I like falling down pits. Well maybe I should say I like jumping over obstacles with the prospect of falling down a pit as punishment for failure. There is nothing more satisfying than making seemingly impossible leaps of faith across an assortment of candy colored blocks that also just so happen to be rotating. Defying the odds; this is what real platforming is all about. In the case of Super Mario 3D Land, there are plenty of these perfect platforming moments. These are the sort of moments where I find myself physically tensing up, holding my breath, and thinking about nothing but landing absolutely perfect jumps.
Sure, Super Mario 3D Land starts out easy enough, and it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that Mario vets could easily blow through the first eight Worlds in about two hours tops. That isn’t a knock at the somewhat breezy start however, as completing a stage always feels satisfying regardless of the challenge. Considering each stage throws something unique into the mix, it’s hard to complain about the initial difficulty when everything is this polished. Anyone looking for a real challenge will get it eventually, and for perfectionist there are plenty of trinkets to collect and gold flags to obtain. If there is a fear of the game being light on content, please set that notion aside.
Great platforming in a Mario game works because the Mario games have always been about momentum, and what the player is willing to do with said momentum. Super Mario 3D Land is no different, offering a balanced game that rewards both timid yet methodical players, and hardened Mario vets that go in there with a parkour-style approach. Personally, I try not to ever let go of the run button as I find nothing but joy in getting the most out of Mario’s ninja-like agility.
On the subject of the run button, this is the first 3D Mario game to have a run button; forgoing total analog control as far as speed is concerned. This single drastic change keeps the game more in line with classic 2D Mario titles. While there are a few hold over moves from the previous 3D Mario games (like the long jump), he is also missing classic moves like his famous triple jump and standard melee attacks. Fortunately, he does have a handful of fun hidden moves like a Super Mario Brothers 2 inspired power jump.
Perhaps 3D Land’s greatest short coming is its lack of original core ideas. As brilliantly designed and paced as 3D Land is, the game is essentially the best parts of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Brothers 3 thrown into a blender. For most players this is probably a fantastic combination, and it is, yet what it really means is that outside of the new fangled stereoscopic 3D, Super Mario 3D Land fails to find its own true identity.
I’d be remiss not to talk about the 3D aspect of this game though, because unlike everything I’ve played on 3DS, this is the first game designed around stereoscopic 3D. Aside from some really great visual effects, the developers have worked in some unique optical effects for those of us that can see 3D and enjoy playing with it turned up. For example, early in the game there is a line of three 1up mushrooms, but as Mario approaches them it becomes clear that two of the three are actually just cardboard stands. Switching 3D off makes it just a touch harder to realize what’s fake and what’s real. These neat optical tricks might seem gimmicky, but they’re interesting ways to play with our perception.
However, while the game was in development, Shigeru Miyamoto himself said the 3D aspect of the game also improves the way players perceive where Mario rests in 3D space. The idea here being that 3D would make Mario easier to navigate from platform to platform. After playing many hours of 3D Land, I don’t buy this claim in the least. It’s an interesting thought, but what helps the platforming in a 3D space in this case are the more linear, streamlined levels with a helpful camera that doesn’t need to be babysat (in fact, there is almost zero camera control in 3D Land). So while the platforming here is slightly easier to grasp than Super Mario Galaxy, this is due to the way the game was built around 3D, not the 3D effect itself.
Super Mario 3D Land plays it safe by blending the ideas and time tested mechanics of previous Mario games, striking a happy balance between New Super Mario Brothers Wii and Super Mario Galaxy. In theory the game is designed to cater to both 2D and 3D Mario fan bases, yet I question if the game has the mass appeal of something like New Super Mario Brothers Wii. Regardless, Super Mario 3D Land is a highly polished game full of delicious death traps that demand to be jumped over.