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CONSOLE: Nintendo 3DS DEVELOPER: Nintendo PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): November 13, 2011 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Get your 3D tanooki fix.

Super Mario is a super man. He can punch bricks and cause them to explode. He can stomp turtles so hard, they fly out of their shells still in their boxer shorts. He collects money like he's a much more handsome version of Warren Buffett. Some people consider Mario to be the Chuck Norris of video games, and I suppose that could be true. But, just like Chuck Norris' ersatz personality, Mario is consistent in that his games continually provide great challenges and lovable gameplay. (Well, usually. Let's not get into his time-traveling side-quests or trips to Koopa Hotels.) Such is the case with Super Mario 3D Land, Mario's debut on Nintendo's newest handheld console, and also Mario's first portable expedition in the third dimension.

So, the story goes that Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach, and it's up to Mario (and, eventually, Luigi) to rescue her. ...Really? The series is over a quarter-century old and THIS is what we're still dealing with? You'd think that there'd be some innovation in twenty-five years, but I guess I would be wrong. Geez, why don't we just have Mario chase down Bowser in a covered wagon? Peach also needs some better security. Obviously, hiring a bunch of mushrooms on the cheap clearly is having a negative effect. Bring in Mr. T. He'll set that spiky doughhead Bowser straight.

If you've played any of the older Mario titles, then much of Super Mario 3D Land will be familiar to you. Mario shuffles through eight worlds of mayhem, each with a variety of different levels in common locales, such as the standard grassy overworld, the dark and dingy underground, or hovering above nothingness with only the steadiness of your brown-shoed feet keeping you from plummeting off your tiny little platform into the abyss of the unknown below. The map screen, sadly, is as linear as possible, far more so than any other Mario game, going back as far as Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES. Yeah, the NES' map is more complicated and maze-like. At least you can see what type of area you're visiting before Mario leaps in there like a neurotic puma on Free Steak Day. Using the power of the Mushroom, Mario can grow into Super Mario, the least creative superhero name he could devise. The Fire Flower is also back in action. Also making its way back into Mario's hands is the beloved Leaf, allowing him to transform into Tanooki Mario, a fan favourite since the days of SMB3. Sadly, he can't really "fly"; he can only help Mario float slowly and steadily to the ground. Mario can also transform in new ways: Boomerang Mario, naturally, tosses boomerangs; a sportable Propeller Box gives him the power of flight he sorely needs. As in other Mario games, he can keep a backup powerup on hand, just in case.

There's assuredly more than enough content for a portable Mario game here. In addition to the standard eight-world mantra laid down by its forefathers, you also get a bonus eight-world bonanza once you finish the main quest, which features a mix of brand-new levels and remixes of the old ones, tweaked just enough to make them a greater threat to Mario's health. You also, at a certain point, unlock Luigi and can play through each and every stage as the Green Backup Bro. He controls a bit differently, but he's not too jarring. If THAT weren't enough, doing so successfully (and ensuring that you've hit the top of every flagpole at the end of every level for that wonderful golden flag), you get one final bonus stage. And it's hell. Even for Mario experts, it'll put some fuzz on the kiwis. And to add some extra value, just as in New Super Mario Bros., there are 3 large golden coins to collect in each stage that can be used to open up new stuff later on.

Now you can do the Mario in 3D without the need for special glasses.

Mario controls moderately well. I say "moderately" because I haven't been fully content with how the Mario series had handled as of late. Most recent Mario games suffer from slightly more slippery handling than its classic console brethren such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. (I know New Super Mario Bros. certainly does.) I could chalk this up to how the games need to handle new 3D characters instead of sprites that can stop at the drop of a hat, but it does, unfortunately, cause me to require additional caution when moving around. It's not as bad as New Super Mario Bros., but be prepared to feel some loose controls, especially if you've been bred on the tight controls of the NES days. This did not, however, hinder my ability to play the game. In fact, I was easily able to end the game with over 400 extra lives in my bank. It's not exactly difficult.

The graphics, for a handheld, are pretty darn impressive. Granted, the PSP was doing 3D stuff for years, but the results here and nonetheless spectacular. Mario's world really does come to life on the very small screen, looking just as fruitful as its console companion did in Super Mario Galaxy. Nothing is amazingly complex here, though, but that's how Mario games are. There are a few too many relatively bland surfaces, but Mario & Co. still survive with excellent animation and an overall lively set of environs, from lush garden-like areas to the bubbling lava pits of Bowser's toasty homesteads (and even the return of those beloved and irritating Koopa airships). Goombas have enough facial expressions to give them a solid injection of personality, too. That all being said, I am disappointed by the 3D effect. When it works, it works beautifully, with objects genuinely appearing to have depth; you feel like you are truly moving Mario through a three-dimensional plane. But here's the problem, and it's likely one to plague similar titles on the 3DS as well: when I play a platformer, I tend to move the 3DS around as the action gets hectic and engaging, just as others wave their controllers around while playing a frantic game of Mario Kart or Call of Duty. As I do so, however, the game suddenly blurs and I become easily disoriented. This is more a complaint about hardware than software; it could be resolved by me being stone-fisted while playing and not budging the system a millimetre. But still, it negatively impacts the experience, which is why I am thankful the game is fully playable (and enjoyable) without the use of the 3D view.

The music was also well-produced. We may never get another tune that is as classically-renowned as the original Super Mario Bros. theme song, but that doesn't stop Super Mario 3D Land from providing us with some fine cheerful (normally) background tunes while we stomp our way through the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario's voice is also back in full effect, and he's about as vocal as ever whenever he does pretty much anything, or when he finishes a level with his legendary shout of glee.

Even with its issues with ensuring you can always see in 3D (thanks to the system itself), the slightly floaty controls, and the fact that the game's a bit on the easy side, Super Mario 3D Land is exemplary of how a new Mario game should look and feel. Though they went back to basics with New Super Mario Bros. 2 in 2012, it's Super Mario 3D Land that best shows off the advantages and the perks of the 3DS system, as well as why Mario is still one of the most renowned video game series of all time.

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