The overall feel of Super Mario 3D Land is that of a "best of title." It combines the best elements of games from the franchise's history including Super Mario 64, Super Mario Bros. 3, The New Super Mario Bros. and others, and then focuses them all in a completely new adventure to take advantage of Nintendo's new hardware in the 3DS.
+Classic Mario platforming action refined and polished to near perfection.
+The addition of the Tanooki suit, and Tanooki tails to characters throughout the game, give the game a ridiculous amount of adorable.
+The 3D features of the 3DS are utilized intelligently and don't feel shoe-horned in.
+Quite possibly the best example of a reason to own a 3DS this holiday season.
-There should have been some multiplayer options, co-operative or competitive.
-There are segements in the game that require the use of 3D, so those that want to play the game but don't like 3D are out of luck.
With each new piece of Hardware offered by Nintendo, there are a few titles that you can be guaranteed will be making an appearance. Chief among those would be Mario. It's been a while since we watched the launch of the Nintendo 3DS come and go, but we finally have our 'staple series' making its debut on the system.
Super Mario 3D Land plays a little like Nintendo's take on Sega's recent release of Sonic Generations. No, it doesn't showcase a bunch of different Marios getting together to fight back darkness in some bizarro outter-dimension; but it does feature the "Best of" mentality, featuring a number of throw-backs to the All-Star Mario franchise spanning the last 25 years, countless games and platforms. Of course, the first thing shown from Nintendo (and possibly to excess) was the Tanooki suit, but that's just one small piece of this Super Mario "This is your life" spectacular.
Of course the most obvious comparison that can be made is to one of the fan-favourites in the long-running franchise: Super Mario 64. The game cribs nearly everything from the classic 3D platformer, including all of his old moves, in conjunction with one or two new ones. If fact, when you're actually dropped into one of the "Worlds" one would have a hard time discerning the difference between Super Mario 64 and Super Mario 3D Land; other than, of course, the fact that you're now playing in 3D on the Nintendo 3DS.
The over-world structure lends a little more for a recent title: New Super Mario Bros. The path is a linear one, breaking from the classic "Mario Land Series" by not really providing many options for branching path-ways to your final goal. The entire game is a straight march from left to right (as far as the "map" is concerned) but it helps to keep things moving while adhering to that classic Mario simplicity that we've all come to love.
Then of course you have the massive nod to another long-loved favourite of the franchise: Super Mario Bros. 3 in the form of the grand return of the Tanooki suit. If you played the original, you know that the Tanooki suit is, originally, a pair of racoon ears and a tail that grant Mario the ability to "fly." In the updated version, Mario 3D Land, it's now a full suit and rather than granting you the ability of flight you can now float (Knuckles style, with a slow decent). The change helps to keep things balanced in the 3D field, and winds up being the single best suit in the game (I'm not above playing favourites).
To be fair though, I don't believe it's just me playing favourites. The majority of the Coins (there are three per level to collect, allowing access to secondary Worlds throughout the game) can only be accessed by the Tanooki suit's hover ability. Furthermore the Tanooki suit is the best way to get to the top of ANY flagpole throughout the game. Another sly nod to the original series, at the end of each level you're provided with a short puzzle/platform challenge with the goal of jumping on top of the castle-flag in order to gain an extra life for our moustachioed plumper.
With all of the nods to the series' history, it's super easy to get swept up in a wave of nostalgia for the games of yore, but make no mistake Mario 3D Land is an all new adventure.
There's no way Nintendo could get away with just rehashing a series of classic Mario themes, settings and abilities though; certainly not without actually calling the game an anniversary title. Super Mario 3D Land offers up a couple of new abilities, and I have to say: I'm pretty darned happy with the lot of them.
My personal favourite is the Boomerang Suit, which has you dressed up as one of the "Boomerang Bros" (think a Hammer Bro with a blue palette swap throwing returning projectiles rather than discarding hammers). It does exactly what you would think it would: grants the ability to toss out boomerangs on the fly. It's a lot like the Fire Suit, but with the added benefit of having the projectile double-back allowing for opportunity to hit an enemy a second time (if you happened to miss, intentionally or otherwise) and grab items that are out of arms' reach.
The second new addition is the propeller box. This one is a little odd to look at really... Rather than providing Mario with a full 'suit' he throws a box over his head (ala Metal Gear's Snake) and hobbles around inside of a brick whilst using it. The advantage for this one is an increased vertical jump... Basically when you take off you hold down the jump button and his propeller spirals him upwards in a sort of "super jump" then floats him back down, which leads to a whole host of vertical-themed platforming segments throughout that thrust Mario upwards at the 3D screen.
The basic concept of the game's story is that an 'evil' wind has sent the Tanooki tree's leave soaring all over Mario Land, and has advanced (rather dramatically) one of Bowser's typical "princess-napping" schemes. The premise is hokey (as with all Marios) and serves as little more than a means to the end of slapping a Tanooki tail on every classic Mario character. Making your way through the game though, it becomes abundantly clear why Nintendo would do this: So that they could put an adorable little tail on everyone, for an off the charts adorable punch to the formulaic platformer. Don't get me wrong, generally speaking I'm not easily suckered by cute. Fluffy kitties and miniaturized dogs that can play-dead on command do nothing for me... But slapping a raccoon tail on a Bullet Bill does successfully nudge at my "d'awwwww' button.
For my money this has to be simply one of the best Mario titles to date. It would be easy enough to say that Mario on the 3DS, especially in the form of a full new title, would seem like a gem by default in a sea of ports and rehashes that have been filling up the 3DS marketplace for the last few months. But I'm happy to say it's not simply just the best game (so far) to launch for the Nintendo 3DS, but easily one of my top three Mario titles of all time now.
It plays with one of my favourite mechanics (cleaned up and modernized to shine like a polished diamond), Mario 64. It then brings in the navigation and the simplistic "retro" nature of the New Super Mario Bros. and then supplies an entirely new experience on a budding platform that takes advantages of the Hardware, without feeling like a bunch of features were just tossed in "because it's there."
If you're one of the people that purchased a Nintendo 3DS, or are considering getting one now to take advantage of Nintedos plethora of holiday releases, Super Mario 3D Land is the first real "must have" title for the console.
Sure, it's easy enough to say that Zelda and Star Fox on the 3DS are great games, don't get me wrong... But they were great years ago. This is an entirely new experience, and takes advantage of the new technologies appropriately.
This review is based on a Nintendo 3DS version provided by the Publisher.