Super Mario 3D Land Review: The plumber still amazes

What a relief! After months of waiting, Mario’s arrived on 3DS with all cylinders firing. Super Mario 3D Land isn’t just a good portable Mario game; it’s one of the very best Mario adventures, topped only (for me, anyway) by SMB3 and Galaxy 2. Sharp, ingenious, and fun beyond belief, this game’s a feast for Mario fans as it pays tribute to characters and locales from the franchise’s past, mixes in brand new concepts, and ends up as a wild race through dozens of unique, astonishing worlds. It’s pure Nintendo. This kind of experience is the reason we’re fans.

And, to top it off: The 3D in this game is everything Nintendo promised it would be. You can certainly play it with the 3D off, but then you’ll miss out on a lot of dizzying high-altitude sensory thrills and clever optical illusions.

I love the game’s Mushroom Kingdom-centric setting. After all the planet-hopping and vacations on Delphino Island, it’s nice to come home again. Everything you loved about the original Super Mario games returns in one form or another’to say more would spoil a lot of great surprises.

The level designs steal the show. I don’t know how they keep doing it, but Nintendo has come up with another cornucopia of brilliant ideas and clever craziness. Every level feels fresh and surprising’even the few based on mechanics from the Galaxy games. Nothing repeats’The Boo Houses, for example, are each brilliant and completely different from one another. And leave it to Nintendo to come up with 50+ different ways to launch you onto the ending flagpole!

The game looks spectacular, with smooth character models, beautiful special effects, sharp textures and dramatic, creative camera angles. Bowser’s castle has never looked more intimidating, the airships are amazing and the Toad houses have a wonderful fairytale charm (if you get the boomerang suit at a Toad house, take a moment to bounce it off the roof when you get back outside. The sound team came up with a perfect effect for that!)

The music and sound effects are (of course) excellent, and you’ll hear tunes from all over Mario’s princess-saving career.

It controls like a charm, smooth and razor sharp’even the swimming! SM3DL contains the most enjoyable, beautiful underwater sequences I’ve ever experienced in a Mario title.

The presentation is first-rate, linking the worlds with cinemas featuring Mario at his most endearing and hilarious postcards from Bowser. And check out the sprite marking your progress!

I know true gamers may find the difficulty level a bit easy at first: the tougher challenges await after the main quest when the alternate levels unlock. For me, however, I found the main adventure’s challenge level just right. It made me sweat from time to time without ever getting overly frustrating. I must admit, I had to accept the “extra help” (offered if you fail a level several times) on two occasions, and I’m not proud of that. Put it this way: Boomerang guys + scrolling airship + flip panels = me getting the “Loser’s Tanooki Suit of Invincibility.” Ah, well.

Now, about the 3D: It’s awesome. I doubt we’ll see many more Mario games presented in stereoscopic 3D, and that’s probably as it should be. As things stand, however, Nintendo did this right. There are cute moments when coins or cheep-cheeps fly straight at your face (and one great moment where Mario bounces high enough to almost smack into your 3DS screen), but the real thrills come with the intense sensations of height and depth. Seriously, folks with acrophobia might have some problems with this game. Falling, riding downhill, and bouncing skyward have never before looked so amazing in a game’and the added depth perception really does help you guide Mario in for a safe and accurate landing, even atop single blocks floating in mid-air.

Any complaints at all? I’d rather have fought Bowser more times than deal with his not-as-cool-looking underlings Boom Boom and Pom Pom (though I don’t miss Bowser Jr. at all!) Using the binoculars wasn’t all that thrilling. Why do you have to press “L” to go down a pipe, yet Mario will enter a door if you so much as breath on it? And I wish the world map hadn’t been so completely linear in its presentation. Oh…and the instruction “booklet?” Where I come from, a “booklet” is not a single sheet of paper folded twice. Cheeeeeeeeeeeaaap! That’s okay, Nintendo, you definitely didn’t skimp on game production costs, and it shows.

What a grand, fun, ingenious game! Main quest finished, I’m just getting started on the “alternate” levels, which are proving to be a much steeper challenge. I look forward to many, many more hours with this title. Between this game, Freakyforms, the upcoming GBA downloads and Mariokart 7…I think my 3DS is going to see a lot of action over the next few weeks!

Your thoughts? Is Super Mario 3D Land meeting your expectations? Anything you’d like to have seen done differently? How would you rank it among Mario’s other adventures?