Super Mario 3D Land; A Good Game, but not Galaxy Caliber

Super Mario 3D Land is an unusual game. On the one hand, it’s technically a 3D game made by the same people behind Super Mario Galaxy, and hence has all of the tricks and game mechanics found in those titles, while on the other it’s about as close to classic 2D Mario as you can get, with one hundred percent of the levels revolving around platforming rather than cheap gimmicks. No, it has as little to do with Super Mario Land the Game Boy series as Wario Land 1 did.

As far as the core gameplay goes, this game is great. Ignore the morons complaining about ‘bad’ controls or what not, the controls work perfectly fine. Indeed, if you’ve ever played Super Mario 64 DS in any capacity, you should find the control scheme here about the same, and as much as some big media sites like to complain, it’s not a bad control scheme to use. So how does it work? Well, controls wise, much like Super Mario Galaxy with exactly two exceptions:

1. You have a run button which you must hold to make Mario dash.

2. Underwater controls work like the 2D games (press A/B to make you go up, let go to make Mario sink down). It’s a different experience, but it’s fairly easy to get used to and is arguably a tad more precise than the awkward swimming mechanics found in the Super Mario Galaxy titles.

The gameplay in general is much like Super Mario Galaxy 2, with fairly linear courses that you have to traverse towards a goal flag. It’s always fun, each level introduces a new mechanic of some kind, and none of these take away from the gameplay. For example, one level will introduce swimming mechanics, another a new kind of enemy or two and another platforms that change/flip when Mario jumps. I kind of like this, it’s how a 3D Mario game should be designed, with a bunch of interesting levels (take note New Super Mario Bros series) that don’t stray too far from the core platforming gameplay (see, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2’s pointless gimmicks).

Mario 3D Land 1

Above: All levels in the game all platforming based, hence there’s no infuriating gimmicks or mini games.

What’s more, I like how this game actually brings some classic Mario level archtypes and does them properly in 3D for once. For example, there are now actual ghost houses with puzzles, mazes and well, ghosts. These feel much more like the Super Mario World/New Super Mario Bros school of design rather than the 64/Sunshine/Galaxy one, and are much better for it. Similarly, actual castle levels are in this (see above screenshot), which is rather refreshing considering how they got rarer and rarer ever since the series went 3D.

The game also comes with a bunch of power ups you can achieve, and thankfully, they work well. For one thing, they’re not timed this time around (and you can carry them between levels, which is a huge relief), and they work pretty well. The Tanooki Suit is the main new addition, allowing Mario to whip enemies with his tail, float down slowly to cross large gaps and… oh wait, it doesn’t have flying abilities. Bit lacking in that sense, but it’s understandable regardless, just being able to ‘glide’ breaks about half the game’s levels and actual flight would probably let you reach the end in well under half a minute. There’s also a Boomerang Suit, letting Mario throw boomerangs at enemies, but it’s not quite as useful due to the one boomerang on screen limit. Does let you pick up star medals and collectibles though, which is good.

Boomerang Mario

Above: The Boomerang Flower/Suit is a nice power when you have it, but a bit limited and less useful in platforming heavy stages.

The best power up however is none of those, but the special Tanooki Suit you get in the bonus levels. Why? Statue Mario. Damn that’s the most useful power in the game, seeing as becoming a statue literally turns you into a stone wall. Anything that could normally harm you ignores you or does nothing (even the giant spike pillars in the later airships get stopped dead by this power!), and if any poor creature happens to be underneath you at the time, it gets smashed to pulp. Traps become scrap metal, Thwomps turned to gravel and even giant creatures like the eels die instantly. It’s a very useful power, and you should easily guess why the game never gives you it for the first eight worlds.

That’s the other new thing in this game, you now have far more than the boring eight world ‘standard’ Super Mario Bros 3 introduced. Instead, when you beat Bowser in the final castle for the first time, you unlock another eight worlds on top of that, with new power ups, a new boss (Dry Bowser), new levels and new enemies and obstacles (such as Cosmic Clones). It’s a very nice addition, seeing as so many recent Mario games just stick with the standard eight.

dry bowser

Above: Changing Bowser to Dry Bowser for the special worlds was a nice touch. Said worlds double the games length.

However, there’s a bit of a problem here. The secret levels, while good, are often just rehashed versions of the normal ones. Sometimes this is barely noticeable, or a significant portion has been edited (the elevator clock tower and the green platform levels are entirely new), but other times it’s literally just adding a timer or Cosmic Clones to an already short and easy level. Notable poor examples include the level with timed blocks (the same layout is reused twice, just with different enemies), and the underground levels. However, keep in mind this is a whole new eight worlds you’re getting, and well, that’s a lot better than the poor job Galaxy 2 did with the secret levels (just about ten, more than half of which are reused content from past games)

Technically, the game is decent. It won’t quite blow you away like the Super Mario Galaxy games did (the graphics are fairly standard for a Mario game, and there’s rarely cases of beautiful scenery or the like), but it’s just good all round. Music? Excellent as usual, and always fits the theme perfectly. Could possibly be a bit louder in some cases though, the castle themes seem a bit subdued for the kinds of levels you’re ignoring. If it was more like this:

Or this:

Either would fit perfectly in the castles where you’re chased by Cosmic Clones or on a constant twenty second timer, and the New Super Mario Bros one would do great in the final level if I say so myself. The current castle theme is great in itself, just would work better in the slower paced castles. Other level themes work fine in all instances, the airship music is still great, the haunted house music generally fits the mood of the levels it’s in and the main theme is as upbeat as it needs to be, and extremely catchy to boot.

Back to the gameplay itself though, there are some issues. For one thing, the bosses are mediocre. They’re not as terrible as they could have been, and both Boom Boom and Pom Pom put up a decent enough fight, but there’s barely any variety, with exactly THREE types of boss battle in the entire game. You fight Bowser three times, on a bridge, Boom Boom about three times, and Pom Pom about three times. That’s it, with the exception of the final boss and the graphics swapped Dry Bowser. If one game was screaming out for the Koopalings, Kamek and maybe Bowser Jr to be in it, this is it. If Nintendo had added in them as well as kept Boom Boom and Pom Pom as bosses in certain levels, the game would have been even better and the boss fights wouldn’t have been quite as forgettable.

Boom Boom SM3DL

Above: Boom Boom and Pom Pom are decent opponents, but unfortunately them and Bowser/Dry Bowser are all you ever face.

Another issue is the short level length. Yes it’s accurate to Super Mario Bros 3, but it also means you’re only likely to start dying about ten feet from the end of the level. Feels rather disappointing when a good level seems to abruptly end, or it turns out you messed up mere inches from the flag.

There’s also one or two questionable physics in this game, which do take away from the enjoyment of it a tad. For example, while cannons are thankfully rare enough to not be much of a problem (thank God there’s no bonus level dedicated to them), they don’t really work that well and it feels like the physics are an awkward cross between those in Super Mario 64 and those in Super Mario Galaxy. It’s not too bad (I’ve only ever actually messed up with one of these things once, in the ‘final’ level), but the fact you seem to come to a complete stop and smash into the ground immediately when over a piece of land makes it feel totally unnatural, as if Mario has smashed straight into an invisible wall. Those spinning bolts in one of the later airship levels are another issue, they don’t seem to work overly well and feel like a sort of conveyor belt mixed with the Mario Galaxy series gravity system. The fact you can die due to being too near the ‘top’/’back’ of the screen when on one doesn’t help either.

Cannons are a bit mediocre, but thankfully rare.

Finally, the game seems a tad too easy, and is over too quickly. Indeed, my current time is 18 hours and I’ve beaten the game, got five stars on my save file and beaten world 8 S crown with both Mario and Luigi. It’s great fun while it lasts, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem like it’ll take experts very long to beat, and it seems like the game was designed to be a good stepping stone into the franchise for complete beginners.

However, that isn’t all that much of a problem, because the game itself is great fun. Indeed, it actually makes me wonder how much of the earlier 3D games was just filler, seeing as this one is 100% platforming with no pointless gimmicks thrown in to pad out the game. Really says something doesn’t it, how we must have spent about twice as much time playing the Galaxy games almost entirely due to the mini games and unexpected control changes. Maybe that explains while the Galaxy games (and Sunshine) had so much coin collecting, racing mini games, rubbish disposal, etc, because without it they wouldn’t have enough content to fill out more than twenty hours gameplay. Is Mario 3D Land really short because it’s a short or easy game? Probably not, more like it seems shorter because it doesn’t throw fake difficulty at you and try to pad out the experience with side quests and mini games.

In conclusion though, Super Mario 3D Land is a great game. Sure, it might not have all the grand ‘epic’ feel the Galaxy games had with the orchestrated music, latin choir in the boss fights and some story about Rosalina recreating the universe. But it also leaves out all the pointless filler and padding the later 3D Mario games threw in for the sake of it, and hence feels like a platformer through and through. As a result, it feels like a direct translation of Super Mario Bros 3 into 3D (minus the Koopalings), and is a Mario platformer which just accepts it’s a platformer at heart. If you’re new to Mario games or need something new to try, buy it, because you won’t be disappointed. If you’re a long term Mario fan, again buy it, but keep in mind you’ll probably have the whole thing mastered within about a day or two.

Super Mario 3D Land is a recommended purchase for any 3DS owners. Buy it now.

Scores (with breakdown)

Graphics: 85%

Excellent, although less advanced than in the Galaxy games due to tech limitations.

Music: 90%

Works well, slightly subdued/ambient when it needed to be stronger.

Gameplay: 100%

Everything works as it should, no badly done gimmicks.

Length/Difficulty: 80%

Great for beginners, should have been a bit more difficult for experts.