In a post-Odyssey world, how does an older Super Mario title hold up?
Author’s Note: Almost none of the names for the powerups listed below are accurate since I didn’t look them up. For me, part of the fun is to make up names for the items in Nintendo games since they never tell you what they’re called in-game. Enjoy!
I have to hand it to Nintendo, Super Mario 3D Land has one of the best plots of any Mario game, ever. With the Mushroom Kingdom facing bankruptcy, Princess Peach turns to Mario for help. He quickly jumps into action: platforming through levels and fighting Goombas to collect coins to stave off imminent financial collapse. Hearing that Bowser has a stockpile of coins, Mario races off to defeat the leader of the Koopa Troop and bring home the gold…I’m joking, of course, the impetus for Mario’s adventure is as usual: Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach and thus Mario goes to save her by parkouring through ridiculous levels and wearing outlandish costumes.
The game revolves around levels using a numbering scheme similar to past Super Mario games: you know what I mean, W1-1, 1-2, etc. While running through these levels, you will guide everyone’s favorite plumber to collect coins and what I assume are star coins (they look like stars but they are in coin form). There are three of these star coins on each level and they really aren’t hard to find. I collected most of them on my first try though there are a few that managed to allude me. From what I can tell, there is a time limit of 500 seconds on every level (you are given less time in a few special levels but we’ll cover those a little later). After collecting a hundred coins, you are given a 1-UP and there are 1-UP mushrooms hidden throughout the levels that you can collect as well. I must admit that, at first, I thought the game was going to be really easy since I didn’t die very often in the first few worlds. I finished the main game with over 30 lives but that number quickly diminished when I started the special levels (again, we’ll cover those below).
The gameplay is the usual fare for a Super Mario title: you must hop, jump, and wall kick your way to victory. The main difference this time around is the addition of suits that Mario can wear that grant him special abilities. There is the Tanooki suit (the only official name I know), the fire suit, and the boomerang suit. These can be acquired by breaking blocks or by defeating certain enemies. Toad also gives them to Mario in special stages scattered throughout the game. Besides the powers that the suits bestow upon Mario, they also serve another purpose. They grant Mario the gift of being able to absorb an extra blow from an enemy or environmental hazard. While wearing a suit, the first hit takes the suit away, the second makes Mario smaller, and the third hit places you back at the beginning of the level (unless there’s a flag checkpoint). All three suits added their own special layer to the gameplay but, in my most exalted opinion, the Tanooki suit was by far the most useful.
As for the levels themselves, Nintendo’s employees have proven once again that they are the undisputed masters of creativity. You will face all sorts of hazards that range from platforms that disappear in time with the soundtrack to the screen constantly moving forward forcing you to stay ahead of it. I found myself smiling whenever I encountered something truly creative or if I was genuinely surprised and delighted, which happened often in 3D Land. There is no shortage of imagination in the game and I’m sure it will be a joy for anybody who plays it.
Which brings us to the special worlds. After you complete the main campaign, the special worlds become available. These are for people who don’t hate themselves enough in their daily lives and need some extra punishment. Most of the special levels are rehashes of ones found in the main campaign though there are several original and unique ones scattered throughout. As you might have guessed, the special worlds present a noticeably greater challenge than the standard ones. As I stated before, I finished the main game with over 30 lives but I quickly ran out of lives while playing through this second set of worlds. If you like an extra amount of challenge in your Mario games, then these are the levels for you.
As if the level design wasn’t enough, most of the special levels also feature special challenges. These challenges include a really low time limit which forces you to collect every time clock you see, a shadow doppelganger that follows your every move and can hurt you, or both at once. These challenges add an extra flair to the game and make the special worlds that more compelling (and frustrating). Additionally, the power suits are in short supply in these special levels and their absence is felt as you make your way through the worlds.
The suits made many levels much easier and that fact is perhaps my biggest complaint about 3D Land. Mario, in his standard form, is basically powerless (except for his jump) and less maneuverable than when he has a suit on. The game is designed more for what suit Mario has on instead of what skills you have developed by playing. For example, you will discover that certain star coins are out of reach if you don’t have the Tanooki suit. I also swear that, at one point, the Tanooki suit is required to complete a level in the later stages (in addition, if you want to reach the top of the flag pole that appears at the end of each level, you’ll need that suit). I know what I say to be true based on my experience with S8-2 of special world fame. I wasted dozens of lives trying to make it through that level with a suitless Mario and it is next to impossible. I had to return to one of the first levels of the game, grab a Tanooki suit, and return to S8-2 which I then proceeded to complete flawlessly. That is what frustrates me the most about the game. The suits are basically required to complete it.
The second biggest complaint I have with 3D Land is the 2D implementation. I played the game in 2D (since I own a New 2DS XL) and it was very difficult to judge where Mario would land after a jump or how close he was to an enemy. I don’t know how many times I died from missing a small platform or running into an enemy because the 2D appeared slightly off but it was a lot. I know that 3D Land was made to show off the capabilities of the 3DS but (given the fact that many people didn’t like the 3D feature and that the Wii U received a sequel to the game with 2D working just fine) you would think Nintendo would have implemented the 2D better.
Also, the music was great but many tracks were repeated in different levels.
Although I greatly enjoyed my time with Super Mario 3D Land, I do feel that (since I played Super Mario Odyssey earlier this year and loved every second of it) I may have been too hard on it. But then I remember all the frustration that came with failing over and over again on S8-2 then easily beating it when I had the Tanooki suit. The necessity of the suits, the imprecise nature of the 2D implementation, and the repetitive music tracks were the three biggest complaints I have for 3D Land. On the other hand, the level design, the wackiness, creativity, and imagination on display, and the variety of the levels more than make up for the game’s flaws. If you’re a fan of Mario games (or platformers in general) then you can’t go wrong with Super Mario 3D Land.
Final Score: 7.5/10
- Fun and inventive design
- Challenging and rewarding gameplay
- Suits add a new flavor to the game
- Variety of levels
- A few levels and collectibles only accessible with suits
- 2D can be misleading
- Music is repetitive
Thanks for reading!
Bonus: When looking up the correct spelling of “Tanooki,” I discovered this game by PETA (click at your own risk). Apparently, a Tanooki takes revenge on Mario for wearing its brethren’s skin. I haven’t played the game myself but I am really interested to see what that’s all about.