Super Mario 3D Land is an unconventional Mario game. But to overlook the playful charms for the lack of a score or steep difficulty curve is to miss the point — and more importantly a good reason to trade up to a 3DS.
Super Mario 3D Land is the latest in a long line of Mario platform games. On the 3DS it takes advantage of features like the 3D display and ability to look around the world by just moving the console around physically. It also makes great use of the Circle Pad to run around in 3D.
Ironically, though, it’s this 3D release of Mario that actually returns the level design and play style back towards the classic 2D Mario games of old. At first I wasn’t sure how much I liked this, but I soon realized this 2D feel is what I had been missing from recent Mario games.
Call me old fashioned but, 3D Mario games never quite felt like, well, Mario games. The densely populated worlds I fell in love with in Super Mario World, Super Mario Land and even the original Super Mario Brothers became sparse and unintelligible when stretched over that unforgiving third dimension.
I could read a 2D Mario level as clearly as if it was a letter written just for me. Each block, each Koopa and mushroom suggested nooks and crannies where other rewards and discoveries were hiding. Acting on this instinct and seeing the world give up its secrets was my singular delight in platform games.
Mario 64, Mario Sunshine and even Mario Galaxy were all great games, but they lacked the simple readability of those earlier, more limited, two dimensional iterations.
Super Mario 3D Land finally reconnects the dots and makes 3D platforming wonderfully intelligible again. I’m not just talking about the ability to use the 3D window on the world to better judge jumps and runs. It’s more than that, the 3DS’s screen size and portable sensibilities have reintroduced the sense of a bounded universe that made 2D platform games so playable — now there’s a word I haven’t used in a long time.
Super Mario 3D Land is a game to buy a 3DS for. While it’s unconventional in many ways and will pay for that in the hardcore press, its genuine charm and simple desire to return to the core of what made Mario great is a treat too good to pass up.