Raise your hand if you have an old Game Boy and can remember the two main Mario games on the system. Anyone? Well? Maybe I’m showing my age by remembering the original Super Mario Land on its small pixels and the even better sequel Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins. I digress. It’s been a long time since Mario has been released a true handheld platformer (like the aforementioned games). So enters in Super Mario Land 3D for the 3DS. So is it worthy as a launch title for the system?
As you can probably guess, Super Mario Land 3D has you controlling Mario as he is forced to save everyone’s favorite assertively challenged princess. Bowser’s recovered from whatever injuries he sustained (dang, I want his health care plan). So it’s up to our favorite plumber, once again, to save the day.
Alright, so who cares about the plot? Yeah, that’s what I thought. We play these games for the platforming. And it’s rather inspired, oddly enough. The levels all have their own gimmick. Some have Mario exploring ghost houses (which are more about dodging than puzzle solving), gear hopping, platforms that shift whenever the jump button is pressed, spinning gears and traditional enemies mixed into the bunch. Then there’s the added challenge of finding and collecting all the star coins.
Power-ups are found just frequently enough to make things easier. There is the traditional fire flower, a leaf for a toonoki suit (and there’s no flight! What’s cooni Mario without flight?), a metal leaf that lets him turn into a statue (like a good toonoki suit) along with a boomerang suit. There are also boxes to wear that allow him to spin upwards and generate coins. What bothers me is that none of the power-ups are what would be considered “downright cool.” You can get through each level without them, and they aren’t really needed (most of the time) to collect a star coin.
Here is the thing: Super Mario Land 3D controls beautifully in a great-looking world. Who would have thought that a top down 3-D game would work on a hand-held system? It wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for the thumb pad. It is the closest thing to — well, it is an analog control stick on a portable system. It takes some time to get used to the fact that Mario won’t do a running jump without having some momentum (something that can easily be done in other games in the series). It’s also important to note that due to the camera angle, it can be tricky to figure out where one can jump at times. You see, the camera moves around depending on what needs to be done. Sometimes it’s set-up like a traditional 2-D game; other times it’s a 3/4 perspective. Something that a console game wouldn’t even be bothered by is what holds this game back from perfection.
Just don’t let that fool you that it is ugly. Far from it, this looks like a very early Game Cube game. There’s grass, flowers to bop, water to swim through, traditional enemies to avoid, spinning gears and blocks, icy paths and miles upon miles of rope to bounce off. Everything is clearly defined, with Mario and his staff moving around quite well. It also mixes the old with the new, such as the old Mario pixels, the toonoki suit, airships and Bowser falling into lava at the end of castle levels. Depending on whether or not the 3-D is activated, there are some neat little flairs with it. There are a few moments with goombas popping out of the screen. Yet you’re not missing out if you turn it off (it hurts my eyes to have it on).
At least, at long last, the game’s music isn’t sugary fluff. Finally, a modern Mario game that actually sounds decent! There are no “la-la!” with the breathy pop vocals to haunt the game. Instead, it’s a traditional video game soundtrack. I would almost say that it is “jazzy” in nature. Not because it has a laid back sound, it’s so darn lush. Yes, all of the requisite tunes are here and sound perfectly fine. Mario’s and Peach’s voices sound a bit shallow. How much depth can they project? The one thing that bugged me is when you have Mario run into the music notes, the melodies don’t sound right or don’t play enough to make the tune recognizable. Other than that, it’s a solid soundtrack like the days of yore.
In fact, Super Mario Land 3D thrives on this mixture of being a modern game spiced with handfuls of nostalgia. It’s easy to see all of the different references to the canonical Mario games (I think I’m the only one who likes and accepts the second NES game) from poison mushrooms to airships to the bolted down look of the map, this is a game that knows where it has been and where it would like to go.
Super Mario Land 3D costs about $40. I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. There were a few moments that caught my eyes, but nothing lasted overall due to its clichéd source of inspiration. This is a game I’m happy to own, yet it is not a game that gamers need to run out and instantly buy a 3DS. If you’re going to buy a 3DS or already own one, then go ahead and buy Super Mario Land 3D as it is a solid purchase. Just don’t talk to any strange turtles on your way to the store.