Super Mario 3D Land Review

Nothing gets the nostalgia flowing through a gamer’s soul like a good Mario game. Regardless of your stance on Nintendo in 2011, at some point in every gamer’s life there was Mario, saving the Princess and putting that big oaf Bowser in his place. It’s not a stretch top say that Mario is to gaming what the Beatles are to rock-and-roll: he wasn’t the first game character ever, but he was the guy to push the medium into the spotlight. (Furthermore, imagining Mario with a Beatles-style moptop is damn funny.)

While the Super Mario Galaxies and New Super Mario Bros are great experiences, neither of them captured the classic Mario feel. The Galaxy games are a modern Mario experience that give shout-outs to yesteryear, but don’t really make you feel like you did when you were a kid (Galaxy 2’s Throwback Galaxy not withstanding). New Super Mario Bros have more a classic feel, but the creativity in stage design is not nearly as good as the good ol’ days. I hoped beyond hope that Mario’s first foray in 3D, Super Mario 3D Land, would give me the experience my inner child so desired.

I don’t even know why I worried. Super Mario 3D Land is every nostalgia fan’s biggest dream realized. For the first time in a while, Nintendo has captured the classic, holy-crap-I’m-a-kid-again feeling in one Mario experience, from the nods to past games to the simply brilliant level design. I haven’t said “wow, I didn’t expect that” about a Mario game in quite a while, but Super Mario 3D Land delivers those moments in spades.

Super Mario 3D Land is packed to the gills with classic Mario gameplay. Controlling Mario is just as easy as it’s ever been: thumb pad moves him around, A or B make him jump, and X or Y act as an action button (Fire Flower fireball, for instance) when pressed and a run button when held. The game has a total of sixteen “worlds,” with between four and six stages per world, so there’s plenty of Mario madness to be had. What may be most impressive about these stages is their use of the console’s 3D technology. In one stage, I was having trouble reaching a block with a Star Medal (a 3-per-stage collectible that open up stages later on). I jumped toward it, but I still fell back down to the bottom. As a last resort, I turned the 3D on, which revealed that the block was actually in the foreground of the stage. Instead of jumping toward the block, I had to jump toward the camera to reach the platform. This is a minor example of some of the craziness that 3D allows, but it’s one that really stuck with me.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mario game without power-ups, and Super Mario 3D Land does not disappoint. Aside from the classic Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Star, there are some other items that will back some great memories. The Super Leaf marks the return of the Tanooki suit; the raccoon-like garb that allows Mario to float in the air longer than normal (and pisses off PETA for some unknown reason). The Boomerang Flower gives Mario a boomerang to throw at his foes, and the Question Block puts Mario inside a block he normally hits, giving him coins just for walking around. The “Super Guide” for this game even comes in the form of items: after five deaths, the “Invincibility Leaf” appears giving Mario combined Star and Super Leaf powers, and after ten deaths the classic P Wing item transports the player right to the end of the level.

While excellent gameplay and plenty of powerups make this Mario game great, the nods to the great Nintendo games of old are what bring Super Mario 3D Land to the top of the list. In one of the battles with Bowser, he takes a position out in front of Mario and throws barrels at him, a la Donkey Kong. There are plenty of classic Mario tunes to feast your ears on, including the “Toad’s House” theme from Super Mario Brothers 3 that takes me back to being five years old every time I hear it. My favorite example, however, is World 5-2, a homage to a Legend of Zelda NES dungeon. While the design isn’t as complex as they were in the glory days, this stage sports a top-down viewpoint, a torch-lighting puzzle, and even a well-known sound after completing a certain task. Not many games have made me go into a nostalgia frenzy quite like how Super Mario 3D Land has, and that’s quite a feat.

If you jumped on the 3DS early, and if you’ve been relatively underwhelmed by the game selection, your savior has arrived. Fittingly, that savior is Mario, the guy who has carried Nintendo on his back since 1985. Super Mario 3D Land instantly moves to number one on the Must Own 3DS Games list. It’s everything Mario fans have loved for years with enough new features to give it a fresh feel. Nintendo has been saying that the 3DS lineup will go stronger over time, and if Super Mario 3D Land is any indication, I’m going to believe them.