Originally Reviewed: 2011
The 3DS had a rocky start to life on the market, but has since levelled out with impressive sales figures that even outshine its older brother. That the console has managed to do so without a so-called ‘killer app’ is even more impressive, considering that arguably the best games on 3DS were merely updated N64 ports. Now, finally the young Nintendo handheld has its first truly great original title and, like so often in Nintendo’s history, it’s Mario at the helm.
Developed by the team behind Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario 3D Land (SM3D) definitely has the feel of the classic Wii titles, but this is blended with a distinct 2D Mario flavour. Taking heavy influence from Mario 3, SM3D drops Mario into a 3D world and litters it with 2D Mario lore, meaning the game feels like a ‘best of’ Mario title. The levels are in 3D, but gone are the open-ended star-based challenges and in their place are the distinctly ‘old skool’ staples of question blocks, flagpoles and time limits.
Fans of the series, both old and new, will be pleased to hear that this marriage of old and new works terrifically well. The game feels both familiar and fresh at the same time. Sure, there are rehashed elements of Mario 3 like the Tanookie Suit and the airship levels, but such is Nintendo’s ability to create engaging and exciting platform levels that SM3D is relentlessly fun and never stale. Nobody can ever label a main series Mario game as boring.
There are a wide variety of levels in SM3D and Nintendo’s decision not to place a theme on any of the worlds is of great benefit to the game. There is no ice world or desert world; every level is simply different from the last. Some levels are in full 3D and some are 2.5D. One minute Mario will be bustling through a sprawling snowy landscape, the next he will be engaging in some classic side-scrolling swimming. The levels are consistently great and throw up so many different styles of Mario gaming from throughout the plumber’s history that there really is something for everyone here. Make no mistake; Nintendo is on top of its game with SM3D.
Graphically, SM3D is an astounding achievement for 3DS. Nintendo has taken the graphical style of Galaxy and easily equalled the visual quality of the Wii titles. Even in full 3D, the game is smooth and the bright colours and charming art style is a delight to look at. And it’s when SM3D has that little depth slider turned all the way up that it’s clear that this is the type of game Nintendo imagined when developing the handheld.
The use of 3D in SM3D is by far the most innovative and well implemented on the system. SM3D is the first title on the system where 3D is not merely a gimmick or an added level of depth; in SM3D it is a necessity. The extra depth is the basis for many of the levels and it is no exaggeration that most gamers will have it turned on throughout. Mario drops down holes and bounces out of the screen, while platforms carry him off way into the distance and piranha plants shoot ink right into your face. For the first time a 3DS game feels developed around the use of 3D, not with it as an afterthought.
So what’s new in SM3D? Granted, not very much. As previously mentioned, the game feels distinctly like a greatest hits experience, but this is of no detriment to its overall quality. Hey, Nintendo have been following the same formula for most of their main IPs throughout the last 25 years. If they nailed it so perfectly the first time, how much can they actually change?
There are a few new power-ups to go along with the admittedly overused Mario 3 feather and the new take on the Bowser boss fights is excellent, but the game mainly feels like exactly what it is – Mario 3 meets Mario Galaxy. Don’t be fooled into thinking that is a bad thing; a lovingly crafted hybrid of two of the greatest platform games of all time? That will definitely do.
If there’s one glaring problem that stares our portly princess-saving friend in the face, it’s the game’s difficulty. For the vast majority of the game, it’s incredibly easy. Not insultingly easy, though, as you’ll most likely be having so much fun that the addition of a low difficulty curve will make you feel like some kind of Mario god.
Having completed the main game, there is a subsequent ‘S’ world which does significantly ramp up the challenge, but even at the end of that, the game save used for this review finished on 190 lives. SM3D dishes them out like they’re going out of fashion. It’s not game breaking, but it is slightly disappointing to play the main game relatively unchallenged, especially with as much influence taken from Mario 3, which is arguably one of Mario’s hardest adventures. Rayman Origins, this most certainly is not.
SM3D is easily the best original title on 3DS to date. A superb graphical achievement complimented by excellent use of 3D, immensely tight gameplay, brilliant controls and consistently enjoyable level design. The lack of any real innovation and especially the disappointingly low difficulty are a shame and mean that SM3D is unlikely to challenge the upper echelons of Mario’s back catalogue. Nevertheless, SM3D is undoubtedly Mario’s best handheld game and is a strong indicator of the quality that the 3DS is able to put out. Just make it harder next time, Nintendo.