After the major price drop and stellar future line-up were announced earlier this year, I knew I would be investing in the Nintendo 3DS. So, on Black Friday, I braved the craven masses to fetch myself the sexy Zelda-themed 3DS bundle and Super Mario 3D Land (I also impulse-bought Battlefield 3 since it was on sale). I don’t have the time right now to become obsessed with Ocarina of Time again, so I decided to make a trip to the Mushroom Kingdom for yet another adventure with the world’s favorite plumber.
Plot & Characters
Let’s be honest: if you’re buying a Mario platformer for the story, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. (If you do want a Mario game with story, look here). There isn’t anything new going on in the Mushroom Kingdom. Here’s a brief synopsis of the story lovingly clipped from the game’s wiki:
“A tree that stands on Princess Peach’s castle grounds is stripped of all its leaves during a storm. The leaves, which turn out to be Super Leaves, are blown across the Mushroom Kingdom, bestowing Tanooki tails on all living things they touch. When Mario and the Toads go to inspect the tree the next day, they discover a letter from Bowser, learning that he has kidnapped Princess Peach. Mario sets off in pursuit to locate and rescue the princess.”
So, rescue the Princess and avoid the bad guys, who now have tails. Moving right along.
The game’s soundtrack is a mixed bag. On the one hand, there are some cool pieces that refer back to the soundtracks of previous Mario titles; however, the new compositions, while pleasing and appropriate, are entirely forgettable. All told, the composer, who remains anonymous thanks to Nintendo’s Valve-like approach of just throwing all the names in the credit with no duty breakdown, really phoned this one in.
SM3DL‘s visuals are, quite frankly, stunning. The character models are clean, crisp, smooth, and well-developed. A portable Mario title has never looked so good. The environments are all rich and colorful and completely alive.
This game also utilized the system’s 3D incredibly well. In general, the game looks great with the 3D both on and off; however, the game is littered with special 3D sections (mostly in the form of bonus levels and treasure rooms). These special 3D segments cannot be easily navigated while not using the 3D functionality. These areas have me truly excited about the future of 3D utilization in upcoming titles. Adding a three-dimensional layer to this game was a truly unique decision, and the development team pulled it off incredibly well.
Bringing a 3D Mario experience to a portable system was a lofty goal, one which the dev team accomplished by utilizing several different camera perspectives into their level design. As you would expect, there are plenty of traditional 2D, side-scrolling levels; additionally, there are a ton of levels that use 3D perspectives. There are a few levels that use a very similar camera/perspective combo to that of Super Mario Galaxy, for example. Another frequent 3D perspective is an almost top-down view. Levels that utilize this interesting perspective often involve flight or long drops, which, in unison with the camera’s perspective, promotes a true sense of falling (so beware, vertigo sufferers!).
The gameplay is a little bit more slowly-paced than that of other portable Mario titles, which took a bit of getting used to. The combat and platforming are done incredibly well, as always. The power-ups in this game, the Fire Flower, the Tanooki Leaf, and the new Boomerang Flower, are all incredibly fun to play with, each providing a different way of navigating the treacherous path to rescue the Princess.
Despite all of the wonderful innovation and ideas that the dev team executed in creating the game’s visual style and other gameplay elements, there is a rather glaring negative that needs to be addressed. The amount of hand-holding that goes on in this game is downright embarrassing. The game is pathetically easy. By the time I completed World 2, I had accrued 54 extra lives without even putting in any extra effort. The creatures all move incredibly slowly and are downright lethargic in their attacks against Mario. I could deal with an easy game, but it’s the next thing that really pushed me over the edge: if you die five times in a row on one level, you are given a special Tanooki suit that makes Mario invulnerable. That’s right: if you die too much, then Mario is turned into a bulletproof man that can float his way through the levels. At that point, the game may as well just play itself.
I understand that Mario games are targeted towards a younger crowd, but give me a break. If you can’t beat a level, then you don’t get to progress through the game – that’s the way it works. What kind of message is this sending to the next generation of gamers? “Aww, you tried your best, and that’s what counts.” This is a dangerous idea, and it’s something I hope to never see again in another Mario title.
If you own a 3DS, then you should probably make it a point to check this game out. It’s a bit short (it may have taken me 6-7 hours at most to get my first clear. I’m still going back in an attempt to grab all the special coins and visit the special worlds). This game will really show you the awesome potential this system has behind it; however, if you’re looking for a challenging platforming, then you’re barking up the wrong tree. This game is a lot of fun, but there is absolutely no challenge in it.