Mario: Perfectly Cooked, But No Salt.
Mario has finally made his way to the 3DS, and the big boys of Nintendo are hoping their mascot can push the steadily climbing sales of the portable to loftier heights. Historical retail records and name recognition will likely give profits a good push, but the big question for gamers is whether they will be happy with their purchase of the portly plumber’s latest adventure.
After weighing everything Super Mario 3D Land offers, our overall score merits a “Great” rating. With most other games of this genre, a “Great” score would be enough to break out the champagne. But Mario games typically set the highest bar in the field, and their attention to small details and tight controls has always shone through. Unfortunately, a noticeable lack of a few expected facets ultimately brings Mario down off his platforming pedestal.
But let’s begin with the game’s high points, which are of the caliber expected of the series. Mario’s level design is second to none, and despite a couple minor complaints mentioned below, the overall quality is superb. Each level takes advantage of a specific theme (desert, aquatic, snow, etc.) with obstacles befitting the locales. The final stage of each world pits you against Bowser’s minions in lava-laden castles and Bullet Bill-loaded airships. Most stages have a set path to reach the flagpole at the end, but the few free-roaming areas are a treat, offering a great supply of secrets to discover and alternate routes to take.
The camera is surprisingly flawless, which is typical of recent Mario entries but refreshing nonetheless. The camera changes perspective at various times, panning overhead or giving you front close-ups for added effect. Your skills are tested a little to compensate, but the mechanics here were obviously well-thought out by the developers to add new dimensions of enjoyment.
Speaking of new dimensions, the 3D effect is finally given the care needed to showcase it as more than a mere gimmick. The levels look much larger than they actually are, and paired with the camera create a stunning experience for the eyes. The most exciting (and nauseating) use of this effect occurs in a segment in which you must plummet downward through miles of platforms, the finish pole a mere speck from the view at the peak. Acrophobic players beware; this perspective is uncannily represented, but it’s sure to make your eyes widen in awe. Enemy and block positions are more discernable with the 3D effect at full, and easier to squash and bash, respectively.
The basic visuals are also pleasing to the eye. Sure, many of the templates were probably pulled from the Mario archives, but they’ve been polished for the title, with colors running the length of the bold spectrum.
Equally impressive are the music compositions. Most are remixes of tunes from past entries, and many of them keep a familiar melody in the background with a fresh harmony in the foreground. The echo effects in underground stages are spot-on, and the instant change to synthesizers when diving underwater is an audible delight.
Certainly Super Mario 3D Land will be applauded by many, but longtime fans of the series might feel a few things are missing here. Though these next criticisms would seem trivial when made about any other title, the Mario series has a sterling reputation for going above and beyond what would be expected of other games in the genre.
The first is with the muddled design choices of level construction. The New Super Mario Bros. series was successful because it took the classic format and tailored it to a modern gaming audience. With Super Mario 3D Land, elements are plucked from nearly every past entry, but some of these are simply the wrong choices.
For example, the world map is completely linear, offering the option of only moving forward or backward to each level. The end of each stage has a flagpole (taken from the original Super Mario Bros.), but it would have been nice to have the roulette block from Super Mario Bros. 3 instead, offering us a chance at extra lives or power-ups. There are red coins (originally from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island), but these are not mandatory collectables, and offer only a mere 1-Up or power-up. Even the level design, although impressively crafted, is more in line with that of the Super Mario Galaxy series rather than the classic titles Nintendo has compared this 3DS version to.
And then there’s the Tanooki suit, the highly sought after and much loved power-up of old, which has become the latest fad in the Mushroom Kingdom. Instead of a rare find with game-changing powers, it seems you can’t shake a tree without a Tanooki leaf falling out. These aren’t exclusive to Mario either, as Goombas, Boos, Whomps, and other beasties are all seen sporting the soft tail, trying to swat you down. The Fire Flower and Boomerang Flower offer some ranged weaponry. The boomerang is also able to snag out-of-reach coins, and the fireballs can be used to light torches to reveal secret treasures. But the floating ability attached to the Tanooki suit makes it the go-to power-up, which also lessens its rare appeal. And there’s no flying involved here, which is bound to disappoint Mario fans of old.
Mario’s movements have always been masterpieces of precision, tweaked to perfection to make him move just right. Yet the plumber seems to have added a few pounds since his last outing, and the controls feel a tad heavy. Turns and jumps all have a slight lag, and apparently Mario isn’t fit enough to perform a triple-jump anymore. Nor can he slide down every wall, perform a backflip with ease, or even grab Koopa shells. All these omission are curiosities to me, as they hinder the player’s freedom, and could have easily been integrated.
The difficulty level of the main quest is laughable. You may lose a handful of lives in World 8, but by that point, you’ll likely have dozens to spare. And should you happen to lose a few lives in one place, the game will hold your hand until you finish the stage, presenting you with a power-up block that instantly appears, often with a shimmering Tanooki suit that also makes you invincible.
The challenge is reduced even more due to the fact that the levels are incredibly short, each one taking only a couple minutes to breeze through. And there’s virtually no incentive to replay the levels. There are three Star Coins to collect, which are required to unlock levels down the road, but nearly all of them are in plain sight along a path you must travel anyway, and you’ll likely collect all three the first time through each level. The levels don’t track your coin count individually, nor is there any scoring system, which negates a reason to return to the cleared stages.
If nothing else, Nintendo should be pushing every extra feature the 3DS comes packed with, but this too is barebones in Super Mario 3D Land. StreetPass is the only function utilized here. Passing another 3DS user in the street will refresh the Toad Houses and Mystery Block boards, which are supposed to be challenge levels but are watered down to ten-second shellackings of poor enemies trapped in tiny spaces. Also, there are no Play Coins or Augmented Reality features, either of which could have added fun diversions and promoted the built-in features.
That’s not to say you’re value is limited to the main quest. Although I cannot divulge any post-completion content in this pre-release review, let me just say that once you’ve saved the day, you’re just getting warmed up.
When given the task of reviewing an entry in a star-studded series like Mario, one can’t simply say the game is fun, the graphics and sound are dazzling, and the controls function well. When a bar is set so high, any imperfections are much more noticeable. Super Mario 3D Land is a welcome addition to the portable’s library, sure to satiate your platforming appetite, but I just can’t shake the thought that had it been given a little more time in the cooker, a “Must Buy” score would have been readily handed to it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
Clean, colorful, and brilliantly portrayed on the 3DS. The 3D effect is also flawless. 4.2 Control
It’s not the tightest Mario of the bunch, but he still gets the job done with his usual flair. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A great score of classic tunes, reworked to perfection. 4.2 Play Value
The levels are incredibly fun to play, but there are omissions likely to leave Mario fans shaking their heads. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|