Some games just feel right as soon as they begin, and Nintendo have been responsible for more titles that fit that description than any other company in history. Super Mario 3D Land starts as it means to go on; by keeping BS at a positively heroic minimum. The entire “plot” is established in the space of about fifteen seconds; Mario and three of his miniature shroom accomplices receive a letter from the sky, containing a picture of Bowser kidnapping Princess Peach. The four pals immediately sprint into action, and the game has begun. And it all just feels so right.
If you have been anticipating a mild disappointment, if only because 3D Land arrives after arguably Mario’s finest ever game – the ceaselessly spectacular Super Mario Galaxy 2 – it’s not long before you’re reminded that this outing has been created by exactly the same development team. It’s as saturated with wit and invention as any game in Nintendo’s history, and is every bit as shrewdly paced. It’s a fawning tribute to two of Mario and Nintendo’s greatest ever titles, and it single-handedly turns the 3DS into a machine that’s now utterly essential for any serious gaming hobbyist.
Although it’s primarily an homage to Super Mario Bros 3, it’s littered with sly little references to almost every game that the tubby, workshy plumber has ever featured in. It’s Mario in commuter friendly, bite-sized chunks; slightly easier on the whole, but nothing is ever curbed to its detriment. This will also probably be the first 3DS game that you’ll play through with the 3D slider permanently whacked right up, and this is because it never uses that extra dimension for anything other than neat gameplay tricks. You’ll genuinely be doing it a disservice if you leave that slider dialled down, and whilst’s there’s no doubt that Ocarina’s 3D redux looked very slick indeed, this is a game that has been built with the 3D aspect in mind from its very inception, and you can always tell.
You’re never treated to the kind of expansive, eye-popping plains that you’re used to seeing in Mario’s home console output, but whilst the environments are smaller, the concepts most certainly are not. There are top-down dungeon sequences that owe a deliberate debt to Link’s NES debut, time-attack style races that task you with finding hidden clock faces that grant you mild reprieve, and ingenious flip-switch episodes; and this is just a tiny selection of what’s on offer. 3D Land is a game that appears to have been made by a collection of people who were constantly petrified by the idea that their game could ever slide into monotony.
3D Land also accommodates newcomers perfectly, by throwing practical bones at them when the going gets too tough; but those stabilisers are pulled back as soon as they progress. A few critics have complained about how easy the game is to complete, but the official finishing line is actually something of an illusion. Once Mario’s initial quest is “complete” in the traditional sense, a whole smorgasbord of new material appears. These aren’t disposable remixes or clusters of rehashed content, but a genuinely significant – and genuinely challenging – part of the overall experience.
In short, 3D Land is what you get when you blend some core elements from one of the greatest 2D platformers of all time with an equally sized bundle of ideas from one of the best ever 3D ones. If Super Mario Bros 3 by way of Super Mario Galaxy 2 sounds too good to be true, 3D Land comprehensively proves that it isn’t. Nintendo’s EAD division don’t really have any competition right now; they make impossibly smart and imaginative games that boast a more concentrated shelf life than even the most unlock-heavy online first-person shooter. Nintendo’s greatest work deals in out-and-out joy, and Super Mario 3D Land deftly prolongs their incomparable legacy.
Super Mario 3D Land is released on the Nintendo 3DS on Friday, November 18th 2011.
Watch the Super Mario 3D Land launch trailer below: