Let's face facts: the Nintendo 3DS, as a system, lacks quality software. The launch lineup had, maybe, one or two standouts, and there's only been two must-have titles since then. The scary thing? The best Nintendo 3DS games available are ones that we all played on the Nintendo 64. Star Fox 64 3D and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D are both masterful titles, but we've seen them before.
Super Mario 3D Land is the first genuinely original game that makes the Nintendo 3DS a completely attractive device. It's a shame that it's coming so long after the system's original release. Had this been a launch title, the course of the Nintendo 3DS' start may have been completely different.
What makes this Mario title so special? At a very fundamental level, this game is an effort on par with Nintendo's best work. It's not Super Mario Galaxy 2 good, but it stands up as one of the better Mario games released. It's well thought out, creative, well designed, mechanically sound, graphically brilliant and worth every cent of what you'll pay at retail.
For Mario fans, Super Mario 3D Land is like a mash-up of what's made Mario into Mario. There are so many nods and references to previous games that this title feels like it's built out of this franchise's memories. It works wonders for one's nostalgia.
The story is straightforward, simple and completely Mario-esque. Peach has been captured by Bowser, go get her. Again, as was the case with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, we applaud Nintendo for doing this. Some detractors may suggest that the ho-hum nature of the "story" doesn't do anything to propel the gameplay in a forward direction. We'd disagree. Nintendo recognizes that too much plot would get in the way of that which makes Mario so playable…the simplistic appeal.
Mechanically, this is a Mario game. The controls are rock solid as Mario's movements respond to the circle pad on the 3DS perfectly. The game action is relegated to only a few buttons… A or B to jump and X or Y to spit, sprint, toss, etc. The right and left shoulder buttons act to duck and move into pipes. It is easy, simple and well built.
The 3D here is actually some of the best that we've seen on the system. Nintendo will alert you with a small icon when 3D is necessary to complete a level, and, guess what, it sometimes is. The way platforms line up during certain sections makes the game very difficult to enjoy without the 3D on. While it doesn't happen often, you'll sometimes need to enable the 3D illusion in order to properly perceive your platforming objectives.
No matter which system you consider, Nintendo's studios have always been able to get the most out of their software. The best looking games on each of their platforms are always their first party titles. Super Mario 3D Land is one of the best looking games currently on the 3DS. The framerate is unwavering, the toony vibes are perfection and the textures look well placed.
In terms of value, Super Mario 3D Land has some ups and downs to contend with. Without giving away any information regarding the conclusion of the game, know that beating Bowser doesn't end your adventure. At four hours in with more than 100 lives in stock, I "completed" the game and found myself swearing it was both too short and too damn easy…
…then, and this is something I can't really talk about for fear of spoiling the fun, the game gets much, much, much longer and a lot tougher. If you read any reviews that suggest this one is too short and too easy, you may want to question whether or not the writer beat the game and tried the post-boss content on for size.
That said, the early bits are very easy. If you're a Mario platformer of old, the first 8 worlds and 6-ish levels within will pose very little challenge for you. It will take clearing the game and diving into the post-boss content to get frustrating. After more than an hour into the post-boss content, my stock of 100+ lives dwindled to around 75…and I loved it.
The new power-ups are striking, but they certainly don't reinvent the way Mario moves about each level. You won't find a charming Penguin Suit amongst the pack, but you will see classic takes on things like the Raccoon Tail and the freshly revisited Boomerang Suit (from an unreleased Mario e-Reader game).
Moreover, if you completely stink at a level and die several times, you'll be given the choice of using a new Raccoon Suit power-up. It gives you the Star-like invincibility you need for the full length of that single level, and you'll be able to float with more precision for tight platform spaces. It's a great aid that doesn't necessarily remove skill from the equation like game-take-over-Luigi in New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
Super Mario 3D Land is now officially the banner title for the Nintendo 3DS. That may not last long given the proximity of Mario Kart 7, but this Mario title is definitely a fantastic reason to pick up Nintendo's handheld. Fans of the game type will love what Nintendo's done here, as another classic has seen birth in the brand.
Hopefully, for Nintendo, that translates to more system sales.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline was sent a review copy of Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS well before the game's release. We played through the full experience and all of the bonus content.