Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: Super Mario 3D Land isn't a bad game, necessarily, it's just an incredibly generic one

(Mario hasn't looked this dumb in a long time.)

I’m going to start this review off by noting/admitting that I was a Sega Genesis kid growing up, so of course my childhood self thought that Sonic was hundreds of times cooler than Mario. As the years went by, and I began to get into Nintendo games and systems as well, my opinion has shifted, somewhat, from that stance. I admit that I still have a fondness for the Sonic series and its characters that Mario won't ever replace, but Mario has gone a long way towards winning me over. I loved Super Mario 64, for example, undoubtedly one of the most important games released during its time, and then the Mario Galaxy series came along and demonstrated that Mario still had what it took to stand at the top of his platforming peers.

Super Mario 3D Land though is not a game that lives up to those. This workmanlike handheld installment serves the sole purpose of bringing Mario to the 3DS, and no doubt, he will be making Nintendo untold of amounts of money. But with that, we have a game that plays it so safe and feels so devoid of creativity and inspiration that from start to finish I was just bored with it. I'm not expecting Nintendo to begin taking bold, artistic risks with Mario, their big moneymaker, but if they keep releasing games like this I'm going to lose interest incredibly quickly.

Graphics: Super Mario 3D Land sports a visual look roughly on par with the Galaxy series, though the art direction isn’t nearly as inspired. Mario’s universe looks like it has always has, with the addition of some cool (but rare) 3D touches that pop out at you. All in all, though, this game’s visual presentation didn’t do much for me. In Mario Galaxy, these same developers created a universe that absolutely popped, one whose visual wonders and surprises easily covered up for the Wii’s under-powered hardware. Mario Land 3D’s graphics on the other hand are just serviceable; technically they’re sound, and there are some cool effects and touches, but artistically, something’s definitely missing.

Gameplay: First and foremost, it's important to know going in that Super Mario 3D Land shares far more in common with the 2D sidescrolling Mario games than it does with the 3D ones, despite the game’s title. Though you can move Mario around in full 3D, the overwhelming majority of the levels take the form of a sidescroller, with you guiding Mario from left to right through levels so short and linear that they make Wario Land: Shake It seem expansive. Linearity in and of itself isn't a bad thing, but this game's levels are so limited in scope and offer so little opportunity to explore that at times I even considered the fact that this might as well be on rails given how little control you have over it. The extent to which you can explore is to seek out 3 coins, hidden (and I use that term lightly) throughout the levels, and these eventually serve as roadblocks to your progression ("You need 100 coins to enter this level!") but that's really about it. So basic and predictable are these levels that I couldn't escape the feeling that I was playing a bunch of Mario Galaxy B-sides; levels that were cut from Mario Galaxy 2 because they weren't good enough to be featured in Mario Galaxy 2. Boss battles are also fairly weak, a fact not helped by Nintendo's continuing insistence that you simply fight the same two bosses and over again in slightly different environments throughout the duration of the game. Yawn.

But this is all Mario platforming through and through; if that’s all you’re here for, the game certainly has a lot to offer as far as content goes. Completing the eight worlds to reach the end credits should take most gamers a few hours, but then you unlock eight additional worlds to complete, and the levels contained in them are much tougher than those in the main game. It’s been a topic of conversation, I notice, that people generally feel that this game was too easy, and though it's not without challenge, for the most part they have a point. Mario 3D Land sees the return of the Tanooki Mario powerup, something the game never ceases to remind you of, giving you the ability to hover for what feels like an endless amount of time. There’s not much challenge to be found in a platformer where a powerup is dispensed like candy to allow you to hover over many of its trickiest jumping sections, and that’s certainly the case here.

Either way, the platforming just isn’t in top form. This is Mario stripped down to his most basic core, with little in the way of invention or surprises. Mario 3D Land isn’t a bad game, it’s just an incredibly average one, and the feeling I got while playing it was simply that I’ve played it many times before.

Sound: Again, this category delivers exactly what you’d expect, with you’re the game sounding like pretty much every other Mario game ever made. After the orchestrated Galaxy soundtracks, this return to the old style of Mario music didn’t cut it much for me. Like the rest of the game, it’s serviceable, and it does the job, but it doesn’t do anything particularly well.

Verdict: I tried my best to have this review not come across as a rant, because as you can see by the score, this isn't a terrible game. Mario is Mario, and this is a solidly built, if predictable, platforming experience, and there are bits here and there where I found myself enjoying it. But there's a feeling of blandness that covers every square inch of Super Mario 3D Land's world. It has all the key ingredients you'd expect from a Mario game except the sense of adventure and excitement that you get from the best of them. The recently-released Rayman Origins had my jaw dropping in awe at its creativity and the ingenuity of its platforming. Super Mario 3D Land, especially in comparison, feels clunky, under-developed, safe, and perfectly prepped to target the masses. It doesn't feel like anybody who worked on this game was truly excited to be working on it. If you've played a Mario game before then you know exactly what to expect, and 3D Land feels no pressure to surprise you.

Presentation: laughably bad story as always. The 3D photographs that deliver it though are pretty cool.

Graphics: Looks like Galaxy but with worse art direction. Serviceable. Nothing much to get excited about.

Gameplay: Very standard Mario platformer. It is exactly what it is and does little to differentiate itself from the pack. Some of Mario’s least interesting levels in recent memory mixed with uninspired platforming and a Tanooki Mario powerup that makes the game rather easy. There’s nothing terrible here, just not a lot that’s fresh.

Sound: You know the Mario theme.

Replay Value: You unlock the Special Worlds upon beating the game, and these can keep you busy for a long time if you choose to play them. Design-wise I don't think they're *a whole lot* better than the main game itself, though they do provide a challenge that long-time Mario fans will undoubtedly appreciate.

Overall: 6/10


  1. I'm still a bit interested. Hopefully the price will drop by the time I get a 3DS

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