3D Mario games are groundbreaking adventures, where the plumber pushes what the platforming genre can do. Establishing analog control with Mario 64, having some of the best water effects in a platformer through Sunshine and even exploring the great beyond with Galaxy; the series broke new grounds in a few ways. Mario 3D Land is unique, as it doesn’t want to push boundaries.
Asking the simple question “Can we take 2D Mario and literary bring it to 3D?”, Mario 3D Land was one of the 3DS’s first major releases. Does this platforming adventure blend the 2D and 3D natures of Mario perfectly? Lets find out!
The Gameplay & Design
Mario learns that Princes Peach is captured by Bowser once again, setting off to save her! It is a story that is used over and over again, but it has some humor this time out. Bowser sends Mario cards that show him messing with Peach; one has her running away from his army while another has her in a cage with Bowser looking all smug. Mario’s reactions to these are charming and the ending cut-scenes have a similar level of charm to them.
Nothing much to the story overall but what is present is fine enough. The meat of a Mario isn’t the story but the level design and gameplay. This is set up very similar to the 2D Mario games and Galaxy 2; Mario can select the level he wants to visit on the World Map and he leaps into action once you select it. It is simple but effective, making action quite snappy. You also have other places to visit on the World Map; ? Blocks where you enter mystery rooms to complete mini challenges (awarding you Star Coin or a power up) and Mushroom Houses where you can get a new power up or two.
Core gameplay is 3D Mario with many 2D Mario stables returning. Mario cannot run without holding Y, the health ring is gone to be reeplaced with a hit system like the 2D games and some of the more complex 3D Mario moves are downplayed or outright gone. Mario still can wall jump, long jump and crouch from past 3D games through.
This results in gameplay being quite simple and pushing your basic jumping ability far more than other 3D Mario games (which focus mainly on exploration with platforming as your ‘tool’ for exploring). I like to compare 3D Land to the Crash Bandicoot games on the PS1 in many respects. The Crash games focused on basic platforming and felt like 2D platformers that just happen to take place in 3D. That is what 3D Land feels like and combined with the tight level design you would expect from a Nintendo game, you get some fun levels to explore.
Levels are varied and use the 3D function quite well. Levels offer a lot of depth and a few mini-levels you can discover in some stages use the 3D technology to great effect. I wasn’t able to experience this myself (played on a 2DS) but heard positive things about the 3D support. Mario has some power-ups to help with his adventure like the iconic Fire Flower and Power Star but new ones like the Boomerang Suit feel like welcome inclusions. The Tanooki Leaf returns from Mario 3 and is your best friend; it’s hovering function (used by massing the jump button) helps with the more tricky platforming you do later in the game.
So with the core gameplay and level design being strong, Mario 3D Land offers a great adventure that blends 2D and 3D quite well.
This game is packed with content, as you get a whole games worth of content unlocked once you beat Mario’s adventure. You learn that Luigi is captured and you run through an underground world to save him. You play over 8 new worlds of levels and once you save Luigi, you can play as him across all levels.
These new levels are remixes of ones already in the game but they are harder, rewarding players who want a greater challenge. Collecting every Star Coin in the game, beating all the levels as Mario & Luigi, and more make this game quite meaty in terms of content.
Mario 3D Land is one of the 3DS’s best looking games. Having bright colors and oozing with the Mario charm, the game is full of life and feels like Mario 3 or Mario World brought into 3D. The animations look great as well, making every interaction with various members of Bowser’s army enjoyable. Music is one area where I feel was lackluster, as despite having better instrumentation than a New Super Mario Brothers game, it felt stale. Not saying that I didn’t love some of the musical themes here; quite a few were great to listen to and used the main theme to great effect. Personal favorites include this games take on the Ghost House and the Final Boss theme notably.
Despite that though, many remixes and themes feel like they were used before in past Mario adventures. While it still sounds great, it doesn’t match the scores from games like Mario Galaxy or Mario Sunshine. Could be more creative but it still sounds strong.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Super Mario 3D Land is a quality 3D platformer that I highly recommend to any fan of the genre. It does a lot right and despite feeling a step down from the other games in the 3D Mario series, it was still a lot of fun. With a ton of content, great presentation, strong core gameplay and the Mario charm; 3D Land is the celebration of 2D Mario. The series has been around for so long, that the fact it continues to offer great enjoyment is a testament to the quality Nintendo puts into the series.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 2DS using a copy I purchased. All music linked to in this review is owned by the copyright of Nintendo.