The 3DS lid opens… the glow of the screen fills your eyes… and you see that familiar italian mug you know and love but it's in 3D. It's a sight to behold because while that right there is merely a start-up screen… the game you're about to play… is so so much more.
From the easy to learn game mechanics to the fun presentation, this game is one polished Nintendo product. If you've ever played a Super Mario game before, a 2D one specifically, then you know how to control this title. While it's got a look of something more like Super Mario Galaxy, it feels and plays a lot more like a Super Mario Bros. 3. There's a lot of subtle touches and call backs to that game specifically too which were quite nice. Surprisingly, despite the "Land" in the game's title, there were very few actual Super Mario Land references if really any. Please someone feel free to correct me if I'm wrong but I don't remember anything specific like that. The presentation is polished and great looking from start to finish. The graphics are crisp and clean and only the occasional aliasing problem seen on many other DS titles. In between each of the game's eight worlds are little vignettes which showcase a particular 'postcard' from the captured Princess Peach. They look glorious in 3D and really remind me of what something like Paper Mario 3DS might look when that releases next year. I want to quickly thank Nintendo for allowing us to eventually save those things to our SD cards for outside-the-game viewing. They'll be a nice quick showcase of the 3D effect to family and friends this holiday but also, they just look nice.
One problem I had with the title, though the problem was too minor to really bother me much, is that like with other titles sometimes dark areas have a randomly double-vision viewing to them, as if the 3D slider was adjusted when it wasn't. Also, sometimes when I played I would find myself tilting the 3DS slightly naturally and that would throw off the 3D, usually at key moments. This of course is actually a problem with the 3DS' small viewing angle and not the game itself, but I bring it up to note that the game is best played while you have steady arms and hands. I found that laying on my stomach on a floor or bed was a good way to go.
Speaking of the 3D effect… it's prominent and beautiful in this game. To use a pun I'm sure everyone in the gaming media has used,… the 3D adds so much depth to your experience. I'm not even quite sure how they did it but Nintendo really seems to have a strong understanding of the visual realm of which the 3DS works in. There were some levels, especially in the latter half of the game, where I thought to myself, "Damn, they just know." I say this because the camera and the experience was so tightly controlled that it felt great and the 3D allowed me to have unique moments of glee with various discoveries. Very rarely, if at all, is the camera even a problem. The levels that have unique camera angles are specifically designed to be that way so the camera in my opinion is one of the tightest in any mario title. Back on the 3D aspect of the game, I would say it was designed to be pretty integral to the experience and gameplay. I tried playing some levels without it and while it is definitely possible, you're going to find some added challenge in your platforming because of that. Early on in World 1 for instance, there's a segment where spiked balls swing over a bridge pendulum style. Without the 3D, your guess is as good as mine as to if one will hit you or not (unless you pay attention to their shadows). With the 3D on, it's way apparent and thus simple to traverse. So while the game could be played with 3D off, it's absolutely intended to be played with the 3D on at all times. If you don't, you might want to carry an extra Tanooki Leaf with you. The thing is… this is the kind of game you naturally want 3D to be on always with. I might try to do a 3D off run of the game sometime just to see how different it feels but I'm working on the 'post-game' content right now and plus, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword comes out in a matter of days… I won't be replaying this from the start once that drops.
The first level in the game is a rather standard level but I promise you that things only get more interesting from there on out. Your first level is a classically green and simple level but it quickly teaches you the ropes and the new power-up. As the levels continue on, you'll see more and more retro throwbacks or uniquely designed themed levels and such. The level design is wonderful and there's not a single level I didn't enjoy or think was well designed. Nintendo developers are honestly the kings of platform game design and yet again it shows. When it comes to placing Star Medals, they are often in fun or creative places. The hunt for Star Medals (or Coins) is something that I've never looked forward to more than in this game. I was addicted to finding each and every one. I did so on my first run through because I refused to move on without hunting for all three in the level. In one particular level, I found something I liked. When I was in World 2-2, I only found one of the three Star Medals. Determined I went back in for more and remembered seeing an object that had looked suspicious… I didn't have the correct power-up to affect that object but when I went back I used it on that seemingly bland set piece. Low and behold, it lead me right to the second Star Medal. I am amazed at how Nintendo puts these details in their games and forces the player to pay close attention to what they see in order to seek out everything. The levels aren't arranged by themed worlds but are in fact randomly scattered in that regard. I found that I much preferred this because it kept things constantly changing. Instead of doing four snow-themed levels in a row, I was able to have a breather from that theme before finding it again. So when it returned, I was delighted to see it again. World 7-4 was a particular favorite of mine as it reminded me of one of my favorite levels from Super Mario 64 and one of my favorite Mario Kart tracks from Mario Kart DS.
As for the game's difficulty, I definitely died a bit throughout my play-though. Sometimes an enemy got the best of me or I missed a jump. Occasionally if you don't remember to get enough momentum a jump falls short. This can be a bit frustrating admittedly but it wasn't something that really hurt the game too much for me. You get used to the physics quick and adapt. From platforming challenges to enemy difficulty, the game is pretty laid back for a lot of the game. I felt a true challenge pop up periodically but as many other reviewer's say, the game amps itself up a bit near the end. Still, even when a level wasn't too difficult, every single level is pure fun. So I wasn't bothered. Plus the enemies are so varied level to level that you just plain won't get bored.
With the enemies in this game, you'll see a lot of your standard fare. You'll stomp Goombas and kick Koopa Troopas. You'll burn Piranha Plants and crumble Dry Boneses. The new or non-standard enemies are a blast to tackle. The bees are a particular favorite of mine. I love how when they notice you they get this angry determination on their face and then chase you down rather slowly but adorably. The Boomerang Brothers are a tricky bunch and there's some Blargg love in some of the lava-themed levels. The bosses are reminiscent of a mix of Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3. They weren't too challenging but they'll definitely keep you on your toes. There's no tricky patterns to figure out and the rule of three always applies, but it's fine because honestly, the levels are the meat and potatoes of this game, not the boss battles. Well… I suppose not entirely. The first boss battle is a fun throwback, as one might expect even but I didn't even realize I was in the throwback until I saw the button I had to step on. It was a new take on that and I enjoyed it.
Skipping ahead to the very end,… the final sequence of the game will wow you I think. Damn if Nintendo hasn't yet again one-upped themselves. If you thought that the final sequence of New Super Mario Bros. Wii was exciting, then you will find that and then some in this game… then you'll have some more. It's by far one of my favorite platforming challenges and final boss battles ever. It will get your blood-pumping and test your skills thoroughly but in a completely fun and fair way.
There are two more things I feel I need to touch upon with this review. First are the power-ups. Items and power-ups have always been a staple of the Super Mario Bros. series and this game doesn't try to change that. The inclusion of the Tanooki Leaf is a fun one indeed. It's easily my preferred suit of choice. Seeing Mario clad in a Tanooki Suit running into Bowser's Castle at the end of World 1 is cute as hell and yet I wouldn't wanna mess with him. Even cuter is when you do the Mario Squat-Walking as a Tanooki Mario. It's cute as hell and that little raccoon-dog waddle helps you in various nooks and crannies to collect 1-Up Mushrooms and the like. However, the Tanooki Leaf also makes things a little un-even feeling once in a while. It's got it's good and bad points. The good is that it's fun and useful, allowing you a lot more time before landing and thus you're able to make corrections mid-jump. The downside is also that same point though. Earlier on at least, it almost feels like a crutch, kind of like how the hover function of the water pack from Super Mario Sunshine is considered. In the end, I'd still much rather have it than not but I wonder how hard the game would be if I refused to use that Tanooki Leaf.
Lastly I wanted to mention the music of this game. The music, as with previous handheld Mario titles, is fun and quirky and classic-sounding. However, it's a bit of a let down considering the lack of themes involved. The original Super Mario Land theme was nowhere to be remixed or found (unless it's somewhere after beating the main game and I haven't come across it yet) and to me that was a missed opportunity. If you're going to have the world Land in your name, please just reference the theme of the game you're referencing. You'll hear a lot of the same couple of songs over and over because they coincide not with individual levels, but individual themes in levels. So the water levels have a song and so do the basic land levels or the snow levels or the lava levels. Luckily these themes are all enjoyable in their own right and due to varied level design, the songs never get stale either. That said, I still wish for more. Nintendo music is a beloved staple of my normal life and I would always prefer more classic tunes to sing or listen to after the game is over. My favorite of the themes though was easily the Snow Level Theme. It was very Mario-esque and fitting and in my opinion, I feel like it's a theme that could come up again in the future during Mario Orchestrated Concerts or future games. It's pretty special in this reviewer's opinion.
All in all, Nintendo is an old dog of which you can always teach new tricks. They've been around for ages, essentially causing the "big bang" that revitalized a dying industry. While the industry is a whole lot healthier these days, Nintendo and specifically their Mario Bros. titles constantly innovate and bring immense pleasure to the gaming world. If I had a nickel for every time Nintendo gave me an endorphin high from their Mario titles, I'd be able to personally fund the development of the next one. Despite this being one in a long line of Mario games, there is plenty of reason to head back to the Mushroom Kingdom to save that damn princess all over again. While the music isn't too plentiful and the earlier portions of the game a little simplistic in the difficulty, there is no reason to not own this game. This is the game that finally takes away anyone's reason to not own a 3DS in the first place. It justifies the 3DS' existence if other games hadn't already. Releasing within the first year of the 3DS' life cycle, one can only hope that a sequel is on its way at some point. Despite all the content the game has to offer, I already want more and more.