 or, better yet, the really bad-ass skills he had in Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story – among which is the infamous "Goomba Storm". Simple stomping on Bowser's head, like in the Mario RPG games, would even do, especially with the Tanooki... and Bowser throwing barrels at us.
Bowser's A.I felt roboticly pre-programmed in the barrel part, since I moved to the right side, but he attacked from the left side.
And how come Bowser didn't use the Super Leaf? Huge, wasted opportunity. What could be harder than a flying Bowser? (Oh, yeah. The Tanooki won't even let you fly in this game.)
Now, with such simplicity, and lack of cinematics and voice-acting, there are some issues to examine here. I'm not really sure if excessive 3D view is ideal for kids, left alone grown-ups. Eye strains may occur in due time. Gamers, most especially kids, may find this game a lot more fun to keep around if the above issues were resolved. And, if the level designs seem simplified in some stages, as to support the 3D display, they lose their flavor once annoyed gamers turn the 3D off – Bowser's castle including, which at least had a wicked facade to look at (with 3D, of course).
Without the 3D, Bowser's own castle design before seeing Peach, plus number of Koopa troops in it, was a let-down if you compare to his various, more memoriable bases in Mario 3, Mario 64, NSMB DS and Wii... and even Mario Galaxy 1 and 2. Even the first castle at World 8 was a lot more interesting. The only thing that offers a challenge here is Bowser's own flames, and there was only one of those rotating fireball lines at the beginning.
Since Nintendo took the story back to its roots, rather than going for something that feels a lot like a live cartoon show, Mario and Luigi are rescuing Peach all alone (with yet another group of random Toads, 2 of which suspiciously look like those in NSMB Wii)... in a retro fashion. With that annoying timer on the top-right, there's no stopping for them to admire the sceneries for too long. Hence, don't even expect famous Mario characters like Toad, Toadsworth, Toadette, the Wario Bros., Princess Daisy, Rosalina or the Professor, or even be able to interact with them for tips on how to win the game, side missions (i.e. side stories) or other cool stuff. Appearances of most of these Mario NPCs are overdue in the Super Mario franchise.
Did I mention that 3D Land only has three notable bosses? Strangely yet, Boom Boom and Pom Pom never change their tactics and, instead, depend on the level designs to take you down. Boom Boom does change his tactics once at the Special worlds, but you'll soon discover that you didn't even need to meet him.
And to prove that the downsides are worth mentioning in this review, buy this game in the morning, put a lot of effort into it, and you'll be able to beat World 1 – 8 in less than half a day. With maximum effort, you can beat the entire game in 2 – 4 days. Putting the Special worlds aside, the Star Medals offer too little replay value. The lack of cinematics and NPC interactions also helped make this game so short overall. (About no shortcuts in this game, I'm taking it back.) 3D Land seems classic and expensive, especially since I paid $83 plus for it here in Nigeria. Let's hope that Nintendo don't repeat this mess on their next home console, the WiiU.
"Super Mario 3D Land" has beautifully constructed gameplay, well-polished graphics and UI, as well as really cool soundtracks. But overall, compare to other games of similar price tag, it doesn't offer much as a Super Mario game of 2011 – surprisingly less so than even "Super Mario Galaxy 2", and that game may offer you much in both gamplay and story.
Now, this review has two different final verdicts, depending on how you look at this game:
The gameplay makes up for the stuff being missing, as I complained under "Downsides". In fact, thanks to the interesting, yet difficult, Special worlds, the gameplay is being stretched to average game length. If you don't mind going beyond saving Princess Peach, and thinking outside the box, then this game is alright for you, and it scores an enthusiastic 7. The gameplay as a whole is guaranteed to make you smile, along with the delightful number of soundtracks.
But if you don't care about the Special worlds, and planning to get this game anyway, you should give the extra gameplay a try. Otherwise, consider the following options: wait till the price drops, buy the classics for the Nintendo DS or the Wii (or even from Nintendo's Virtual Console store), or get "Mario Kart 7" or Paper Mario 3DS. Mario Kart has high replay value, thanks to its multiplayer... as I pointed out in my review for the Wii installment... and Mario Kart has a lot of voice-acting. And as for the other, the RPG games have a good record of captivating stories and NPC interactions, cutscenes and side missions. But as for Mario 3D Land with its Special worlds being ignored by gamers, it scores a miserable 6.
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