Mario returns to handhelds with his next major game in Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS. Going from his galactic days to something a bit more smaller. With many returning abilities and mechanics, this does feel like Mario going a bit back to his NES roots. Along with new moves, enemies, and abilities there will also be things long-time fans will find interesting.
Like most Mario games, the setting for SM3D Land doesn't stand out from the usual. Bowser is up to his old antics again and has kidnapped Princess Peach. It's once again up to Mario to save her. So if you were looking forward to some huge story to finally appear in Mario, you're gonna have to keep waiting. This doesn't harm the game in any way, and who really plays Mario for the story?
Controls aren't much different from what long-time fans are use to. Movement is done with the circle pad only, with the D-pad being used for camera controls and 3D toggling. You got your dash and your jump buttons. The dash button is also used as your attack button when you have a power-up equipped. The shoulder buttons are for crouching. Other familiar moves include wall jumping, long jump, crouch jump, and the ground pound. No triple jump this time around, but Mario has gained a new roll move in its place. I don't use the roll move as often as I would a triple jump in other games, but the move does have its uses.
The layout for the game is also very similar to past Mario titles. You move through levels via a World Map screen. As seen with Super Mario Galaxy 2, levels are represented by mini model representations on the World Map. Toad Houses are also back on the map screen and players can visit them for a quick power-up. New to Mario are Mystery Boxes that you'll encounter in some Worlds. These act as mini-levels that only last for a few seconds, usually having you beat up a couple enemies before coins rain down on you. These Mystery Boxes are also tied to the Street Pass mechanic and is how you'll gain new Mystery Box levels.
Levels consist of 2D and 3D designs. The camera will pan out to give out a sideways view, but you can move closer or farther from the camera, so there's some 3D depth. But levels will also branch out to more 3D types as seen in Mario 64 or the Galaxy series. You won't get the huge levels seen in Galaxy, as these levels are bit more confined. And awaiting you at the end of each level is a flag pole.
It won't be a normal Mario game without some unique power-ups mixed in, and SM3D Land is no different. As shown by the game's logo, the fan-fave Tanooki Suit makes a grand return. With this power-up in hand, Mario will gain a tail-whip attack along with a hovering ability. It doesn't exactly work the same way it did in Super Mario Bros. 3, but it's probably the most useful power-up in the game. Other power-ups include the also returning Mushroom, Star, Fire Flower and the new Boomerang power-up. The Boomerang power works as it sounds, giving Mario a boomerang to throw, much like the Boomerang Bros. enemy that's in the game.
This is a Mario game like any other, and SM3D Land does a good job of capturing some nostalgia while also remaining very new. Levels in the game feature familiar items seen in past games like Galaxy, and even a level based off the Legend of Zelda. Levels are fairly short and can be breezed through in under a minute, but can also last you much longer. There are plenty of difficult situations to encounter, so not every level will be a walk in the park the first time. Star coins do make a return as well, so you'll spend some extra time finding them, and it's receommended you do so. Certain levels won't be playable unless you've obtained a certain amount of Star Coins. This may sound bad, but the Star Coins weren't too difficult to find and I've managed to find all Star Coins in the game without the need of some outside help.
This is where the 3D effect of the 3DS comes in handy. It helps secret openings and other things stick out more, which will spark your curiosity. I viewed many levels in 2D and 3D and it does make a difference in helping you better know where the secrets may lie. The 3D isn't too much either, and I managed to play the entire game on max settings. It's nothing that will really impress you, but it can be a helpful thing to leave on. There is also a toggle setting that can add more depth to the 3D if you choose to enable it.
It's all about the levels for any Mario game and the ones in SM3D Land were fun to play through, and weren't too difficult. If you do find some levels too difficult for you though, an Assist Mode is present once again. It won't play the game for you like past games, but will offer something that will make things much easier. Dying twice in a level will give you a random power-up box. Dying five times in a level will trigger a power-up box that will include the Sparkling White Tanooki Suit. This suit has the same abilities of a normal Tanooki Suit, but you'll also gain the invulerabilitiy of a Star, that lasts the whole level. There is still the chance of falling off the level, but you won't have to worry about dangerous obstacles or enemies anymore. If that doesn't help you, dying 10 times will make a P-Wing appear, and grabbing that will transport you to the end of the level.
My main gripe with SM3D Land is that I've found many of the levels to be quite short and also easy. I am an experienced Mario player, but a bit more challenge would have been nice. Luckily, the later levels in the game do offer more of a challenge than earlier levels. You'll certainly comes across your fair share of deaths along the way. Still, I was rather surprised at how quickly I was progressing through the game. Completeing a whole world in around 30 minutes, and clocking in around 5 hours to complete the game's initial 8 Worlds. This is a Mario game after all though, and like recent Mario releases there are many secrets to discover. Plenty of Bonus Levels will be made available and that is where the levels really start hitting the mark. The more you play through this game, the more it will offer in terms of challenge and design.
Visuals retain that trademark Mario look, and it looks great on the 3DS. Active environments fill up the levels, with lots of bright colors or dark depending on the level. Being able to look far ahead in a level and having a good idea of what to expect is one thing I enjoyed with Galaxy, so I was pleased to see that in a handheld Mario game. SM3D Land is easily amongst the top for 3DS games that look amazing. The 3D effect, though fairly mild, is also done well at times when Mario is being blasted by incoming fire balls or bullet bills that move towards the screen. Music also has some retro touches to it by having returning tunes in the mix. The new tunes are also quite catchy.
Super Mario 3D Land marks Mario's return to handhelds. It doesn't quite match up to the creativeness of Super Mario Galaxy 2, but is a worthy successor to New Super Mario Bros., the previous Mario handheld title. I really enjoyed the mix of old and new, and it really works well as a tribute to how far the Mario franchise has come. I did find it to be a bit on the easier side of things, which makes this a good accessible title for all. Although, the ease and speed kind of made the game a bit addicting for me as I was always looking forward to the next level. Not to mention, short bursts of gameplay work great for handhelds. In the end, I couldn't find much to complain about, since I've enjoyed the game a lot. Everything molded so well together and this is one game that makes great use of what the 3DS can do. This is a solid Mario title and one all 3DS owners should look out for.