Super Mario 3D Land is a very interesting beast. It is plays like a 3D Mario game like Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy, but the level design is very akin to the 2D games like Super Mario World and Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. It’s a mash-up of worlds that sounds like New Super Mario Brothers, but is almost completely different.
Unfortunately, a major factor of that is that the game is entirely too easy.
Some people have complained about recent Mario games being easy (and to be honest, some of them (Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Brothers spring immediately to mind) have most definitely been), but that trend seemed to have been turned around with Super Mario Galaxy 2 (where most of the difficulty comes from trying to collect all 120 stars in order to unlock Green Star mode which is apparently controller throwingly difficult) and New Super Mario Brothers Wii (which is a fairly difficult game in and of itself, but it becomes the friendship killer when you introduce even one other person in the co-op mode). Super Mario 3D Land completely reverses this trend and I blew through the vast majority of the game in around 2-3 days. It is just way too easy, but hopefully that will be fixed in the inevitable Super Mario 3D Land 2: Electric Boogaloo as just about everything else in Super Mario 3D Land is extremely fun and entertaining.
The game is the standard Mario formula: run through numerous bright and colourful worlds, stomping on Goombas and Koopa Troopers along the way collecting coins, power-ups, and stars (which take the form of Star Coins this time around) all going towards stopping Bowser and saving the constantly in peril Princess Peach. There is nothing new to the standard formula, but the Mario games really don’t need to change up the formula as every game feels fresh and new due to it’s constantly amazing gameplay and level designs.
The Mario games have always had some of the best level design in the industry, mostly due to it’s unrestrictive theme. Sure there’s always the usual lava, ice, underwater, desert, and castle levels, but they never feel rehashed due to the fact that you can do a lot of things with those ideas. The levels may be ideas that you have seen before, but they’re always a blast to run through due to the combining of different ideas in new and interesting ways. Within one level you can move from a standard grassland platforming segment, through a castle, and then up a mountain; within the same world you can be traveling down a series of floating blocks and using warp pipes in order to move between segments of blocks. The game does not follow the Super Mario 64 formula of having multiple routes or challenges in one large area and it doesn’t follow the New Super Mario Brothers style of lumping all of the desert levels into one world and all of the ice levels into another. You can move from one completely different idea to another within the course of a single world, but it doesn’t break the experience at all.
The levels are designed to be able to be beaten in around 2 minutes, which is great for a portable game where having the 10-20 minute long Super Mario Galaxy levels would just not work. They are also designed around the idea that it is to be played in 3D, and it really shows when you try to play it without the 3D on. The game uses the 3D to actually perceive the depth of Mario’s jumps. Without it, jumping becomes infinitely harder as you cannot necessarily perceive the length of the gaps.
The levels play, at times, very similar to LittleBigPlanet in a few ways. The biggest of which is that a lot of the time, the level design is heavily reminicient of 2D Mario games, but with the ability to move more into the foreground and background instead of along a straight line. Unlike LittleBigPlanet, though, is that you have completely free movement within those levels along with the inclusion of more traditional 3D platforming segments. Also unlike LittleBigPlanet, the controls are exceptionally tight and the jumping has no instance of floatiness, unless you have the Tanooki suit.
The game marks the return of a few things that have been long absent from the Mario franchise. The idea of Mario and Super Mario being two different states of being have been brought back, replacing the health system introduced in Mario 64. The Super Leaf and Statue Leaf have returned from Super Mario Brothers 3, but the Tanooki suit that comes with them is slightly different. In Super Mario Brothers 3, the Tanooki Suit was an upgraded version of the Racoon Suit, which only gave Mario ears and a tail, but allowed him to essentially fly if you had the skill. The Tanooki suit bestowed the same power, but also allowed Mario to turn into an indestructable statue on command. The base-level Tanooki Suit allows Mario to hover for a short period of time, which can allow him to make longer jumps, and the higher-level suit works the same way as in Super Mario Brothers 3, but without the ability to fly.
As nostalgic and awesome as it is to have the Tanooki Suit back after its extremely long abscence, it is one of the things about the game that really breaks it. The ability to make longer jumps and the included floatiness of the suit makes the game significantly easier and making precise jumps almost stops mattering. It makes it so that you can just blow right through levels without thinking and you will rarely, if ever, have trouble. On top of that, the game starts you out as Super Mario, so if you have any level of competence at the game, whenever you find the first item block in the level, boom, instant Fire Flower or Super Leaf. Congratulations, you are now basically invincible and can take three hits before you die. On top of that, the game does not shirk from giving you plenty of options to get extra lives. There are coins everywhere, if you get a Super Mushroom when you’re already Super Mario or above, you get another 10 coins instantly. You get coins from killing enemies, coins from the occasional mini-game or side level, and it all adds up extremely quickly. By the end of World 8, I had over 100 lives with no sign of anything to force me to lose them.
All of that being said, the game does get harder after World 8 with the inclusion of the Special Worlds, but the difficulty doesn’t really ratchet up until the very end of the game.
Super Mario 3D Land is somewhat self defeating. On one hand, the level design is at the normal level of Mario games, the game is extremely fun, and manages to combine the new and old-school in the series, on the other, it is extremely easy. I would recommend that people play the game, but get it used or when (read if) it drops in price.