The lights are on
I recently acquired a 3DS and a copy of Super Mario 3D Land. I have been a long time fan of Mario, so this was a no brainer for me. I picked it up expecting to have a good time. I was not disappointed, but I did find that I had a couple of complaints.
In general, 3D Land follows in the same pedigree as previous Mario games. The game is divided into eight separate worlds, made of a number of stages. Most stages have a singular theme, and many tend to revolve around a particular mechanic or power up. At the end of each stage is a flag pole, just as in Super Mario Bros. on NES. Individual worlds culminate in a boss battle in a castle or airship. These motifs harken back to classic Mario games such as Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and Super Mario Galaxy. This melting pot of previous Mario games made the long time fanboy in me extremely satisfied.
However, one major element of Mario's storied history was not quite as well translated. The music, while not as memorable as previous Mario titles still fits. Ghost houses are atmospheric and water levels make you feel like you're floating, just as they always have. But, there is very little that you will find yourself humming when not playing. It's unfortunate for a series that has instantly recognizable music to nearly all gamers.
One of the major strengths of this Mario adventure is the variety of power ups. Your standard mushroom, power star, and fire flower fare are all here. Older Mario fans will remember the raccoon tail that granted flight in SMB3 as well as the full-body raccoon suit that allowed Mario to become a statue. While the suit returns, its function is now closer to the tail's power in SMB3, minus flight. With the tanooki suit, Mario can dispatch enemies and reveal hidden goodies with a swing of his tail, and slow his descent when falling. Other than this suit, Mario also gets to become a Boomerang Brother and throw his own boomerangs. While this is one of the less common power ups, it wallows in sheer coolness. There are also even some fake bonus blocks that end up being impromptu power ups that stack on top of whatever other power up Mario currently has.
As great of a Mario game as this is, I do have some complaints. The first and most glaring of which is the length. As I said, there are eight worlds in all. The first seven worlds each only have 4-5 stages, including the boss stage. This was quite surprising to me, as I was used to SMB3, where each world has 7-9 stages. And, each stage itself is not really that long, nor have they ever been.
This brevity alone would not be such a big deal to me normally. In general, I do not complain when a game is short. This can often allow for replayability. However, the game is also quite easy. Perhaps I have acquired some amazing platformed skills over the years, but that is doubtful. Suffice it to say that by the time I reached Bowser's castle in World 8, I had 114 Star Coins, and 104 lives. (Three star coins are hidden on each stage, and are used to provide access to some stages, such as Bowser's castle. That one alone takes 90 Star Coins.) As you can see, there were no shortages of extra lives and I don't feel as if I tried nearly as hard for them as I did in SMG, SMW or any SMB. Any time I lost one or two, I would get three or four back within the same level.
Which brings me to another gripe: Nintendo's continued insistence to include a hand-holding Super Easy Mode. I can forgive a walkthrough video or even a ghost to show less skilled players how to navigate particularly challenging levels. However, in 3D Land, if you fail more than a couple of times, you are given a golden tanooki suit option when you spawn. This suit combines the normal suit with a power star. The only way to die with it is to fall off a cliff. If you either choose not to take the suit, or somehow manage to fail even more, you are given the option to take a P Wing and fly to the goal directly. To some degree, these options were somewhat insulting since I had dozens of lives at my disposal. However, they are still just options and you are not obliged to use them by any means.
Even with these gripes, Super Mario 3D Land is a fantastic and really fun romp through the Mushroom Kingdom. If you have enjoyed watching the Mario franchise over the decades, you'll love this iteration. Any fan will be able to find tidbits from and homages to most of their favorite Mario games (sans Yoshi, sadly). There are some things I'd love to see in a sequel, but this game is quite a love letter to past Mario entries. It may not stand out too much in the long run, except for the rather excellent 3D effects, but any Mario fan will appreciate this game. So, get out there and save the princess already!!!
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