Super Mario 3D Land review – Out of the box 19/01/2012Posted by jspanero in Game Reviews.
Tags: nintendo 3ds, super mario 3D land
A Nintendo system without a Mario game is like a Meryl Streep film without a crying close-up: a lot of things going for it but essentially incomplete. This is why Nintendo’s latest hardware offering, the intriguing 3DS, had been feeling a lot more River Wild than Sophie’s Choice in its first eight months of shelf life. However, November finally saw the release of the awkwardly yet fittingly titled new Mario game Super Mario 3D Land. Forget Mii-infested Pilotwings and rehashes of old legends: it’s been a long and complicated birth but the real launch title of the N3DS is at last with us.
A lot was riding on the back of Super Mario 3D Land considering it is the first truly original outing from EAD Tokyo on the 3DS, a system marred by a rushed release and the curse of the showbiz kid looking too much like their celebrity parent. When the console launched, there was a lot of talk about retailers stocking 3DS software in the same shelf as NDS games and how customers were confused about Nintendo’s message (is it the same game only in 3D?). Let’s not even mention the Touch Generation grannies – they can barely see in 2D as it is. Fortunately for Nintendo, a shift in marketing and some
whiplashes overtime from Miyamoto’s minions may just pull it off for them once again in spectacular fashion.
SM3DL is both a compendium of platforming history and an effortless exercise in pick up and play. Besides a brief prologue and some Keatonesque interludes between worlds with a SMB3-styled Peach in several Emma Peel damsel-in-distress scenarios (surrounded, tied, gagged!) to spur Mario on, there is hardly any in-game exposition at all. Even more surprisingly, the Nintendo of today is confident enough to bank on 26 years of gaming acumen to release Super Mario 3D Land in the wild with nothing more than a meagre folded paper as an instruction booklet. And this isn’t just any game: it’s a Mix Tape of The Best of Mario Bros, picking and mixing from the original NES installment to the stratospheric heights of Super Mario Galaxy and everything else in between: there is the Tanooki Suit of course, but also the end of level flagpoles, the cannons, the evil mushroom (!!), the haunted houses, the 5 red coins, the airship flotilla.. the list of borrowed elements is long, but all you are given at the start is Mario’s basic skill set – progression comes either naturally to your thumbs after a few failed attempts or via playground word of mouth (/GameFAQs). There are some fiendish obstacles waiting for the fatty plumber in this game, but nothing that perseverance and a little bit of cheating can’t overcome.
EAD’s mastery of the platform genre at this point is so unrivaled it is actually making other developers shy away from it, which is a bit of a shame considering how simple their blueprint is to imitate: think of a possible obstacle for Mario and introduce it into a stage, then think of another one and add it to the following stage on top of the first one, and don’t forget to reward players who dare skip a few lessons and try an advance move along the way: whatever trickery you need to perform in World 1 to nab an extra life (and some APPLAUSE) will become a necessary move to get to the end of a level three worlds down the line, by which time the game has got you juggling several obstacle patterns without batting an eyelid. All this without a single box of text explaining what to do. Not a line. Not even a hint. Go ahead and try it out instead. This joyful liberation is an interesting contrast with Nintendo’s other big release of the year (Skyward Sword), a game utterly obsessed with exposition and over-hinting. Super Mario 3D Land has some help at hand for newbies too in the form of powered-up items, but these are completely optional and, frankly, if you need to use them you probably never got to see one of the most beautiful endings ever for yourself so GET OUT OF HERE.
The producers of Super Mario 3D Land have described the game as “a hamburger you can gobble down”, while the Galaxy games were in their opinion more akin to “an imperial feast”, but whilst it’s true that the Wii games offer a sense of grandiosity mostly absent from SM3DL (last Bowser’s stage excepted), in no way is this game cheap and conformist. Each stage starts with a simple idea (rotating platform jump-fest, snow descent, lava gymkhana) that builds up as the level progresses, adding little tweaks here and there, making your thumbs clutch your 3DS harder and harder until the exit flagpole is in sight. Whereas Super Mario Galaxy is sprawling, SM3DL is concise, short and sweet, what some have tried and tarnish as “bite-sized” and “perfect for a portable device”. Don’t let them fool you: Super Mario Bros 3, which arguably is the ultimate Mario experience and in many ways a direct influence in SM3DL, was released in 1988 for a home console showcasing the same distilled Mario essence. Some of the stages in the NES classic game could be finished in under 30 seconds, in fact the whole game can be infamously completed in just over 11 minutes. It’s not about size but about the aftertaste instead, and if anything Super Mario 3D Land is the filet mignon, juicy and trimmed of all fat, to Galaxy’s bloated Christmas feast.
It is also thanks to this straight-forwardness that SM3DL can effortlessly switch between digital and analogue Mario without never losing its focus. Its most peculiar 2,5D manner is a perfect symbiosis of the best of both worlds, proving at the same time that 3D games don’t have to solely rely on environment exploration (I’m looking at you, AWFUL blue coins in Super Mario Sunshine) and that 2D platformers can break away from the school of “onwards and upwards” (hello, Donkey Kong Country Returns). It even manages to make the 3D effect palatable (gasp!), a sign of relief no doubt chez Nintendo considering this USP had had so far more doubters than converters.
So much care has obviously been put into level design that it comes as a surprise to see a world map so devoid of any mythology pretension. Long gone are the days of the desert level, the Monkey World or even Rosalina’s Observatory; SM3DL bucks the irritating Galaxy 2 trend of hosting stages as if they had just come out of a programmer’s level editor, with minimal presentation and no cohesive overall geography. They have endearingly kept the world numbering as it appeared in Super Mario Bros, although this is most probably an academic decision rather than to honour tradition since even back in the days of the first Mario game there was a certain coherence in the way worlds, obstacles and enemies were introduced that is absent from 3D Land.
But this is a minor niggle in the grand scheme of things. In case it was not clear, here’s the definitive hyperbole to justify why Super Mario 3D Land is Heart Games’ 2011 Game Of The Year (played in 2012): this is not only the best Mario handheld game since Super Mario Land 2, it’s also the Mario game with the best level design since Super Mario Bros 3. At last, EAD has had the confidence to stop titting about with dinosaur mascots, camera angles and water packs and has decided to follow SMB3‘s legendary trail with the horsepower of current technology. They briefly teased us with the so-called retro stages in Sunshine, but they have at last surrendered and given us a glorious Mario full frontal. Super Mario 3D Land is a SpotPass love letter to all Mario fans, a reminder to those who thought the Galaxy games had left Mario with nowhere else to go that Nintendo knew exactly what unfinished business they had left back in 1988. They know because Super Mario Bros 3 is where it all tipped for them – it’s the pop culture event that inspired totalitarian adverts, the Holy Grail of the cult of Yamauchi, the Citizen Kane moment in the history of digital entertainment. By finally acknowledging it, Nintendo nods to the past and looks confidently into a bleak future. 2011 may have seen the 25th anniversary of Zelda, but Super Mario 3D Land is where the real celebration is taking place.
BUT DOES IT HAVE A HEART: Ma que cosa dice! Il cuore più grande del mondo del videogioco!
RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone who has a passing interest in