For all the controversial moves made by Nintendo over the past decade, one thing has never been more apparent: the Big N maintains a commitment to fun. While many developers are focused on implementing the most impressive visuals into their games (and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that), Nintendo remains fixated on the most important reason why we game in the first place — captivating gameplay.
When I initially laid my hands upon Jumpman’s newest platforming adventure, Super Mario 3D Land, I was somewhat underwhelmed. There were no glaring problems and everything was technically sound, but I just wasn’t feeling the same sense of excitement I once did. Still, I persisted — level after level, coin after coin. It took a while, but I eventually began discovering the joy hidden within this newly-documented section of the Mushroom Kingdom.
Gone are the days when getting a “1up” meant something. As with many Nintendo titles as of late, there’s very little or no punishment for failure. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a glutton for abuse. In fact, I despise games with unreasonable challenge, but I don’t typically like when a game just rolls over, seemingly possessing zero confrontation. And that’s how 3D Land felt for a while. It becomes more of a challenge much later on; in my opinion, it takes far too long to get there. I shouldn’t have to plow through eight worlds before I get to what I consider, “the real game.” It’s like one giant crescendo (which is not necessarily a compliment).
One issue present in (but not exclusive to) Super Mario 3D Land is the blandly appropriate music. This is something I began noticing back when New Super Mario Bros. was released, and again with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The music isn’t bad. It’s actually decent in its own right, but it doesn’t add anything to the game the in the way the music in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World did. Those plucky, inventive scores played a big role in how I felt about those games. 3D Land does a better job of addressing my concerns, but malaise persists.
I can only listen to the original Super Mario Bros. World-1 theme for so long before I’m ready to stomp on my 3DS like it’s a goomba. It’s the very same tune that girl from my summer job has as her ringtone, which she’ll always use as a segue to tell me, “How big of a nerd,” she is. In fact, I think Nintendo should give the (inevitable) next installment a brand new soundtrack, all its own. Instead of borrowing pieces from previous titles and trying to spruce them up, Nintendo should write entirely original music. It worked great for Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. I’d wager it’d work again.
Where 3D Land shines is its innovative use of stereoscopic 3D. It’s a natural progression — from sidescrolling to an open “3D” environment. As the first Nintendo 3DS game to legitimately use the 3D feature in gameplay, 3D Land requires it. To complete the game, that slider needs to be turned all the way up. Puzzles are more compelling and platforming becomes more than just a means of transportation. For example, while Mario is “skydiving,” the player has to navigate Mario through ring and coin formations whose planar locations are far less apparent with the 3D turned off. A smattering of Escher-esque perspective manipulations round out the comfortably new dimensional experience.
When it all comes together, Super Mario 3D Land has the quick and linear aspect of the original sidescrolling Mario games, but the acrobatic freedom of the more-recent “3D” installments. The addition of true 3D has elevated the series once again, but Nintendo hasn’t hit the ceiling yet.
Review based on Nintendo 3DS release.