Super Mario 3D Land Review: An Innovative Way to Have Vintage Fun

I’ll just say this right off the bat and get it out of the way: Super Mario 3D Land is a ridiculous amount of fun, but there is also a ridiculous amount of frustration. Are you ready for levels that are so innovative and adorable they make you gasp in delight? Are you also ready for levels that make you want to hurl your (in my case, ludicrously expensive) 3DS against a wall? Chances are, if you’re even reading this review, Super Mario 3D Land is a game you want to play – and should. Just be sure you have a stress ball – and the charger for your 3DS – handy.

Platforms: 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Genre: New Dimension of Mario Platforming
Release Date: November 13, 2011
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Super Mario 3D Land works like any typical game in the series: Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach yet again (Mario seriously needs to lock that down) and he has to fight through several worlds’ worth of enemies in order to rescue her. It’s that same tried-and-true formula that has worked in all the Mario games, and this game is no exception. You’ve got enemies, like Goombas (some with raccoon tails) and Boos, as well as your typical Koopa Troopas. You’ve got power-ups, including a boomerang suit and a neat box with a propeller on top of it that is possibly one of the most fun things ever added to a Mario game. And, of course, you’ve got another castle.

So, what is there to like about this game? That’s an easy question. First off, it’s adorable. It’s got all the fun and cute of a Mario game, bundled up in a tiny, portable, 3D package. Then there’s the nostalgia factor, all tied into the adorableness. From following music notes that play familiar Mario tunes, to going up to Coin Heaven, to remade versions of old songs, there’s a lot here that will help make a long-time Mario fan feel at home. Fans of Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and Super Mario Galaxy will be especially in their element here.

Then there’s the 3D itself. Not only is the 3D innovative here – there are some levels that are trick puzzles that, in 3D or not, need to be deciphered. But with the enhancement of the 3D, you’re already using your brain to think in a different way, and they’re easier to solve. And, as with most Mario games, the levels are different enough that they don’t feel tedious or repetitious – there’s enough variation here to keep things fresh from world to world.

That doesn’t mean the game is without its flaws, though. As with many previous games in the series, you can collect Star Coins to unlock certain levels. Well, I say “can collect,” but you discover very quickly that you must collect a certain number of them in order to unlock the final boss levels. This can become annoying if you aren’t finding them quickly enough – or, as in my case, you simply aren’t looking for them. I became much more careful and collected them more often as I went along, but every once in a while I’d get stuck and have to go back and dig through the older levels to find some more to proceed.

The game was also simultaneously teeth-grindingly difficult and insultingly easy. If you got stuck at a part and played it over and over (and over) again, the game would often give you a combination leaf-star item, which would give you a tail and make you invincible – for the rest of the level. This could be either obnoxiously easy or not matter at all, depending on what was killing you – if you were getting killed by annoyed creatures, sure, it was helpful. But if it was timing and/or the environment that was killing you – well, not even invincibility can make up for reflexes.

But the most annoying part for me – without giving away spoilers – was the fact that the ending (the “official” ending, that is) – dragged on and on and on. It was one of those games that just refuses to end, and then, just as it does end, it throws another curve ball at you, just as you were starting to relax. Surprise! Start over again, sucker.

On top of that, there’s another huge part to the game after the credits roll. You get a chance to replay the levels in a whole new way once you’ve defeated your nemesis. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that Nintendo has given us twice the game for our buck. This is a classic Mario move, introducing an additional quest to the game, and I think it’s great that they have put this much effort into the game. My only complaint was that I felt so burnt out after that frustrating ending. I put the 3DS down, and when I picked it up back up again, it was to spend more time with Mario and friends in Mario Kart 7.

Regardless of its flaws, Super Mario 3D Land is a great game, and is worth buying and playing – and playing, and playing more. It’s very robust, with plenty to keep you busy and happy for hours on end (and a cute pixelated princess to remind you to take a break if you’ve been playing for too long). It’s cute, it’s nostalgic, and the 3D really works in its favor. All in all, the 3DS library is really starting to shape up, and even when it expands, Super Mario 3D Land will easily remain one of its strongest titles.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of Super Mario 3D Land was provided by Nintendo for the purposes of this review.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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