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Retrospective Review | Super Mario 3D Land

The Nintendo 3DS struggled in its early months, but when Nintendo finally released Super Mario 3D Land on November 13, 2011, the new handheld had its first definitive “must-have;” the “system-seller” that proved to consumers what the hardware was all about.

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When Shigeru Miyamoto talked about Super Mario 3D Land at E3 2011, his main point about the game seemed to be the integration of the 3D effect in relation to the overall game design. He raved about the impact of the depth and said that it made the classic Mario experience feel more natural than ever. I looked forward to the game quite a bit following the legendary creator’s comments, and my expectations were admittedly very high. On the other hand, I was also slightly skeptical about the 3D effect – would it really feel like a necessary part of the game design, as Miyamoto had proudly explained?

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The answer was yes, absolutely: Super Mario 3D Land was the very first 3DS game that made me feel like the 3D effect was crucial to enjoying the full experience. In addition, the game was more or less a mash-up of some of the best mechanics from past games in the series – both 2D and 3D. The result was a game that almost any Mario fan could enjoy – a platformer that was satisfying in almost every thinkable way.

As I said, 3D Land combined aspects of its side-scrolling predecessors (Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World) and the three-dimensional platformers (Super Mario 64, Galaxy & Galaxy 2), resulting in an all-new game that presented the familiar challenges and obstacles in an exciting new dimension. This was still the “same old Mario”, no doubt – but this was nothing to complain about. What made 3D Land so exciting to play was just how nicely it adapted all those old-school concepts onto the 3D handheld; each of the levels offered a small helping of various Mario-style challenges, and though they were a bit smaller than the stages in past 3D Mario titles, the game seemed to have the perfect pace for fans of portable games.

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The graphics, visual quality, music, and sound effects were aspects of Super Mario 3D Land that were essentially perfect. It is pretty difficult to say that any game has the “perfect” visuals, but there is no doubt that 3D Land will look just as impressive when played a few years from now. Each of the levels felt like hybrids of areas seen in the older Mario games – from the classic castle stages to the sections where you jumped into the clouds, collected a Star, and blasted through enemies. The visual design was very nostalgic, but enhanced with the added illusion of depth. Equally impressive was the music; I always found myself humming along to the world themes as I selected stages, and I definitely enjoyed the new versions of tracks from past games that were featured in the new levels.

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Super Mario 3D Land was impressive because it managed to use most of the unique features of the 3DS – all of the ones that you would really care about, anyway. Most important of all were the 3D effects, of course – as I mentioned before, Miyamoto boasted that the stereoscopic effects would make an unprecedented impact on 3D gameplay, and he really wasn’t messing around. It was obvious after playing through just a few stages that 3D Land was built around the idea of depth. There were a number of stages that showed off the effect by forcing the player to fall through the sky after jumping from a high platform to a much lower one. With the added depth, it was always easy to collect the coins and stomp the floating enemies, landing safely on the platform below.

In addition the 3D effects, Super Mario 3D Land impressed me with its use of the StreetPass function. Players who connected via StreetPass could wirelessly send their best times and other game data to fellow players, allowing you to compare your own times and compete with friends for bragging rights. This may sound like a relatively small perk of the game, but the StreetPass functionality actually made me enjoy playing through the stages multiple times, going back just to make sure I had beaten all of my friends’ times.

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Like many Mario titles, 3D Land begins with 8 stages – getting through them all takes plenty of time, but it was important to collect all of the hidden Star Coins that were contained in each of the stages. The reason for this, of course, was the surprise of the “secret worlds” that opened up once you found them all – naturally, all 8 secret worlds contained stages that were more difficult, geared toward the advanced players who put forth the effort to seek out all the collectibles.

Opening up the secret worlds essentially doubled the length of the game, so it was a great surprise: what I enjoyed more, perhaps, was the ability to play as Luigi. In the past I didn’t care for Mario’s thinner brother, but playing as Luigi felt completely different – he could jump much higher, though he had less traction on the ground. This made certain stages play completely different; Luigi could reach areas that Mario couldn’t. I really enjoyed going back through the game, jumping to the top of the flag at the end of each stage and earning all the “gold flags” for both characters. Upon the completion of this task, I unlocked the final “bonus content” – a special “Star Stage” designed as the ultimate challenge for 3D Land players. I have yet to complete it – that’s how difficult it was.

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Super Mario 3D Land is the game that deserves a “10.″ I had never actually given out a “perfect” score on any review scale before Super Mario 3D Land; my reasoning for this wasn’t because the game was truly flawless, but because it just wasn’t possible for me to find any legitimate complaints that warranted anything less. I feel the same way today, even after tearing through nearly everything the game had to offer: I may have completed all but that punishing “Star Stage” but I could still pick it up anytime and find myself wasting an hour before I put it down. That’s the charm of any Mario game: they are timeless games that can be enjoyed throughout the generations, even past the point of total completion.

This is the definitive game on the Nintendo 3DS, and everyone that owns the console should pick up a copy.