Nintendo brought its iconic plumber to the 3D handheld back in 2011, when the console first launched, and gave the then struggling handheld the kick start it needed. But how revolutionary was Mario’s 3DS adventure? As it turns out, Super Mario 3D Land was not only the 3DS’s first blockbuster, but the game that really exemplified what the 3DS is capable of and proved that 3D can be an important part of gaming.
The spectacular level design is the core of 3D Land’s greatness. Each level feels like a small world where exploration is encouraged. Most levels can be completed in 5 minutes, but straying from the beaten path often offers a reward, whether it is a power-up or a different perspective of the level. The perfect timing of the levels encourages players to poke around and see what there is to see, but also streamlines the stages so concepts and gimmicks never become stale, resulting in a harmonious balance.
In the first 8 worlds especially, the level designs are unique, colorful, and enthralling, but they usually provide little challenge. I found myself breezing through the first half of the game with a surplus of lives. The latter half of the game, on the other hand, boosts the intensity. For the most part, remixed versions of levels from the first 8 worlds make up the levels of the latter 8 worlds, but special objectives and a higher difficulty keep the freshness long after the completion of the first 8 worlds. For completionists, finding all the medals and earning the 5 stars for a save file will take tens, if not hundreds, of hours and the resulting sense of accomplishment feels amazing and well earned.
3D Land doesn’t execute everything perfectly though, the largest issue being the boss fights, which were still fantastic, but each battle feels like a slight variation of the same fight. The showdowns maintain the same fun gameplay the rest of the game touts, but if each boss fight had the same level of uniqueness that the other levels have between themselves, the overall tone and design choices would have flowed better. Every now and again, the controls caused some issues. Most of the time, jumps can be precisely executed, but there were some instances where stomping a Goomba took a few attempts. In those instances, turning on the 3D alleviated any issue with controls, so the problems quickly boils down to non-issues.
Playing in 3D has never been more fun than in Super Mario 3D Land. Gone are the days of gimmicky tricks with the third dimension, now 3D enhances gameplay, making jumps and aerial tricks easy to successfully execute. 3D Land has set the standard for 3D gaming and I feel that no other game has come close to using 3D like Mario.
Super Mario 3D Land is the first portable, 3D Mario adventure game and it sets a very high standard. With incredibly unique levels, exploring the small vignette style levels makes for a colorful and exhilarating platforming adventure. A few things like controls and boss design stuck out, but don’t detract from the pure fun Mario games are known for. Whether you are a casual gamer or more hardcore, if you own a 3DS, Super Mario 3D Land really demonstrates what the handheld is capable of. An absolute must own.
- Excellent use of 3D for practical, non-gimmicky platforming
- Unique level design throughout the entirety of the 16 world adventure
- A difficulty curve that introduces concepts gradually, then cranks up the challenge for deeply rewarding exploration
- Repetitive boss battles
- Rarely finicky contorls
Score (out of 10): 9.6 Fantastic